A study by a University of Iowa researcher shows women who had sex in their early teens had trouble staying in a marriage later on. Anthony Paik studied the impact of the first sexual experiences of teen women.
“Women who reported that they became sexually active before age 18 were more likely to be divorced at five and ten years,” Paik says. He says he tried to determine if there was an association with the early sexual experience and divorce, or if the divorce rate was related to something else. Paik, an associate professor of sociology, says 31-percent of women who had sex for the first time in their teens divorced within five years and 47-percent divorced within 10. He found there were some factors linked the early sex and later divorce.
He says there are some “determinants of divorce that are associated with teen sex.” For example, having a child out of wedlock is associated with divorce, and if a girl has sex early, she is more likely to have a child out of wedlock and then have a divorce. Paik says one in four women who had sex in their teenage years had a baby before they were married. Paik when you take out the out-of-wedlock births, another factor in divorce was they circumstances of the first experience.
Paik says according to the data, a lot of the sexual experiences for girls before the age of 16 weren’t completely wanted according to the women after the fact. He says the women were either not ready, or were pressured into sex. Paik says the unwanted experience appears to have an impact later on.
“What that suggests is that there’s also maybe some attitudinal changes that might be associated with first sex at an early age, or if it is unwanted,” Paik says, “meaning that it might affect the way in which these girls view relationships, which puts them on the pathway for having less stable relationships over the life course.” Paik says the study is important in light of the debate over the sexualization of girls.
Paik says from a policy standpoint it shows people could focus on cutting down on the unwanted experiences and making people aware that early sexual experiences often tend to be unwanted. Paik’s study reviewed the responses of some 3,800 women in a 2002 national survey on family growth.
Paik says the study was limited by a lack of information about the work status of the women — a factor used as a control in divorce research.