For years, early sexual debut in younger people has been demonized for its adverse effects on sexual health and increased risk of negative outcomes like unplanned pregnancy, STIs, sexual exploitation and abuse. A new study aims to view early sexual interaction in a different light.
The study, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, was led by Diana Peragine of the University of Toronto Mississauga. She reportedly wanted to find if there were any positive outcomes of early sexual experiences in adults. The study was able to correlate early sexual experiences with better sexual functioning later in life.
“Research has traditionally cast sexual intercourse as a young person’s sexual debut and focused on the public health concerns that it raises—really its onset, its causes, and its consequences as a problem behavior not unlike adolescent drinking and drug use,” noted Peragine. “As a result, there’s this long body of evidence linking an earlier sexual debut to adverse sexual health outcomes.
The scientists defined sexual debut as a broader term to include other important sexual firsts in a person’s life besides intercourse — namely first sexual contact, first sexual stimulation and first orgasm.
They then looked at the connection between these experiences and sexual functioning in adulthood.
The research team found adults who had these first sexual experiences earlier had a higher likelihood of better sexual functioning later in adulthood. And those who had delayed experiences were more likely to find sexual difficulties in later life.
Peragine added that there is no agreed universal definition for when a sexual debut can be deemed as early. However, the average age for sexual intercourse was 17 years among the study’s participants.
In the study, 3,139 adults were surveyed to assess information like when they had their first sexual intercourse, sexual contact, sexual stimulation and orgasm. Participants were also asked if they had faced any difficulties with orgasms, desire, arousal and sexual satisfaction in the previous four weeks.
“Those with an earlier sexual debut had fewer sexual difficulties in many of these domains, and therefore healthier sexual function,” Peragine said.
Peragine emphasized the importance of healthy sexual functioning as “a prerequisite for healthy sex — which should be pleasurable in addition to being safe and consensual”.
“It is also a growing priority when defining and managing sexual health. It includes an absence of difficulties with desire, arousal and orgasm, as well an absence of pain during sex, and satisfaction with sexual activity,” she added.
The research team also found earlier exposure to experiences like an orgasm bolstered sexual interest and excitability.
Also, women tended to have these experiences years later than men did, according to the survey, and this delay might answer to the former’s higher sexual desire and arousal disorders when compared to men.
Peragine hopes the study will reform sexual education —particularly abstinence-only education.
“Abstinence-only education . . . stresses that no sexuality is healthy sexuality for adolescents. Our findings not only contradict this view but (indicate) that efforts to delay sexual activity may carry a risk themselves,” she explained.
According to her, abstinence-only education “might even be detrimental to young people’s sexual health in the long run — at least with respect to the capacity for functional and healthy sex.”