Early Sex in Teens May Be Cry for Help

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 9, 2001 -- New research shows that young girls who experience psychological trauma during childhood, such as verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, are more likely to turn to sex at an earlier age -- and more risky sex at that.

Participating in risky sexual behavior at an early age can cause more harm in girls than boys, according to CDC researcher Susan D. Hillis and colleagues, who published their study in the September/October issue of Family Planning Perspectives.

Apart from the psychological effects that having sex at an early age can have, girls are more likely than boys to get a serious sexually transmitted disease, not to mention the fact that the girl is often left as the sole caretaker if she has a baby.

Hillis and fellow researchers asked over 5,000 adult women about trauma they suffered during childhood: sexual, physical or emotional abuse, having a mother who was beaten, or having a family member in the home who abused drugs or alcohol or engaged in criminal activity. The researchers then determined past sexual behavior during adolescence in these same women.

For each category that the women reported being exposed to in childhood, they were about twice as likely to have had intercourse by the age of 15 and to consider themselves at high risk of getting AIDS. In addition, they were two to three times more likely to have had at least 30 sexual partners.

Although this study was not designed to decipher why women who are traumatized during childhood are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior in adolescence and adulthood, the researchers do offer up one possibility:

"Having grown up in families unable to provide needed protection, such women may be unprepared to protect themselves and may underestimate the risks they take in their attempts to achieve intimacy," they write.