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15 November 2007
Early Sexual Activity Not So Bad
by George Atkinson

Turning accepted wisdom on its head, University of Virginia psychologists say that teens that have sex at an early age may be less inclined to exhibit delinquent behavior. Their study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence also suggests that early sex may play a role in helping these teens develop better social relationships in early adulthood. The findings run counter to most assumptions that relate early teen sex to later drug use, criminality, antisocial behavior and emotional problems.

The study was based on data from hundreds of same-sex twin pairs in the United States gathered at three time points over a seven-year period. By examining twins, the investigators were able to eliminate the genetic and socio-economic variables that otherwise might influence the behaviors of adolescents.

"We got a very surprising finding, particularly that early sex seems to forecast less antisocial behavior a few years later, rather than more," said Kathryn Paige Harden, the study's lead author. "There is a cultural assumption in the United States that if teens have sex early it is somehow bad for their psychological health. But we actually found that teens who had sex earlier seem to have better relationships later."

"People assume there is an association between early sex and later delinquency. It could be because teen sex transgresses parental expectations and is seen as impulsive or influenced by peer pressure. But people's concerns about early sex leading to delinquency may not be warranted," she added.

Harden does acknowledge that early adolescent sexuality is linked to early pregnancy and disease, but these risks are not inevitable. She notes that in other Western countries, such as Australia, there are similar rates and patterns of teen sexual activity as in the United States, but drastically lower rates of teen pregnancy. She attributes this to a poor level of sexual health knowledge in the United States, ineffective contraceptive use and lower abortion rates.

Harden plans further investigations that will look closely at the contexts of early teen sexual activity, such as the types of relationships, whether they were casual or intimate, how old the partners were, where the sex occurred and why, and how long the relationships lasted. She and her colleagues will then try to relate that to later behaviors and attitudes.

Related articles:
Macho Attitudes Undermining Adolescent Sexual Health
Social Expectations Frustrating Safe Sex Message
Early Adolescence Creating Public Health Conundrum
Positive Body Image Not So Good For Men
No-Sex Pledges Linked To High-Risk Sexual Behavior

Source: University of Virginia




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