How Might a Person’s Age at Their Sexual Debut Impact Their Sexual Health?
Having sexual intercourse for the first time at a younger age has been shown to be associated with adverse sexual health outcomes. However, the authors of a recent study contend that defining a person’s sexual debut as the first time they have intercourse offers a narrow view of their sexual development and experiences. Therefore, they decided to reexamine the sexual health outcomes of a younger sexual debut using broader definitions of each variable.
A total of 3,139 Canadian adults participated in this study, including 2,055 women and 1,084 men. They were recruited from three Canadian universities and through online advertisements. All of the respondents were cisgender, had had sexual intercourse, had experienced an orgasm, and had been sexually active within the previous four weeks (since their sexual health was evaluated in this time period). The survey consisted of questions regarding the participants’ demographics, their first sexual events, and their current sexual health and functioning.
For this study, participants provided information on four different sexual events: (1) their first penetrative (vaginal or anal) sex experience, (2) their first non-penetrative sex experience (oral or manual stimulation of the genitals with a partner), (3) their first solitary sexual experience (i.e., masturbation), and (4) their first orgasm. These four data points provided a broader view of experiences that could be considered part of a person’s sexual debut.
Additionally, the participants were asked about their sexual risk and sexual function outcomes. In terms of sexual risks, they shared whether they had ever had non-volitional sex (i.e., had been sexually abused) and whether they had any reproductive illness, infection, or injury that interfered with sexual activity. The women also indicated whether they had ever terminated or lost a pregnancy in their lifetime.
Sexual function was assessed using the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) for the women and an adapted version of the FSFI for men. The FSFI evaluates female sexual function across six domains: desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, pain, and satisfaction. For men, the following five domains are used: desire, arousal, erection, orgasm, and satisfaction.
In line with previous research, this study found that having sexual intercourse for the first time at a younger age was indeed associated with adverse sexual outcomes like experiencing non-volitional sex, pregnancy termination or loss, and reproductive illness, injury, or infection. An earlier debut into partnered sex (whether penetrative or non-penetrative) is associated with increased health risks due to the potential to spread sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or experience an unplanned pregnancy.
Nevertheless, an earlier debut into sexual intercourse was also associated with a few positive sexual health outcomes, including less pain during vaginal penetration, better orgasmic function, and lower sexual inhibition.
What’s more, in taking a broader look at a person’s sexual debut and including solitary genital stimulation and solitary orgasm, the researchers found that these events occurring at a younger age were not associated with any adverse sexual health outcomes. In fact, these events taking place at a younger age were associated with fewer sexual desire issues and greater sexual excitation.
The findings of this study demonstrate that an early debut into partnered sexual activity is linked to some increased health risks, but not all its associations are negative. In particular, solitary sexual activity is a healthy expression of one’s sexuality that does not have adverse consequences at a younger age.
- Peragine, D. E., Skorska, M. N., Maxwell, J. A., Impett, E. A., & VanderLaan, D. P. (2022). The Risks and Benefits of Being “Early to Bed": Toward a Broader Understanding of Age at Sexual Debut and Sexual Health in Adulthood. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 19(9), 1343-1358.