Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Fam Plann Perspect. 1998 May-Jun;30(3):121-7.

Gender and ethnic differences in the timing of first sexual intercourse.

Author information

  • 1University of California, Los Angeles, USA.



Whether the effect of gender on the risk of first intercourse in influenced by adolescents ethnicity has received limited attention in research on age at first sex. Such information could provide a more complete understanding of adolescent sexual behavior.


Life-table analysis using data from a population-based, ethnically diverse sample of 87/Los Angeles County youths was employed to estimate the median age at first sex for each gender-and-ethnicity group. Multivariate analysis using proportional hazards techniques was conducted to determine the relative risk of sexual activity among teenagers in each group.


Overall, the teenagers in the sample had a median age at first sex of 16.9 years. Black males had the lowest observed median (15.0), and Asian American males the highest (18.1); white and Hispanic males, and white and black females, reported similar ages (about 16.5 years). Hispanic and Asian American females had rates of first sex about half that of white females, although these protective effects were explained by differences in family structure. Even after controlling for background characteristics, black males had rates of first sex that were about 3-5 times the rates of the other gender-and-ethnicity groups. In addition, Asian American males were less likely than Hispanic males to be sexually experienced, and Hispanic males had almost twice the rates of sexual activity of Hispanic females.


Socioeconomic conditions account for ethnic differences among females in the age at first sex, and cultural influences may contribute to the difference between Hispanic males and females; explanations for black males, however, remain elusive.


This study estimated the effects of gender and ethnic differences on the risk of first intercourse (FI) among a population-based sample of Los Angeles County youths aged 12-17 years. Longitudinal surveys were conducted during 1992-94 and 1994-95. The sample was of the multistage, stratified probability type. The sample included 877 interviewed adolescents in the 1st round and 675 in the 2nd. Almost 50% of respondents were Hispanic. 58% lived with both parents. The median age of intercourse was 16.9 years; 16.6 years for males and 17.2 years for females. Blacks reported the youngest age of FI at 15.8 years. Asian adolescents had the oldest age of FI at 17.6 years. The same pattern occurred for median age at FI. Age at FI did not vary as much by ethnicity for females. White and Black females had younger ages of FI than Asian females. Black males had significantly higher rates of FI than White females. Asian males were less likely than White females to be sexually experienced. Hispanic and Asian females had significantly lower rates of sexual activity than White females. Family structure was significantly associated with risk of sexual activity. With controls for differences in family background, rates of FI differed significantly by ethnicity among males, but not females. Teenagers living with a single parent or step family had significantly higher rates of transition to first sex than those living with both parents. Family structure may measure the effects of family disruption, rather than parenting behaviors. Findings demonstrate that ethnicity and gender are key factors that predict adolescents' risk of becoming sexually active.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for The Alan Guttmacher Institute
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk