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Educational intervention before ‘first sex’ can protect sexual health of young males

The earlier parents, educators and health care workers have age-appropriate and frank discussions about safe sex, the better will be their — and their partners’ — long-term sexual health and development.

Photo by Ryan Tauss from Unsplash.com

A new Johns Hopkins Medicine study adds to evidence that the earlier parents, educators and health care workers have age-appropriate and frank discussions about safe sex, the better will be their — and their partners’ — long-term sexual health and development. Specifically, the research concludes, these early interventions can lead to fewer unintended pregnancies.

The findings, published in Culture, Health & Sexuality, are based on the analysis of self-reported sexual experiences of Black male teens and young adults.

Prior research indicates that up to 30% of urban Black male adolescents report their first sex experience before age 13, compared with 10% among White peers. These studies also suggest that regardless of race or gender, young people whose first sexual encounter occurs before age 13 are more likely to experience negative sexual and reproductive health behaviors, such as multiple sexual partners, sex under the influence of substance use, unintended or unwanted pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections.

But past studies, including this Guttmacher institute publication, have mostly looked at the socioeconomic contributors of early sexual experiences of girls. Few studies have examined the impact of early sexual experiences for boys, which this current research explored.

First sex at age 13 years or younger was reported by more than 28% of young males in this study. Compared with those males who had their first sexual experience at age 14 or older, the younger “first sex” group also reported being involved in at least one pregnancy, having a “much older” first partner, and being dissatisfied in their relationships with their parents at the time of their first sex.

In this study, 61% of the participants were ages 20-24 and 75% identified as heterosexual. Additionally, 75% reported female-only partners, 32% had three or more partners in the past three months, 47% reported their partner had gotten pregnant, 10% had two or more children, and 38% had a history of a sexually transmitted infection.

Similar to findings from past national school-based studies, the participants in this study said that first sex happened at age 13 years or younger, with more than 28% of young males claiming so. Compared with those males who had their first sexual experience at age 14 or older, the younger “first sex” group also reported being involved in at least one pregnancy, having a “much older” first partner, and being dissatisfied in their relationships with their parents at the time of their first sex.

When reporting relationship dissatisfaction with their parents or guardians, 16% stated they had difficulties with their mother or female guardian, and 12% said their father or male guardian caused greater problems.

Photo by Banter Snaps from Unsplash.com

Also, some 60% of participants reported they had first sex with older partners compared with a partner of the same age or younger. When reporting relationship dissatisfaction with their parents or guardians, 16% stated they had difficulties with their mother or female guardian, and 12% said their father or male guardian caused greater problems.

“The results suggest that earlier sex education and information — well before a first sexual encounter — would help ensure the sexual health of young urban men and their partners,” says Marcell.

Prevention strategies, he adds, could include programs designed to delay first experiences with sex for this population. Study findings also indicate the importance of sexual behavior assessments in routine clinical care.

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Along with Marcell, the study authors are Asari Offiong, M.P.H., and Jacky Jennings, Ph.D., of The Johns Hopkins University; Laura Lindberg, Ph.D., of the Guttmacher Institute; and Patricia Dittus, Ph.D., of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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