Young men get lucky; young women get screwed

A recent paper in the Journal of Adolescent Medicine reveals what every gynecologist knows. Young teen girls generally regret early sexual activity. Over the years that I practiced gynecology, I met hundreds of women who wished they had waited to lose their virginity, and I never met a single girl or woman who said, “If I had it to do over again, I would have lost my virginity at a younger age.”

The paper is entitled Joining the Sex Club: Perceptions and Experiences of First Sexual Intercourse in Australian Adolescent Females, by Smith, Skinner et al. The authors interviewed 68 young women ages 14-19. They found:

Feelings of readiness were more prominent in teenagers who were older and had postponed intercourse until a context of ‘right time, right person’. Reflecting with disappointment and regret, others spoke of conforming to peer norms, coercion from sexual partners, and being intoxicated as the reason for their premature and sometimes unwanted first encounter.

Dr. Skinner explained the findings to the Australian newspaper, The Age:

…[S]ex-education classes tended to focus on how to prevent sexually transmitted infection and unwanted pregnancy.

Often neglected was the importance of teaching young women negotiation skills so that they could resist pressure from their peer group and partners…

The girls who were younger when they first had sex were more vulnerable to peer pressure and pressure from their partner …

Being drunk or tipsy at the time was also common…

The longer intercourse was postponed in a relationship, the more likely girls reported feeling ready.

Young women have always experienced pressure from young men to engage in sex. What’s changed in the last few decades is that the culture at large sends teen girls the message that early sexual activity is desirable. In contrast to previous generations of women who were counseled (and warned) how to avoid sexual pressure, contemporary sex education focuses only on the medical facts, not the psychological issues.

As a gynecologist, I’ve had unique opportunity to view the consequences of increasing sexual openness. It appears to be a bonanza for young men, generally at the expense of young women. Men get all the benefits; women carry all the risks. Regret is not the only problem. Men get laid, get action, get lucky and women get pregnant, get sexually transmitted diseases, get infertile, get cervical cancer.

Young women face significant and life threatening risks that young men simply do not face. Pregnancy may be an inconvenience and a financial drain for men, but it does not put their lives at risk. Abortion, while not as dangerous as pregnancy, still poses significant risks to health and life.

Sexually transmitted diseases (with the exception of HIV) rarely threatened the health or fertility of men, while they are responsible for significant illness and death among women. According to Sexual behavior: related adverse health burden in the US:

Overall, in the United States, in 1998, about 20 million adverse health events (7532 per 100,000 people) and 29 745 deaths (1.3% of US deaths) were attributed to sexual behaviour… If HIV related mortality were excluded, more than 80% of sexual behaviour related mortality would be those among women. Among females, more than half of the incident events were contributed by curable infections and their sequelae… Cervical cancer and HIV are the leading causes of [unsafe sex related] mortality among females …

Although young women may learn about protective measures in sex education classes, those who are pressured into early sexual activity often fail to use contraception and condoms because they were not planning to have intercourse in the first place. This is especially true of sexual activity that occurs when they are under the influence of alcohol or recreational drugs.

Teen virginity has become a highly underrated commodity in our culture. However, those who care about the health, both physical and psychological, of young women should be advising them to wait until the later teen years before embarking on sexual relationships. Many young women are hurt by giving in to pressure for early intercourse, but no one ever regretted waiting.

Addendum: I’ve noticed that this post is being discussed on several websites and some people suggest that it is sexist. That is absolutely not its intent, so I want to elaborate a bit more.

It is important to recognize that for almost all of recorded history, women’s sexuality has been controlled by men for their own purposes. Virginity, and chastity were valued by MEN much more than by women, because enforcing those values assured a man that the children of his partner were actually his children. It is men who decided to stone women for adultery, and men who made up the myriad rules that governed every sexual decision a woman might make. And of course when it came to social inferiors or victims of war, men felt free to rape women simply because they wanted to.

Now, in an age where birth control and paternity testing make it possible for a man to be sure which children are genetically his, it is not surprising that the strictures on women’s sexual decisions have been lifted. Female chastity is simply not as important to men as it used to be. Access to willing females is more important, and it is not surprising that the culture has changed to pressure women into believing that they should be sexually available, whether that is what they truly want or not.