By the guardian
More than half of women and two in five men are losing their virginity before they are ready, potentially affecting their wellbeing and health, researchers say.
The team add that focusing only on age is misguided, noting the research showed issues around willingness, peer pressure and contraceptive use can all affect whether the first experience of sex is positive, regardless of age.
Kaye Wellings, the co-author of the research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said while having a legal age of consent was protective, it could also pressure people into feeling they need to start having sex at 16. The data shows a “cliff face” of people losing their virginity at this age.
“The message from the paper is not ‘scrap age, let them have sex at 12’. It is much more about the variability, that actually you might be 17, 18, 19 and not be ready,” she said, although she added that about a third of 15-year-olds do seem to be ready.
Wellings said while biological age cannot be changed, the principles that make for a good first experience of sex can be taught.
“The fact is that first sexual intercourse is a very salient event – only around 3% of people can’t remember when it happened,” she said. “If it turns into a miserable experience then it colours subsequent experience and that is a shame for young people because it is an important part of life and of their relationships.”
Writing in the journal BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health, Wellings and colleagues report how they looked at responses of more than 2,800 sexually active Britons, between the ages of 17 and 24, to face-to-face questions about the conditions in which they first had heterosexual intercourse.
Between a quarter and a third of respondents said they first had sex at 16.
The team looked at four factors to determine whether a participant was “sexually competent” – a term they say means “ready” – when they first had penetrative sex, a label applied only if they reported using reliable contraception; were as willing to have sex as their partner; did not feeling they lacked autonomy (for example because of peer pressure or alcohol); and felt it had been the “right time”.
The results reveal overall nearly 52% of women and 44% of men were not “ready” when they lost their virginity. However, while the proportion deemed ready increased with age, negative experiences were frequent across all age groups: 36% of women and 40% of men who first had sex aged 18 or older showed signs of not being ready.
What’s more, more than one in six women reported an unequal willingness to have sex – almost double the number of men who reported the same.
“Whether their partner would agree with what they are saying is something that we can’t know,” said Melissa Palmer, first author of the research and also from LSHTM. But she said the findings, “suggest that … the experience of men and women might not be exactly the same”. The authors note that “prior research reports that men generally give more positive accounts of first intercourse as they are more likely to just be happy that they had sex and less likely to report experiencing pressure from their partner.”
While the team say it is good news that about 90% of participants reported using reliable contraception, they say more needs to be done in sex education so that men and women can have positive experiences when having sex for the first time.
Indeed, the study found signs that for women, although not for men, learning about sex from friends rather than in the classroom was linked to being less ready. What’s more, previous research suggests issues with first sex is linked to poorer sexual health later in life.
However, the study had limitations, including that it relied on self-reporting of people’s memories.
Kate Monro, the author of Losing It, agreed a more nuanced approach to understanding first sex is needed, and said the complexities go beyond the four factors considered by the researchers.
“In 13 years of listening to people tell me about their first sexual experiences, I can tell you that first sex is rarely actually about sex,” she said, adding that for some it is about trying to get someone to love you, for others about becoming an adult and for others about losing the stigma of virginity.
Lucy Emmerson, the director of the Sex Education Forum, warned that while relationships and sex education (RSE) will become statutory in British schools from September 2020, there is a danger it will fall short.
“Currently 29% of those teaching RSE have had no training in the subject, yet the government has not committed a penny to training teachers,” she said.
Source: the guardian
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