COLUMBUS, Ohio Teens who start having sex significantly earlier than their peers also show higher rates of delinquency in later years, new research shows.
A national study of more than 7,000 youth found that adolescents who had sex early showed a 20 percent increase in delinquent acts one year later compared to those whose first sexual experience occurred at the average age for their school.
In contrast, those teens who waited longer than average to have sex had delinquency rates 50 percent lower a year later compared to average teens. And those trends continued up to six years.
"We're not finding that sex itself leads to delinquency, but instead, that beginning sexual relationships long before your friends is cause for concern," said Stacy Armour, co-author of the study and a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University.
Armour conducted the study with Dana Haynie, associate professor of sociology at Ohio State . Their results appear in the February 2007 issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
"The findings point out the importance of acting within normal bounds for your age group," Haynie said. "Those who start having sex too young may not be prepared to deal with the potential emotional, social and behavioral consequences of their actions."
The researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. An initial survey was conducted in 1994-95 of students from across the country in grades 7 to 12. These students attended 132 high schools and their "feeder" middle schools.
This study included students who reported they were virgins in this first survey. They were then surveyed again one year later, and a third time six years later in 2002.
In this study, the average age of sexual debut age at first intercourse was calculated for each school in the sample.