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PLoS One. 2019 May 7;14(5):e0216279. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216279. eCollection 2019.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are associated with forced and very early sexual initiation among Black women accessing publicly funded STD clinics in Baltimore, MD.

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Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health, School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California, United States of America.
School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America.
Philander Smith College, Little Rock, Arkansas, United States of America.



To examine the association between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and early sexual initiation.


We analyzed retrospective data of (n = 241) Black women recruited from public STD clinics in Baltimore, MD. Multinomial logistic and linear regression models estimated associations between ACEs and early sexual initiation; contextual variables at initiation were examined as mediators.


Twelve percent of our sample reported very early sexual initiation (11-12 years) and 29% reported early sexual initiation (13-14 years). Each additional ACE reported was associated with greater risk of very early sexual initiation (RRR = 1.49; 95%CI:1.23,1.80). Specifically, emotional abuse (RRR = 3.71; 95%CI:1.55,8.89), physical abuse (RRR = 9.45; 95%CI:3.56,25.12), sexual abuse (RRR = 8.60; 95%CI:3.29,22.51), witnessing maternal abuse (RRR = 5.56; 95%CI:2.13,14.52), and household substance misuse (RRR = 3.21; 95%CI:1.38,7.47) at or before the age of 18 were associated with very early sexual initiation. As for context of initiation, age at sexual initiation was younger if the man at initiation was a non-partner (ß = -0.88; 95%CI:-1.36,-0.40), was ≥3 years older (ß = -1.30; 95%CI:-1.82,-0.77), had pressured or forced sexual intitiation (ß = -1.09; 95%CI:-1.58,-0.59), and was under the influence of drugs/alcohol (ß = -0.97; 95%CI:-1.62,-0.32). Contextual variables at first sex, including being pressured or forced, and the man being ≥3 years older fully mediated the association between ACEs and early sexual initiation.


This study highlights the critical need to develop interventions that reduce the impact of ACEs on women's health and delay age at sexual initiation. Health education efforts are needed for clinicians and parents to identify and prevent childhood abuse and to identify and report sexual coercion and abuse for girls and adolescents.

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