Sex Between Young Teens and Older Individuals is Linked to Nonvoluntary Sexual Intercourse and Lower Contraceptive Use

Washington, DC – New findings show sexual activity between teens aged 15 and younger with individuals who are three or more years older are correlated with risky health outcomes including unprotected sex and teenage childbearing. Also, while most are voluntary, these relationships are more likely to be nonvoluntary than other teen sexual relationships.

 

The report cites several risk factors associated with these sexual relationships, including that the youngest sexually experienced teens were the most likely to have had sex with an older individual. Specifically, almost two-thirds (65 percent) of females aged 13 or younger at first sex had intercourse with an individual three or more years older compared with 53 percent of females aged 14 at first sex, and 41 percent of females aged 15 at first sex.  Other factors associated with sex between young teens and older individuals include: being female, lower parent education, growing up in a family without two biological/adoptive parents, and being a child of a teen mother.

 

Child Trends’ latest research brief,  Sex Between Young Teens and Older Individuals: A Demographic Portrait, draws from recently released data from the National Survey of Family Growth, 2002 (NSFG 2002).

 

“Although media attention about sex between young teens and older individuals often focuses on young girls having sex with older males, our research found that one in four of these sexual relationships occur to young boys with older females,” according to Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D., lead author of the report. “Boys may also feel pressures to have sex, although they are much less likely than girls to report statutory rape.”  Manlove also notes that “because sexual relationships between young teens and older individuals are often coercive, we use the term ‘older individual’ instead of ‘older sexual partner’.”

 

Manlove continued, “We chose to examine relationships that occur during the high school years.  We found that one in four sexual relationships that occur to girls under age 18 fit our definition of sex at a young age with an older individual.  These relationships represent almost one in ten of boys’ sexual relationships before age 18.”

 

Alma L. Golden, M.D., F.A.A.P., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs, Office of Population Affairs, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, states the policy importance of this issue. “Recent research on brain development and descriptive studies of youth risk reveal that young teens are often vulnerable in unique ways. We see significantly increased health, educational, and social risks experienced by young teens who have had sex with older individuals. Although laws surrounding this issue vary widely, society must develop patterns to address the needs of this vulnerable group.”

 

Manlove further stated, “Most of these sexual experiences occur between young teens and olderteens, rather than with adults.  For example, sex may occur between a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old. Thus, older teens represent a key target audience for prevention efforts.”

 

Findings from the study include:

 

Prevalence of Sex between Young Teens and Older Individuals

Female teens are more likely than male teens to have had sex with an older individual. In 2002, 13 percent of females and 5 percent of males reported that their first sexual experience was at age 15 or younger with an individual who was three or more years older. These sexual relationships between young teens and older individuals represent one in four (26%) of all sexual relationships to girls before age 18 and one in ten (9%) of all sexual relationships to boys before age 18.  Overall, males represented 26 percent of teens whose first sexual relationship occurred at age 15 or younger with someone three or more years older. 

 

Separate analysis of data from 1995 indicate that the percentage of young female teens having sex at age 15 or younger with an older individual has remained essentially stable between 1995 (14 percent) and 2002 (13 percent).

 

Individual Factors

The typical age gap between sexually experienced young teens and older individuals was three to four years.

  • About half of these sexual relationships (49 percent of males and 63 percent of females) were with an individual who was three to four years older.

 

Relationship Type at First Sex

Sex between young teens and older individuals was more likely to be classified as “casual” than other sexual relationships, but females and males view these sexual relationships differently.

  • Females whose first sexual experience was at age 15 or younger with an older individual were less likely to report that they were going steady with the male than other sexually experienced females – 59 percent to 76 percent.
  • More striking differences were seen among males, with 17 percent of those aged 15 or younger at first sex with an older female reporting the relationship as “going steady,” compared with 55 percent of those males who were sexually experienced.

Associations with Other Outcomes and Behaviors

  • Females aged 15 and younger whose first sexual experience was with an older individual were twice as likely as other sexually experienced females (19 percent vs. 9 percent) to report the experience was nonvoluntary (i.e., the female did not choose to have sex of her own free will).
  • An additional 9 percent of females 15 and younger at first sex reported this sexual experience with an older individual was voluntary, but they really didn’t want it to happen (compared with 6 percent of other sexually experienced girls).
  • Young teens who had sex with an older individual are less likely to use contraception at first sex than other sexually experienced teens (65 percent vs. 74 percent among females and 68 percent versus 79 percent among males).
  • Teen childbearing is more common among females who had first sex at age 15 or younger with an older individual – 44 percent compared to 26 percent of other sexually experienced females.

 

Child Trends, founded in 1979, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.

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