So this is Christmas, and what have you done? In all likelihood, you’ve probably had some sex. Research has found that there are seasonal peaks in sexual activity, with one of the biggest spikes occurring right around the Christmas holiday.1 In a lot of ways, this makes sense. Most people are off work for a couple of days and college students are out of school for a couple of weeks. Without the stress and distraction of deadlines and homework, people have more time and energy to, ahem, get busy. However, it turns out that while people are having lots of holiday sex, it appears that they aren’t having very safe sex, which may result in some unexpected outcomes.
A study of 7 years of national trends in England and Wales considered the potential sexual health implications of this peak in Christmas sex.1 One such consequence is, of course, unintended pregnancy. As some evidence that a higher than usual number of unplanned conceptions occurring in the month of December, this study revealed that the abortion rate consistently peaks in the first quarter of each year. Likewise, the birth rate among unmarried women typically peaks in the third quarter of each year.
Beyond pregnancy-related outcomes, the researchers found a consistent peak in diagnoses of several sexually transmitted infections during the first quarter of each year, including increases in chlamydia, herpes, trichomoniasis, and syphilis. Sexual health clinics typically reported offering the most HIV tests in the first quarter as well. Again, these findings suggest that we have more people taking fewer precautions in December.
Why might there be a peak in unsafe sex right around the winter holidays? Perhaps because people are in the business of merry-making in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. This week is perhaps the most hedonic and indulgent time of the entire year. There are holiday office parties, graduation celebrations, reunions of all sorts, and numerous other festivities that give people an excuse to get together and drink with current partners, former lovers, and new acquaintances...all while standing under some mistletoe. We know that there is at least some link between high levels of alcohol consumption and risky sexual behavior,2 so that could certainly be one explanation for these findings. It could also be the case that this week just offers more opportunities for sexual activity than people are prepared for.
So if you’re planning to get lucky this holiday season, then please do yourself and your partner a favor and give the gift of safe sex. It's the one gift that everyone can appreciate and no one will consider returning.
1Wellings, K., Macdowall, W., Catchpole, M., & Goodrich, J. (1999). Seasonal variations in sexual activity and their implications for sexual health promotion. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 92, 60-64.
2Scott-Sheldon, L. A. J., Carey, M. P., & Carey, K. B. (2010). Alcohol and risky sexual behavior among heavy drinking college students. AIDS and Behavior, 14, 845-853.
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