Characteristics of Canadian Youth Reporting a Very Early Age of First Sexual Intercourse

Article excerpt

Abstract: The present study examined the correlates of having experienced first sexual intercourse (FSI) at a very early age using a large, national classroom sample of Canadian adolescents from the Canadian Youth, Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Study (Boyce et al., 2003). Most of the available studies on this topic have divided adolescent respondents into categories of "early" and "late" based on the average age of first intercourse. As a result, a portion of the young people identified in these studies as having had "early" first sexual intercourse had actually done so at an age when intercourse would have been becoming normative. The large size of the present sample of adolescents (n=2301; mean age 15.8 years) provided enough males and females who had non-normative very early FSI to compare them with peers who had first intercourse later. Associations were tested on variables in four conceptual categories: family relationships; psychological factors; peers and risk-taking; and partner-related factors. A very early age of FSI (defined as 11 years or less for males and 12 years or less for females), was associated with having experienced pressure to have unwanted sex, having used drugs other than marijuana, and believing that popularity at school is dependent upon rebelling/breaking the rules. While the retrospective nature of our cross-sectional analysis precludes assigning directionality of influences, the possible predictive value of the findings, including the influence of "fitting in" with peers, is considered in relation to future research on this topic.

Introduction

While a substantial body of research has examined the correlates and risk factors for early first sexual intercourse (FSI) in adolescence, there has been little focus on this subject in a Canadian population context. Most such studies have designated FSI as either "early" or "late" based on the average age of first intercourse and have thus included in their "early" samples youth whose first intercourse occurred at ages approaching normativity. In such cases the early-late dichotomization tells us little about the correlates of FSI at non-normative very early ages. The present study addresses this gap in knowledge by examining correlates of first intercourse at these very early non-normative ages in a large national sample of grade 9 and 11 students who have ever had intercourse drawn from the Canadian Youth, Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Study (Boyce, Doherty-Poirier, Mackinnon, & Fortin, 2003).

Literature on the non-biological correlates of age of FSI has tended to focus on factors associated with four broad conceptual categories: family relationships; psychological factors, peers and risk-taking; and partner-related factors. The present study also uses these categories and the literature review that follows will thus consider past findings in these areas as a basis for our choice of ages representing very early FSI for male and female students. We note at the outset, and again in the discussion, a principal limitation of cross-sectional studies, such as the present one, in which older students' responses to questions about their current lives are used to identify factors thought to be associated with their having begun intercourse at a very early age a number of years in the past.

The limitation is an inability to determine directionality of influence between possible predictors and past events. This is particularly so in the present study, in which associations are based on ages reflecting very early FSI that are younger than may have been chosen in the "early intercourse" studies reviewed here. In the case of our own findings in particular, we will therefore refer to factors that are "associated with" or "related to" early or very early FSI rather than "predictive" or "preventive" of it. This being said, we do anticipate that a number of the associations found in this study will prove to be contributors to very early FSI and not simply consequences of it. …