Teen Sex Study Links Age At First Sexual Experience To Romantic Relationships In Adulthood

When it comes to sex, "late bloomers" may have a better shot at finding happiness in romantic relationships later in life, according to new research conducted at the University of Texas at Austin--but it's complicated.

The research shows that people who lose their virginity at an older age are less likely to marry and tend to have fewer romantic partners in adulthood. But those who do end up in a committed relationship in adulthood tend to be happier with their partners than their peers whose first sexual intercourse came at an earlier age.

What's the explanation?

“Individuals who first navigate intimate relationships in young adulthood, after they have accrued cognitive and emotional maturity, may learn more effective relationship skills than individuals who first learn scripts for intimate relationships while they are still teenagers,” study author Paige Harden, assistant professor in the university's department of psychology, said in a written statement.

Interestingly, Harden suggested in a similar study last year that sexually active teenagers in romantic relationships tend to have fewer delinquent behavior problems than their peers.

“The idea that abstaining from sex is always ‘good’ for teens is an oversimplification," she said in the statement. "Teenagers’ sexual experiences are complicated.”

For her most recent study, Harden used data from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health to examine 1,659 same-sex sibling pairs who were followed from approximately 16 to 29 years of age. During that time period, each sibling was classified as having first sex at an early, average (between 15 and 19), or late age.

The research showed an association between people who waited to have sex and higher satisfaction levels in adulthood romantic relationships, even after factoring in genetic and environmental factors, education level, income, religion, and physical attractiveness. But Harden said that more research is needed to determine what exactly drives an association between waiting to have sex and satisfaction in later relationships.

“Most people experience their first intimate relationships when they are teenagers, but few studies have examined how these adolescent experiences are related to marital relationships in adulthood,” she said.

The research was published in the October issue of the journal Psychological Science.