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BMJ. 1998 Jan 3;316(7124):29-33.

First sexual intercourse: age, coercion, and later regrets reported by a birth cohort.

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Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago Medical School, Dunedin, New Zealand.



To investigate how age at first sexual intercourse is related to the reported circumstances and to determine how these corresponded to views in early adulthood about its timing.


Cross sectional study within a birth cohort using a questionnaire presented by computer.


Dunedin, New Zealand in 1993-4.


477 men and 458 women enrolled in the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, comprising 92% of survivors of the cohort.


The median age at first intercourse was 17 years for men and 16 years for women. Only one man (0.2%) but 30 (7%) women reported being forced to have intercourse on the first occasion. For women, there were increasing rates of coercion with younger age at first intercourse. More men than women reported that they and their partner were equally willing (77% (316/413) v 53% (222/419)). Mutual willingness of both partners was greater for those who reported that it was also the first time for their partner. Timing of first intercourse was considered about right by 49% (200/411) of men and 38% (148/388) of women. Many women (54% (211/388) reported that they should have waited longer, and this rose to 70% (90/129) for women reporting intercourse before age 16.


Most women regretted having sexual intercourse before age 16. First intercourse at younger ages is associated with risks that are shared unequally between men and women. This information is important to young people themselves.


Age at first intercourse and surrounding factors were analyzed in respondents in the Dunedin (New Zealand) Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study--a longitudinal study of a cohort of 1037 young people born in 1972-73. 935 (92%) of the 1020 survivors of the original cohort completed a questionnaire on their sexual behavior and attitudes. 421 females (92%) and 419 males (88%) had had heterosexual intercourse; for 32% of females and 28% of males, this event occurred before 15 years of age. The mean age at first coitus was 16 years for females and 17 years for males. 77% of males, compared with 53% of females, reported they and their partner were "equally willing" at first intercourse. Mutual willingness was greatest in cases where it was the first intercourse for both partners. 7% of females reported their first sexual experience was "forced"; the incidence of coercion was highest at younger ages. When asked to reflect on their first intercourse, 16% of males and 54% of females stated they should have waited longer before becoming sexually active; 11% of males and only 1% of women felt they should have initiated intercourse sooner. Finally, sexually transmitted diseases were reported by 13% of men and 28% of women who first had intercourse before 16 years of age; the rates among later initiators were 6% and 12%, respectively. This finding suggests that first intercourse at a young age is associated with risks that are shared unequally between men and women.

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