Age at Time of Initial Sexual Intercourse and Health of Adolescent Girls

  • Lúcia A.S. Lara
    Address correspondence to: Lúcia A.S. Lara, MD, PhD, Ribeirão Preto Medical School, São Paulo University, Sexual Medicine Service, Human Reproduction Sector, Department of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Av Bandeirantes, 3900, Monte Alegre, 14049-900 Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo, Brazil; Phone: +55 169 997 51414
    Sexual Medicine Service, Human Reproduction Sector, Department of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Ribeirão Preto Medical School, São Paulo University, Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo, Brazil
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  • Carmita H.N. Abdo
    Department of Psychiatry, Medical School, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
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Published:December 01, 2015DOI:


      Adolescence is characterized by marked changes in the body, psychology, and sexual behavior due to increasing production of hormones. In this review we aimed to assess the effect of age at the time of first sexual intercourse (sexarche) on the health of adolescent girls, and identify factors that might protect against early initiation of sexual relations in girls. The PubMed, Lilacs, and Google Scholar databases were searched for clinical trials, comparative studies, case-control studies, cross-sectional studies, cohort studies, multicenter studies, observational studies, meta-analyses, and systematic reviews published up to December 2014 on this theme. The search terms were: “sexual debut,” “coitarche,” “sexarche,” and “young people,” “adolescent,” “unplanned pregnancy,” “adolescent contraception,” and “STDs.” Data were extracted from 28 studies and 41 references were used to introduce the theme and to support the discussion. Sexarche has been occurring in increasingly younger girls. A young age at sexarche can lead to subsequent risky sexual behavior. Girls who have sexarche when they are 14 years old or younger are less likely to use contraception on this occasion, take more time before they start using contraception in subsequent sexual relations, are more likely to have several sex partners, have a higher risk for depression, have lower self-esteem and more episodes of repentance, and have a higher risk for a sexually transmitted disease and cervical cancer. Girls with low educational, socioeconomic, and cultural status, little parental monitoring, parental separation, and absence of religiosity tend to experience sexarche at a younger age. Adolescent girls who postpone sexarche until they are 16 years old are physically and psychologically healthier than those who have sexarche at a younger age. This suggests that providing adolescent girls with appropriate education about sexual relations might reduce the negative effect of sexual relations at a young age.

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