A study led by The University of Western Australia has found that teenage girls who lose their virginity when they are not ready; often at an earlier age, are more likely to feel disappointed and regret the experience.
The study, led by Dr Rachel Skinner, from UWA's School of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, interviewed 68 teenage girls aged 14 to 19, with the aim of better understanding the factors that influence sexual behaviour, including the first sexual experience in teenage girls.
Dr Skinner presented her research "Perceptions and experiences of first sexual intercourse in Australian adolescent females" at the Paediatrics and Child Health Division of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians conference in Sydney today.
All teenagers who took part in the study were drawn from sexual and reproductive health clinics throughout the Perth metropolitan area, including antenatal and postnatal services, abortion services and sexual health clinics.
Dr Skinner, a paediatrician and specialist in adolescent health who is now based at the University of Sydney, said the survey revealed that the degree of personal control over the situation that led to intercourse determined how teenagers felt about this experience.
"Those who were ‘ready' were more likely to have delayed intercourse until they were comfortable with both when and with whom this occurred," Dr Skinner said. "In contrast, we found that idealistic perceptions about sex and relationships, peer pressure, coercion from sexual partners and being drunk were common reasons for premature and unwanted first experience of sexual intercourse.
"This study is unusual and significant as we were able to give very young and older teenagers a confidential space in which to voice their views and experiences about a topic which is generally considered taboo in this age group. All participants spoke at length about their attitudes and experiences in relation to first intercourse, romantic relationships, sexual behaviour, contraception and pregnancy."
The study highlighted how more vulnerable young people were influenced by peers, social expectations, needing to fit in, alcohol and keeping their romantic relationships, Dr Skinner said. The median age of participants was 17, while the age of their first experience of intercourse ranged from 11 to 17 years, with a median age of 14.
"If they have sex at a young age, before they are ready, it is reflected on as an unpleasant experience which they regret. This is an undesirable outcome in itself," she said. "From a public health perspective, we have been concerned for some time about why teenagers are having sex at young ages, certainly younger than previous generations. Early sexual activity is associated with a higher risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. This data goes some way to explaining the processes of early sexual activity in teenage girls."
Dr Rachel Skinner (+61 4) 18 146 631
Janine MacDonald (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 5563 / (+61 4) 32 637 716