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CONTEXT: The age difference between a female and her partner may influence relationship dynamics in ways that put the female at increased risk of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Very little is known, however, about how romantic involvement progresses to intercourse, particularly among adolescent females with older male partners. METHODS: Data from 1, female participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health were analyzed using logistic regression to determine whether the age difference between an adolescent female and her romantic partner is a risk factor for sexual intercourse.
: Adolescent females involved with an older partner have higher odds of having intercourse with that partner than females with partners their own age, after adjustment for demographic covariates. The magnitude of this association is most dramatic among the youngest females—for example, the odds of intercourse among year-old females with a partner six years older are more than six times the odds among year-old females with a same-age partner odds ratio, 6. Researchers and policymakers have focused concern and attention on adolescent females who have romantic relationships with older males.
The age difference between a female and her partner may influence relationship dynamics in ways that put the female at greater risk of both unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases STDs. However, our current understanding of the role of age gaps in romantic relationships is limited, and it is based mainly on studies of couples who are already sexually active. We address this limitation by investigating how the age difference between partners is related to whether a romantic relationship includes sexual intercourse.
Having an older partner is associated with early sexual debut. In a survey of sixth graders, students who reported ever having had a boyfriend or girlfriend at least two years older had more than 30 times the odds of those who had never had a boyfriend or girlfriend of having had sex. The survey, however, did not specify whether sex had occurred with the older partner, and did not differ between students with an older partner and those with a same-age partner. Females have a higher risk than males of contracting STDs during sexual intercourse with an infected partner, and the health risks associated with an unplanned pregnancy are borne by females.
For these and other reasons, many studies of the effect of age difference on sexual behavior have focused on the experiences of adolescent and young adult women. Two studies have investigated the association between age difference and aspects of females' sexual debut. Abma and colleagues used NSFG data to examine partner age difference in the context of measuring "wantedness" of first intercourse.
Their findings suggested that wantedness is inversely related to the age difference between a young woman and her partner, and that it may be related to her limited control over the situation. Among females who had had first intercourse between the ages of 13 and 15, having older partners was associated only with truancy. In contrast, among females whose age at first intercourse was , having older partners was not linked to these negative outcomes.
Thus, adverse effects of partner age difference may lessen as females mature. Particular demographic characteristics are associated with sexual behavior among adolescents and may be associated differentially with age gap between a female and her romantic partner. Add Health is a probability-based, nationally representative survey of U. We used the publicly available version of from the first wave of Add Health, which contained data on 6, adolescents and 2, variables.
Complete data for the variables that were relevant to our study were available for 1, females who reported having had a male romantic partner. Excluded females for whom we could estimate this age tended to be slightly younger than females in the study group mean age, However, the age gaps between excluded females and their partners were no different from those between study group respondents and their partners. The outcome of interest, which we treated as a dichotomous variable, was whether a respondent had had intercourse with her romantic partner.
Reports of intercourse were verified by analyzing responses to the question "When you had sexual intercourse with [your partner], did he insert his penis into your vagina? The main independent variable of interest was the difference in age between a respondent and her male partner, which we treated as a continuous variable coded in single years. We estimated the respondent's age at the start of the romantic relationship by calculating the interval between the month and year of her birth and the month and year during which the relationship began.
We then calculated the difference between a respondent's age and the age of the partner as reported by the respondent ; a positive value indicated an older male partner, and a negative value a younger partner. Other covariates that we examined were the respondent's age at the start of the romantic relationship coded in single years , her race or ethnicity coded as white, black, Hispanic or other , her religious affiliation coded as Baptist, Catholic, none or other , her mother's educational level whether the mother had graduated from college and whether a "mother figure" lived in her home at the time of the interview.
For these analyses, the definition of a mother or mother figure was not confined to the respondent's biological mother. Although of interest to us, it was not feasible to directly estimate socioeconomic status from questionnaire data; information about household income was often missing. We used STATA version 6 to adjust for the clustered sample de and to standardize demographic estimates of adolescents to U.
Census Bureau estimates, as recommended by the Carolina Population Center. When a female begins a relationship with a new partner, the relationship may either progress to sexual intercourse or end before the couple has engaged in intercourse. Some respondents, however, reported an ongoing romantic relationship. Although intercourse might not have occurred by the interview date, it may have done so after the study, thereby censoring data for these relationships.
In addition, because respondents may have been likely to list their current relationship first, reporting may have been biased toward ongoing relationships. To explore the effects of these potential biases, we repeated some of our analyses using data from the respondents who reported only relationships that had already ended. In this way, the outcome of their relationship intercourse or no intercourse was firmly established. Most survey respondents were younger than 17 at the start of their relationship, had a partner who was older by years, were white and had a resident mother figure who was not a college graduate Table 1.
Respondents' ages at the start of the relationship ranged from seven to 19 years, and their mean and median ages were about 15 years not shown. The differences in age between a female and her romantic partner ranged from less than five to more than 28 years. Partners' ages ranged from eight to 44 years, and the mean and median ages were years.
The proportion reporting intercourse within each age-group also increased with partner age gap; this effect was smallest among the oldest respondents. It thus seems that while sexual intercourse is less common for females who are 13 or younger at the onset of their relationships, substantial age gaps between partners may play a larger role in the progression to intercourse in this age-group than in others.
We estimated the effect of age gap on the odds of intercourse among females, using multivariate logistic regression to adjust for their age, race, religion, having a mother figure at home and mother's education. After adjustment for other demographic covariates, this analysis indicated that black females were more likely than white females to have had sex with their romantic partner odds ratio, 1. Respondents whose mother had graduated from college had lower odds of having had sex with a romantic partner than those whose mother had not graduated 0.
The analyses also revealed ificant associations between sexual intercourse and both respondent's age and the age difference between partners. However, we found a ificant interaction between these two variables, which persisted even after adjustment for the effect of the other covariates. Because of this interaction, the effect of age gap on the odds of intercourse should be considered for each age of female separately. To illustrate more clearly the effect of a female's age and age gap on the odds of intercourse, we calculated the odds of intercourse among females with older partners, relative to those among females with a same-age partner, by age gap and for each single year of age.
As age difference increased, so did the odds of having engaged in sexual intercourse; this effect was strongest for the youngest females Figure 1. For example, among year-old females, the odds of intercourse with a partner who was six years older were more than six times the odds of intercourse with a same-age partner odds ratio, 6. In contrast, the odds among year-old females with a partner six years their senior were about twice those among year-old females with a same-age partner 2. When we limited our analyses to the respondents who reported that their romantic relationship had ended, the association between age difference and the odds of having had intercourse was stronger than that found in the full model.
For example, year-old females with a partner six years older had odds of intercourse that were nearly 10 times those among year-olds with same-age partners odds ratio, 9. Thus, analysis of the full model, which includes both ended and ongoing relationships, reflects a more conservative estimate of the impact of partner age difference on the likelihood of sex with a romantic partner.
Our analyses suggest that the age difference between romantic partners is an important predictor of whether they will engage in sexual intercourse. Compared with females with same-age partners, those who had older partners had a higher risk of having had sexual intercourse. The magnitude of this association was most dramatic among the youngest adolescent females.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that older females were more likely than younger females to have had intercourse. Therefore, both the age of an adolescent female and the age of her older partner have an important influence on whether a romantic relationship includes intercourse. Age differences between partners may influence the progression of a romantic relationship in a variety of ways that would affect sexual activity. Older males may enter a romantic relationship with different expectations from younger males about relationship behaviors, including greater expectations of sexual intercourse.
Furthermore, females who become involved with older partners may experience longer relationships because older males may expect or desire longer or more "serious" relationships than same-age males; one result may be a higher likelihood of progression to intercourse.
For this reason, we did not treat the duration of the relationship as a confounder; instead, we treated it as a possible intermediate factor in the pathway. Although we could not directly estimate and control for respondents' socioeconomic status, our analyses may have controlled for some characteristics that are broadly associated with socioeconomic status: The observed associations of race or ethnicity and of mother's educational level with the odds of intercourse are likely driven largely by socioeconomic factors.
The largely agree with the findings of others that indicate an association between age gap and sexual behaviors among adolescent couples. The data, however, did not allow us to determine whether females with older romantic partners specifically sought these relationships out of a desire for sexual activity or whether the older partner differentially pressured these females into having intercourse. Our findings should be interpreted with caution. Although they support the idea that a romantic relationship between a young adolescent female and an older male is risky, we cannot determine the causal nature of the association.
The findings are based on relationships that were identified by the respondents as "romantic," which may have been interpreted differently by respondents of different ages and within a given age-group. In addition, the romantic partner on whom our analyses are based was the first partner listed by the respondent, but we cannot determine why the respondent listed him first.
Finally, these findings should not be extrapolated to relationships in which the male is substantially younger than the female. Our have important ramifications for public health intervention, especially regarding the risk of early sexual debut among America's youngest adolescent females when they have romantic relationships with older males.
Public health programs often focus on changing females' behavior rather than changing the behaviors of older partners or addressing the factors that contribute to each partner's involvement in a relationship. They also rarely concentrate on the influence that parents might have on a young daughter's romantic associations. Although communication between parents and their daughters is complex, we believe that it can have a positive influence on how females choose partners at an early age.
Parents—and teachers, pediatricians, gynecologists, school psychologists, nurses and other practitioners who work with young females—should be encouraged to communicate with young females about the age of their boyfriends. Health education programs for parents of adolescents might focus on improving parenting and communication skills, as well as on parents' knowledge, perceptions and beliefs about characteristics of appropriate romantic partners for their child, no matter the child's age.
For example, parents of male adolescents should be encouraged to communicate with their sons about healthy relationships and partner choices, to help them develop into men who are comfortable with and, consequently, pursue age-appropriate partners. Sexuality and health education programs in schools should be deed with the realization that they may be reaching only half of a couple that is at high risk for sexual activity. New outreach efforts, settings and program structures may be required to reach adult male partners. Simply educating females about abstinence and safer sexual practices is likely to be insufficient if their romantic partners are ificantly older.
Educational materials that directly address the issue of dating older males may be helpful, especially for younger adolescent females. Our findings also may have special ificance to policymakers with reference to statutory rape laws. For example, the relationship between a year-old female and an older male may be qualitatively different than that between a year-old female and a male of the same age.
Similarly, a relationship between a year-old female and an older male partner is likely quite different from that between a year-old female and an adult male. Statutory rape laws may deter older males from exploiting very young adolescent females. However, many statutory rape laws are written so broadly that full enforcement would involve the prosecution of same-age and slightly older male partners, who make up the majority of young females' sexual partners. Future research activities need to examine the reasons that adolescent females become involved with older partners, and vice versa, as well as the factors that promote same-age relationships between adolescents, which are less likely to be sexual.
There is still much to learn about the timing and the quality and quantity of particular behavior patterns occurring in romantic relationships across the age spectrum of young teenagers e.Old woman girl sex
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