Link Found Between Teen Sex and Divorce Rate

Filed under: Teens, Divorce & Custody, In The News, Sex, Teen Culture

Teen Sex and Divorce Rate

A study has shown that teens who engage in sexual intercourse at a young age are more likely to get divorced. Credit: Getty Images

Teenage girls may want to save themselves for marriage, that is, if they want to stay married.

Researchers at the University of Iowa have found a link between teenage girls losing their virginity and the chances they'll get divorced later on.

In fact, researchers found 31 percent of women who had sex for the first time as teenagers were divorced from their first husbands within five years, and 47 percent divorced within 10 years. By comparison, only 15 percent of girls who delayed sex until adulthood were divorced within five years and only 27 percent within 10 years.

A university press release reports the risk of divorce shot up dramatically when a girl's first sexual encounter was unwanted, she had mixed feelings about it or occurred before she was 16.

Lead researcher Anthony Paik, an associate professor of sociology, examined responses from 3,793 women to the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. The women had all been married -- at least once.

Why the link between teenage sex and divorce?

Researchers speculate related factors such as a higher number of sexual partners, pregnancies and out-of-wedlock births might contribute to the higher divorce rate.

Some 31 percent of women who lost their virginity during adolescent went on to have multiple sex partners -- compared with 24 percent among women who waited. Almost 30 percent of sexually active teenage girls got pregnant, and one in four had babies before they got married -- compared with one in 10 among the later bloomers.

"The results are consistent with the argument that there are down sides to adolescent sexuality, including the increased likelihood of divorce," Paik says in the press release. "But there's also support for the 'more sex positive' view, because if a teen delays sex to late adolescence and it is wanted, that choice in itself doesn't necessarily lead to increased risk of divorce."

According to the press release, only a small percentage of women who had sex before age 18 said it was completely wanted. Only 1 percent chose to have sex at age 13 or younger, 5 percent at age 14 or 15, and 10 percent at age 16 or 17.

Paik speculates women who had sex as teenagers were predisposed to divorce.

"The attitudes that made them feel OK about having sex as teens may have also influenced the outcome of their marriage," Paik says in the press release. "The other possibility is a causal explanation –- that the early sexual experience led to the development of behaviors or beliefs that promote divorce.

"If the sex was not completely wanted or occurred in a traumatic context, it's easy to imagine how that could have a negative impact on how women might feel about relationships, or on relationship skills," Paik adds. "The experience could point people on a path toward less stable relationships."

It's a timely topic, given the current debate over the sexualization of girls, Paik says in the release.

"This study tries to provide some answers about adolescent sexuality and the risk of marital dissolution, and the results show that both the context and early onset of first intercourse are associated with divorce."

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