A new study has found that child maltreatment -- physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect -- raises the risk of early sexual intercourse. Advertisement
All types of mistreatment "increase the risk for emotional distress at age 12 and sexual intercourse by age 14 and 16," said study co-author Dr. Maureen M. Black of the University of Maryland-Baltimore. "Sexual intercourse among adolescents increases their risk for inconsistent contraception and multiple partners -- behaviors that expose them to [STDs] and pregnancy."
The study analyzed 637 14-year-olds and 493 16-year-olds who had been participants since age four in the multi-site Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect. A history of maltreatment was determined by self-report at age 12 and Child Protective Service records.
By age 14, 79 percent of participants had a history of maltreatment, and 81 percent did at age 16. By ages 14 and 16, 21 percent and 51 percent, respectively, had engaged in sexual intercourse. At age 14, participants with a history of psychological abuse were twice as likely to have had sex as those who had not been abused. Physical abuse and neglect were similarly associated with early sexual debut.
"Maltreated youth reported significantly more emotional distress than non-maltreated youth; emotional distress mediated the relationship between maltreatment and intercourse by 14, but not 16," the study authors found. "At 14, boys reported higher rates of sexual intercourse than girls and the association between physical abuse and sexual intercourse was not significant for boys."
"Maltreated children are at risk for early initiation of sexual intercourse and should be a focus of trauma-focused interventions that can improve their psychological and behavioral health," Black said. "Evaluations of young, sexually active adolescents should not be limited to risks of pregnancy and infection, but should include a comprehensive assessment that addresses the possibility of maltreatment."
The full report, "Sexual Intercourse Among Adolescents Maltreated Before Age 12: A Prospective Investigation
," was published in Pediatrics
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