Nineties young are playing the field

ADOLESCENTS in the Nineties spend more than twice as long playing the field in their search for a mate as they did 40 years ago. Young people are having sex earlier - on average at 17, compared with 20 for men and 21 for women in the Fifties - but the age at which they settle down with a partner or get married is unchanged - 22 for women and 24 for men.

The widening interval between first intercourse and first birth, now averaging 12 years for men and seven years for women, has "profound implications" for the sexual health of the nation (for sexually transmitted diseases and for contraception), Kaye Wellings, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said at a seminar organised by the Family Planning Association and the Health Education Authority.

Ms Wellings, co-author of the national survey of sexual attitudes, published in 1994, said a new analysis of the findings had revealed the changes.

The figures also show the disappearance of the virgin bride. In the Fifties, 40 per cent of women married before they had sex compared with less than 1 per cent in the Nineties.