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Healthy teens have sex, study suggests

Research dispels myth that teens who have sex early become delinquents

LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX. Sexually active youth are less likely to have behavioural problems later in life than those youth who wait to have sex, suggests a University of Virginia study. Credit: Brent Creelman photo

Teens who have sex at an early age may be psychologically healthier than those who wait, a recent University of Virginia study suggests.

“There is a cultural assumption in the United States that if teens have sex early it is somehow bad for their psychological health,” says the study’s lead author, Kathryn Paige Harden. “But we actually found that teens who had sex earlier seem to have better relationships later.”

The study found that youth who have sex at a younger age are less likely to exhibit delinquent behaviour in early adulthood than their peers. These findings contradict assumptions that sexually active youth may be more likely to use drugs, become criminals or have antisocial behaviour and emotional problems.

“People assume there is an association between early sex and later delinquency,” Harden says. “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.”

Yet the push to shelter youth from sex rages on. Canada’s Conservative government has reintroduced legislation to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16, limiting the rights of youth to choose whom they can have sex with.

“Early sex probably is a proxy for a strong romantic relationship, and strong relationships encourage pro-social instead of antisocial behavior,” says the study’s co-author Robert Emery.

By studying 534 same-sex twin pairs in the United States over a period of seven years, the researchers were able to eliminate genetic and socio-economic variables that might have interfered with the results.

The results of the study were published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.