When Did Your Child Engage in Sex?

Parents involvement linked to sexual activities

(RxWiki News) A fear held by many parents is that their adolescent will become sexually active at an early age. Here's good news: Being an involved parent can make a difference, says new research.

Doctors looked at adolescent females ranging from 14 to 16 years of age from nine European countries.

They found that girls who received more support from their parents were less likely to have intercourse before age 16.

"Stay involved in your children’s daily life."

Knowledge of an adolescent’s personal life was the most important factor for reducing the likelihood of early sexual initiation, said lead author Aubrey Spriggs Madkour, assistant professor in the Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences department at Tulane University, in New Orleans, in an interview with dailyRx.

The team looked at data on 7,466 young women who participated in the 2005-2006 Health Behaviors in School-Aged Children survey. The girls lived in Austria, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Lithuania, Romania, Spain and Ukraine.

The researchers examined whether the females were sexual active before age 16 and whether a parental figure had knowledge of and supported the adolescent’s daily activities.

In the study, “parental support” is defined as how much the adolescent felt their mother or father understood their problems and worries and provided them with emotional support.

“Parental knowledge” is defined as how much their mother or father knows about their friends, how they spend their time, where they go and how they spend their money."

They found that both parental support and parental knowledge of the adolescent’s life both decreased the likelihood of early sexual initiation, or first intercourse, when the two factors were examined separately.

The odds ratios of early sexual initiation were 0.8 with maternal support and 0.7 with paternal support. 

The study authors believe that parental support gives an adolescent girl a “positive sense of self through secure attachment,” which leads to greater self-assurance in relationships with intimate partners. This may increase an adolescent’s ability to “negotiate for delayed sex,” they say in the study.

Parental knowledge was the more important determining factor: Once parental knowledge and parental support were examined together, the link between parental support and early sexual initiation became insignificant.

The researchers aren’t quite sure why the association between early sex and parental support changes once parental knowledge is mixed in.

They offer two possibilities: Parental support is an important strategy for a parent to gain knowledge of a teen’s sex life, which will reduce the risk of an early sex life. Or, knowledge of your adolescent’s life, instead of perceived parental support, is the determining factor in a girl’s sex life. They said further studies should examine these associations.

The team expected parental support and knowledge to have a greater impact in countries where rates of early sexual initiation were lower, which would be indicative of stronger social norms against early sexual initiation, said Madkour. But that wasn’t the case.

“The surprising thing to us was how uniform these associations were across countries,” said Madkour.

Overall, one in five girls reported having had intercourse before age 16. About 74 percent reported living with both biological parents.

The highest prevalence of early sexual initiation was in Finland, Iceland and Austria, where 25-35 percent of girls had early sex. However, Lithuania had a very low prevalence at just 9 percent. In southern and eastern Europe - which includes Greece, Spain, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine - approximately 7-20 percent of girls had early sex. 

This study was published online and will appear in the September issue of the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Review Date: 
July 15, 2012