Peer-group pressure and why most women regret saying yes to teenage sex

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The Independent Online
Many teenage girls having sex for the first time do so reluctantly, under duress, because they do not have the will to resist.

Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor, examines a study which suggests most women regret the early loss of their virginity.

The first sexual experience is invariably disappointing - but that is almost the only point about it on which girls and boys agree.

A study of more than 900 teenagers found widely diverging perceptions between the sexes of how their first sexual encounter had occurred. Pressure from men, curiosity and drink push many young women into doing what they later regret.

Women were more likely to report being forced - one in 14 of the total sample rising to one in four of those under 14 - and less likely to say that they were "equally willing". Fewer than one in six men but more than half the women thought they should have waited longer before losing their virginity. Women were more likely than men to say they were "carried away by their feelings" as the reason for having sex, while men were more likely to say they wanted to lose their virginity.

Women who had their first experience of intercourse when under 16 said the main reason was that most people of their age were doing it. Most of these had sex with an older boy but for all age groups, when both partners were having sex for the first time, there was less discrepancy between the sexes about the willingness with which the encounter was entered into.

The study, conducted in New Zealand and published in the British Medical Journal echoes the findings of previous British research. An Economic and Science Research Council study in 1990 found many girls who reported having been under pressure to have sex for a long time who finally submitted, usually when drunk, because they had run out of reasons for resisting. Often the poor quality of their first experience left them with no desire to repeat it.

In that study, the girls aged from 16 to 21, spoke eloquently of the social pressures on them. One said: "I just thought I'm sick of Mandy who is bonking all the time and me not getting nothing. So I says it's time to do it. He was being really nice and I thought I'll risk him not wanting to see me again. So I did." Another said: "It was a matter of saying `no' lots and lots of times and then sort of going to sleep because I wouldn't be able to handle it."

In the New Zealand study, the researchers from the University of Otago medical school found the average age of first intercourse was 16 in the girls (compared with 17 in Britain) and 17 in the boys. Almost a third of the women who lost their virginity before the age of 16 reported having had a sexually transmitted disease at some point since.

The authors say the results showing most women regret early intercourse "need to be considered by young people themselves".