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Fam Plann Perspect. 1998 Jan-Feb;30(1):12-8.

Young women's degree of control over first intercourse: an exploratory analysis.

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  • 1Reproductive Statistics Branch, National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, MD, USA.



While policymakers and researchers alike often seem to believe that young women's decision to initiate sexual intercourse is conscious and free of ambiguity, the actual degree of control that such young women exert over first intercourse has rarely been explicitly examined.


The 1995 National Survey of Family Growth asked all women who had experienced intercourse to rate, on a 1-10 scale, the wantedness of their first intercourse; they were then asked whether the experience was voluntary. Logistic regression analysis of data for women aged 15-24 who had experienced first premarital intercourse was performed to test the effect of background factors and wantedness scores on contraceptive use at voluntary first intercourse.


Twenty-four percent of women aged 13 or younger at the time of their first premarital intercourse report the experience to have been nonvoluntary, compared with 10% of those aged 19-24 at first premarital intercourse. About one-quarter of respondents who reported their first intercourse as voluntary chose a low value (1-4) on the wantedness scale. Women whose first partner was seven or more years older than themselves were more than twice as likely as those whose first partner was the same age or younger to choose a low value (36% vs. 17%). Women whose partner had been seven or more years older were also less likely than other women to have used contraceptives at first intercourse. After the introduction of controls for demographic and background factors, partner age discrepancy and relationship status, wantedness of voluntary first intercourse was not independently related to the odds of contraceptive use at that intercourse.


Characterizing women's first intercourse as simply voluntary or nonvoluntary is inadequate. Measures that take into account degrees of wantedness may help elucidate relationships between sexual initiation, contraceptive use and teenage pregnancy. The fact that substantial numbers of young women voluntarily participated in a first sexual experience about which they felt ambivalent or negative deserves the attention of program planners and service providers.

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