Low-income kids report first sexual intercourse at 12 years old in new study

Aug 13, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- As a new mother herself, Brenda Lohman admits to being shocked by the results of a new study she co-authored. It found that among nearly 1,000 low-income families in three major cities, one in four children between the ages of 11 and 16 reported having sex, with their first sexual intercourse experience occurring at the average age of 12.77.

"So if 12 years was the average age here, that meant that some kids were starting at 10 or younger," said Lohman, an Iowa State University associate professor of human development and family studies (HDFS). "A handful of kids reported having sex as early as 8 or 9. We know from our follow-up interviews that one boy who reported having sexual intercourse for the first time at age nine had fathered four children by the time he was 18."

"Those people who say that kids don't have sex at that young of age should think again," she said. "Definitely the age is the most shocking thing about this study."

Tina Jordahl, a former Iowa State HDFS and public policy graduate student who is now a market research specialist with Hospice of Central Iowa, collaborated with Lohman on the study. It analyzes data from the "Welfare, Children and Families: A Three-City Study" -- a six-year longitudinal investigation of low-income families living in Boston, Chicago and San Antonio. Their paper, titled "A biological analysis of risk and protective factors associated with early sexual intercourse of young adolescents," was posted online in the Children and Youth Services Review and will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal.

Interview data for the study was first collected in 1999 on youth between the ages of 10 and 14, and again in 2001. Lohman says she also has data collected in 2006 from the same subjects, who were between 16 and 20 by that time.

Boys having sex earlier, more often than girls

In the study, reported their first sexual intercourse at younger ages (averaging 12.48) than girls (13.16). Boys also had nearly 10 percent higher frequency of intercourse than girls and were also more likely to experience sexual debut (20 percent to 14 percent) between the two years when the first two waves of data were collected.

Recent national research has found that 13 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys have had sex by the time they're 16. Lohman says that means the rate of sex among her low-income sample is only slightly higher among the girls, but almost double among the boys

"The ages [of sexual debut] are a bit younger than the national samples, but not alarmingly so," she said.

African Americans also had 12 percent more early than whites (29 to 17 percent respectively), although racial differences did not change the age of their first intercourse.

The authors report that periods of instability in family structure and welfare use serve as risk factors for early sexual activity. They found that additional maternal education -- beyond a high school level -- was found to inhibit some of that activity.

"That can be for multiple reasons," Lohman said. "It can be that mothers have better paying jobs and more stable home environment and they're less likely to be in stressful circumstances. It could also be that mothers then have greater cognitive capacities to sort of sit down and discuss the pros and cons of waiting to have until you're older."

For that reason, the researchers propose allotting public funding to increase maternal education as a way to reduce early sexual promiscuity among their children.

Juvenile deliquency increases early sexual activity

The study also found the youths' involvement in delinquent acts drastically increases the chances of early sexual activity.

Because of the gender differences in sexual debut, the authors also urge more gender-specific prevention programs that are implemented at earlier ages, especially among high risk populations.

"It may be that boys and girls, starting at younger ages, should have these programs that are designed separately by gender before they're moved back together over time," Lohman said. "And yes, they must start much, much younger than they do now. You have to start before those young kids -- 10 or even younger -- start becoming sexually active."

She says the current political climate in Washington may be right for those types of programs to be developed.

"The Bush administration concentrated on abstinence education programs for all families across the spectrum of income, and Obama is definitely focusing on sexual education and prevention programs," said Lohman. "He's put a lot more money back into those programs that were stripped away during the Bush administration. And given his focus in other areas, he is concentrating on high-risk, low-income disadvantaged families as well."

Lohman is currently working on research to determine the relationship between obesity and teen sexuality. She hopes to publish results from that study within the year.

Provided by Iowa State University (news : web)

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4 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2009
They probably watch TV, beyond hours they should. What education would negate that? How many of what our teachers told, have we kept their words because they said? For example, I was not smoking, but my father was not smoking, either. Probably, no cool kid would take something by advice. If TV/etc will keep bragging out-of-wedlock relationships as valuable, and if you will keep listing that as "adult," then forget about "education." In summary,
1) Kids want to achieve their "adult" status (not only in matters of sex).
2) TV watching is sufficient to inform that, sex is a fun (& cool) thing, too.
3) Marrying is forbidden, until relatively old.
4) Telling kids about contraception, is mixing the message badly. That acknowledges a few things.
5) Postponing a wish, to get a valuable thing in the future, is thinkable. (Like postponing, for marrying.) But if you would tell about only postponing out-of-wedlock sex, they might not get the sense of what you suggest (except "you are only a kid, yet").

(The news is not listing some crucial statistics. For example, how many of the kids were grown without fathers. Is that a pattern in their neighborhood?)

@ http://www.dallas...217.html in 2008,
Federal statistics in June showed that 52.9 percent of Texas students in ninth through 12th grades had sexual intercourse, compared with 47.8 nationally.

That doubles the rate (quarter vs. half) -- while still not old enough to lawfully marry (in USA).

Ironically (and I keep telling this), in the last century, marrying at 12 was allowable in various states of USA (& Kansas was allowing in this decade, too). That is getting forbidden more in time, while sex is becoming more common. That would be truly a bad joke to think, but that is the truth (law makers' fashion).

The problem of pedophilia is grave, but that is not the thing about who marry for life. Nor the problem of teens who would marry teens. Ironically, knee-jerk reflexes against pedophilia, probably makes a lot more of the willing youngsters available, out-of-wedlock, and that is probably helping pedophiliacs, too -- if teens are "pedo," that is.

Islam is allowing marrying at puberty (& old Jewish law had something similar), but so far as I know (through internet), almost all of the nations have set age minimums -- 15 or more. Furthermore, some with asymmetries, such as allowing girls to marry before boys, but that is the opposite of the statistics in this news -- boys first.
5 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2009
Agreeing with some of the general drift of zilqarneyn.

Our society needs to wake up. There are economic and social reasons for adults to prefer that teens aren't sexual, but it isn't true. In repressive societies such as that of Victorian England, the social norms might be effective restraints -- but such pervasive social norms aren't a part of modern Western society.

Why is this suddenly an issue? Because marketing departments have been allowed to pedal sex to teens for decades, now. Rock stars who expose their breasts and genitals to camera are HEROS to millions of children. It doesn't matter that Britney Spears was miming in her latest tour. That she's an unfit mother, according to the court. They will forgive her anything. Millions idolize her. Put the blame squarely on marketing departments that have no shame and no social conscience.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2009
"The ages [of sexual debut] are a bit younger than the national samples, but not alarmingly so," said the author of the study.

"Low-income kids report first sexual intercourse at 12 years old!" trumpeted the headline.

While it's interesting that the ONE IN FOUR lower income children (11-16) who REPORTED HAVING HAD SEX started at the average age of 12.77, it's grossly irresponsible to conflate this with the average age of first sexual activity for all children, and highly offensive to use it as a just-so story confirming stereotyped expectations of promiscuity amongst the 'lower classes'.
not rated yet Aug 14, 2009
Thank you Smellyhat. I would wager the numbers have not changed through out history by a large degree. We are only now starting to quantify it.

However, that should not take away from the negative problems this creates in our society and for our economy.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2009
How is it possible that boys can have sex more frequently than girls? Who are they having "intercourse" with?
4 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2009
I would guess that these numbers have changed throughout recent history. In the 1920's if you had a child out of wedlock, then how would you provide for it? A woman (much less a girl) couldn't get a job... and that would have left her relying upon her own parents, who weren't exactly thrilled about the whole "bastard" thing (now we don't even say that word, illegitimacy has become so common and accepted), and a Red-Letter "A" on one's dress wasn't always so vogue. Condoms were more rare back then, especially amongst teens, and marriage was more available... so the numbers would have changed some.

That being said, I too didn't understand some of the numbers... only 20% of kids under 16 had sex? And yet 50% of kids under 18 had sex? Those last two years are really "coming of age" then for many, huh?

As far as "condoms vs abstinence"... it seems plausible that it doesn't have to be an "either/or" situation, and could instead both be recommended. Like:

"Waiting till you are married to have sex is ok... you shouldn't have to have sex because you are pressured to, or just because someone says it is safe... there are emotional issues that perhaps haven't been considered. If you are a girl and you wait until you are married to have sex, most likely few will disapprove (most only jilted boyfriends) and many will approve. If you are a boy, you are likely to get teased by your peers, but then again, boys tease each other about penis size as well, and a host of other things... but most of society would approve.

However, your own hormones and your own self may disapprove of abstinence. You may regret in life having missed an opportunity. You may regret imagining sex was a wicked and dirty thing. You may regret having not touched your's and another's life in a way that reaffirmed the beauty of life.

But sex isn't always beautiful, and it isn't always safe. It can cause genital warts, stds, hiv, and unplanned for pregnancies.

Condoms are one way of preventing those. Abstinence is another. Castration is another."

Seriously though, there are other options...

As far as "mixed messages"... how mixed of a message is it to say, "don't drink, but if you do, call your parents to come and drive you home"? I mix messages all the time. It's those metaphors you got to watch out for.

Oh, and it does seem true that a condom can't protect against everything... but OTOH, I don't suppose that abstinence can either.

Last note... I do see it as odd that we permit kids to have sex at age 10 but don't allow them to marry until age 16. Not exactly illogical or unsound, but odd all the same.

Marriage seems to me to usually be a bigger decision, with more far reaching impact... but to the person with HIV (or such) that isn't necessarily the case. Marriage can reduce rates of diseases. Yet it has its problems as well.

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