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Early Sexual Activity May Curb Teen Delinquency

'Surprising' results run counter to conventional wisdom, U.S. researchers say

FRIDAY, Nov. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Teens who start having sex at an early age may be less likely to engage in delinquent behavior in early adulthood than teens who wait until they're older to have sex, a new U.S. study finds.

The findings contradict the widely held belief that early sexual activity is associated with later drug use, criminality, antisocial behavior, and emotional problems. For example, two studies published earlier this year in the same journal found a link between early teen sex and later behavioral problems.

"We got a very surprising finding, particularly that early sex seems to forecast less antisocial behavior a few years later, rather than more," lead researcher Kathryn Paige Harden, a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia, said in a prepared statement.

From their analysis of data on 534 same-sex twin pairs collected between 1994 and 2002, the researchers also concluded that sex at an earlier age may help teens develop better social relationships in early adulthood.

The study is published in the current online edition of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

"There is a cultural assumption in the United States that if teens have sex early, it is somehow bad for their psychological health. But we actually found that teens who had sex earlier seem to have better relationships later. Now we want to find out why," she said.

In the next phase of this research, Harden plans to closely examine the contexts of early teen sexual activity, such as the types of relationships, the age of the partners, where the sex occurred and why, and how long, the relationships lasted.

"Our hypothesis as a result of this finding is that teens who become involved in intimate romantic relationships early are having sex early and more often, but that those intimate relationships might later protect them from becoming involved in delinquent acts," Harden said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about teens and sex.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Virginia, news release, November 2007

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