University of Washington, Seattle (02.11.2014)
The University of Washington reported that data from two longitudinal studies has identified factors shared by youth who became sexually active younger than age 15 and were more likely to have STDs. Researchers from the University of Washington’s Social Development Research Group analyzed data from the “Seattle Social Development Project” and “Raising Healthy Children” studies, which began in the mid-1980s and early 1990s and included 2,000 children from urban and suburban Seattle schools and their parents. The analysis concluded that children who grew up in “well-managed households,” were engaged in school, and had friends who stayed out of trouble were less likely to initiate sexual activity early.
Lead Author Marina Epstein recommended that parents monitor younger children closely and establish rules, discipline, and rewards, and know how well their children liked their school, teachers, and schoolwork. Children whose friends “got into trouble with teachers or police or were in gangs” were more likely to engage in sexual activity earlier than age 15.
Both studies indicated that by age 24, participants averaged eight sexual partners, and approximately 20 percent had an STD diagnosis, including herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, or HIV. Approximately one-third of study participants who became sexually active before age 15 had an STD diagnoses, compared with 16 percent of those who deferred sexual activity until they were older.
Epstein recommended spending prevention dollars on evidence-based programs that “take into account family dynamics and youth development.” Improving “parent-child relationships and intervening with at-risk youth” would be more effective than prevention programs promoting abstinence or delaying sexual activity, according to Epstein.
The full report, “Understanding the Link Between Early Sexual Initiation and Later Sexually Transmitted Infection: Test and Replication in Two Longitudinal Studies,” was published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health (2013; doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.09.06).