Academic journal article International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health

The Timing of Sexual Debut among Chinese Youth

Academic journal article International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health

The Timing of Sexual Debut among Chinese Youth

Article excerpt

CONTEXT: The age at sexual debut is declining in China, but little is known about the relationship between the social and demographic characteristics of Chinese youth and the timing of debut.

METHODS: Data were drawn from the 2009 National Youth Reproductive Health Survey, which collected background information and age at sexual debut from 22,300 unmarried youth aged 15-24. Life table analysis was used to estimate the gender-specific distributions of sexual debut by age, according to urban or rural residence and by region. Cox proportional hazard regression models were then employed to identify characteristics associated with the timing of debut among males and females.

RESULTS: The mean age at sexual debut was 22.8 years (22.5 years for men and 23.1 years for women). Sexual debut before age 78 was rare for both genders, and ages 21-24 appear to be the normative range for sexual debut. Life table analysis found that debut was earlier for males than for females, for those living in a rural area than for those in urban areas, and for those living in western China than for those in other regions. In multivariate hazard regression analysis, males had a 30% greater risk of experiencing sexual debut within each year of age than did females. Living in a household with both biological parents, having a father with a junior or senior high school education, being a college graduate and living in an urban area were associated with a reduced risk of experiencing sexual debut.

CONCLUSION: This study provides insight into the basic patterns and social and demographic correlates of sexual debut among Chinese youth.

Little is known about social variations in the timing of sexual debut in China. In many Western societies, the age at sexual debut began to decline during the 1970s with the relaxation of attitudes about premarital sex. (1) The decline in the age at debut and the increase in the proportion of youth who have had sexual intercourse generated considerable research interest in the social and demographic characteristics associated with sexual clebut; (2), (3) for example, there is substantial variation in the timing of debut between males and females, by ethnic or racial group, and by social class.

A better understanding of the social differences in timing of sexual debut is essential for identifying groups who may have an increased likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behaviors. In China, there are 150 million unmarried youth aged 15-24, (4) but little is known about their sexual behavior. Even though attitudes about sexual relationships and sex outside marriage have become more relaxed in the country, there remains a general reluctance to openly discuss sex, especially with youth, who consequently tend to be ill-informed about their sexual and reproductive health. (5-7) With the increase in the percentage of youth engaging in premarital sex, the issue of risky sexual behavior among China's adolescent and young adult population is a growing concern. (8), (9)


The Chinese Context

During the Maoist period--from the 1950s to the mid-1970s--sex was regarded by the Chinese government as a "bourgeois indulgence" and sexual relations outside marriage were discouraged. (10) Prior to 1980, marriage was illegal before age 23 for women and 25 for men living in rural areas, and before ages 25 and 28 for their urban counterparts. (11) Parish and coauthors have demonstrated that trends in sexual behavior in China since 1950 are inseparable from changes in administrative policies, such as marriage laws and birth planning policies. (12) From the 1950s to the 1970s, the age at sexual debut rose, not only because of the government's regulation of sexual relations and reproduction, but also because of traditional attitudes about sex. Indeed, sexual relations were strongly linked to marriage, the family and procreation, which limited people's autonomy over their sexual desires and behaviors. …

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