First Sexual Experience Correlates to Ending of First Marriage

This study investigated whether there is a relationship between first sexual experience at adolescence and the risk of dissolution of the first marriage. It was found that the risk of divorce greatly increased in teenage girls who had had their first sexual intercourse before 16 years of age. The risk of marital dissolution was not directly influenced by sexual debut at late adolescence. Adolescents who were involved in sexual intercourse and felt a need for it had lesser risk of marital dissolution than those who felt it as completely unwanted or had mixed feelings for their partner. Furthermore, this study concluded that the “timing and context” of the first sexual relationship in adolescence influence marital stability.

In the United States, there is an increased prevalence of female teenagers making their sexual debut at 15 to 17 years of age. This trend is a cause for serious concern, as these adolescents tend to have multiple sex partners, which increases the risk of acquiring venereal diseases and leads to an increased number of teenage pregnancies. Previous studies have focused on the role of virginity, sex with future husbands before marriage, and multiple sexual partners in the stability of a marriage. This study tried to establish the relationship between the timing of the first sexual intercourse, age of the partners, the desire for this sexual experience and the stability of a marriage.

* This research was based on a survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (2006) on 7,643 women in the age group of 15 to 44 years.
* Statistical analyses were performed by using event-history models of first marriages that ended in divorce.
* Personal interviews lasting for 85 minutes followed by computer assisted self-answered interviews were carried out to collect the data.
* The questionnaire sought information on age and context of the first sexual intercourse, age during marriage, current marital status, whether the first intercourse was with a future partner, pregnancy before marriage, personal views on divorce, and the marital duration before divorce.
* Data on ethnicity, parental education, traumatic sexual experiences at childhood, and information on their husbands, such as age differences and whether the husband was married before and/or had children before marriage were taken into account.

Results/Key findings
* Six percent of the women who had had their first sexual intercourse before 14 years of age reported the experience as not completely wanted, while only 1 percent of the participants reported having wanted the sexual experience at that age.
* About 31 percent of the women who had a sexual experience before age 18 (either wanted or unwanted) had divorced within five years of being first married when compared to only 15 percent of women who waited until adulthood (after turning 18) for their first sexual experience.
* Nearly 31 percent of women who had their first sexual experience at adolescence (or before age 18) had premarital sex with multiple partners while the same was reported in only 24 percent of women who waited until adulthood. About 29 percent of women who had an adolescent first sexual experience reported having conceived before marriage, when compared to only 15 percent of women who waited until adulthood for their first sexual experience.
* Women who had an unwanted first sexual experience at adolescence or who experienced it in a traumatic context had a relatively higher risk of divorce than those who chose to have the sexual experience of their own accord.
* First sexual experience occurring before age 16 or adolescent first intercourse experiences that were not completely wanted are linked to the highest risks of marital dissolution, but wanted first intercourse in later adolescence (age 16 to 18) is only indirectly linked to divorce.

Next steps/Shortcomings
Data was not available for the participants’ employment status, timing, extent of education, and other details. Data collected from one-third of the women who were divorced lacked information on the reason for the divorce. The results of this study were based on the desire of the first sexual experience; hence, there might be a chance of recall bias. The interpretation of “mixed feelings” at the time of first sexual experience in the questionnaire may also have resulted in bias.

This study concluded that the risk of divorce is a function of both age and the context (wanted or unwanted) of a first sexual experience. Increased divorce rates were observed in women who had an unwanted sexual experience before 16 years of age, and in those women who reported that their first sexual intercourse at adolescence was not completely wanted. The contributing factors of adolescent sex, which promote divorce at a later stage of marital life, are teen pregnancies, negative attitudes regarding marriage, multiple premarital sexual relationships, and having children before marriage. The results confirm that delayed first sexual intercourse (delayed until adulthood or until the time of marriage) predicts a long and stable marital status.

For More Information:
Adolescent Sexuality and the Risk of Marital Dissolution
Publication Journal: Journal of Marriage and Family, April 2011
By Anthony Paik; Department of Sociology, University of Iowa, Iowa City

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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