Sex has consequences, it always does. Sometimes those consequences are rewarding and beneficial, but more often than not, sex during adolescence can complicate social, emotional, and psychological development. A recent study conducted by the University of Iowa and published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (April 2011) found that overall girls who lost their virginity in their early teens were more likely to divorce upon entering adulthood. Thirty-one percent who lost their virginity as teens divorced within five years and 47 percent divorced within 10 years. The divorce rate for teenage girls who delayed sex until adulthood was much lower at 15 percent for five years and 27 percent at 10 years. Additionally, the study found that the age girls have sex plays a major role in determining future divorce rates. Turns out that girls who lost their virginity before the age of 16 (consensual or not) were still much more likely to divorce than those who did not.
The research proves to be particularly damaging for girls who were rape and/or sexual assaulted during adolescence. Teenage girls whose first sexual experience was tagged as "unwanted" have higher divorce rates than girls who chose to lose their virginity as a teen. This specific component of the study makes a lot of sense. Early sexual experiences, especially if they are not wanted, can have lasting effects on developing healthy adult relationships. Thus, it's not surprising that with 42 percent of participants in the study claiming their first sexual experience before the age of 18 wasn't completely wanted, the divorce rates have climbed for these women in particular.
What does this mean for teen girls and is it really that bad?
Clearly the research suggests what we've all suspected – that there is an apparent downside to teenage girls having sex. However, there is a silver lining of sorts, teens who delay sex until they are older (and it's consensual) won't necessarily increase their risk for divorce as adults. There are also other ways of looking at the study through a more positive lens. Certainly it's disheartening and discouraging to see that teen girls – especially those who are young and have sexual experiences that are 'unwanted' – are placed at further risk for anything, including divorce. Yet there are a few ways to explore the findings that can serve to help us think "outside the box" when it comes to teens, sexuality, and divorce.
The findings about teenage girls, early sex, and the link to divorce are certainly troubling and give cause for concern, but it can be helpful to re-evaluate and discover ways to consider other possibilities and explanations.