Measurement of Sexual Health in the U.S.: An Inventory of Nationally Representative Surveys and Surveillance Systems

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Abstract

Objectives.

To identify opportunities within nationally representative surveys and surveillance systems to measure indicators of sexual health, we reviewed and inventoried existing data systems that include variables relevant to sexual health.

Methods.

We searched for U.S. nationally representative surveys and surveillance systems that provided individual-level sexual health data. We assessed the methods of each data system and catalogued them by their measurement of the following domains of sexual health: knowledge, communication, attitudes, service access and utilization, sexual behaviors, relationships, and adverse health outcomes.

Results.

We identified 18 U.S.-focused, nationally representative data systems: six assessing the general population, seven focused on special populations, and five addressing health outcomes. While these data systems provide a rich repository of information from which to assess national measures of sexual health, they present several limitations. Most importantly, apart from data on service utilization, routinely gathered, national data are currently focused primarily on negative aspects of sexual health (e.g., risk behaviors and adverse health outcomes) rather than more positive attributes (e.g., healthy communication and attitudes, and relationship quality).

Conclusion.

Nationally representative data systems provide opportunities to measure a broad array of domains of sexual health. However, current measurement gaps indicate the need to modify existing surveys, where feasible and appropriate, and develop new tools to include additional indicators that address positive domains of sexual health of the U.S. population across the life span. Such data can inform the development of effective policy actions, services, prevention programs, and resource allocation to advance sexual health.

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