Age you lose your virginity at may be linked to genes, study finds

The study involved the analysis of 380,000 participants' genes

Doug Bolton
Tuesday 19 April 2016 12:51 BST
A man looks at a visual representation of the human genome
A man looks at a visual representation of the human genome (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

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Your genes may play a role in determining when you lose your virginity, a new study from Cambridge University has suggested.

The study, which involved over 380,000 participants, has successfully identified specific gene differences which can effect what age we hit puberty, first give birth, and lose our virginity.

Naturally, the age at which someone loses their virginity is hugely influenced by social factors like family history and peer pressure - however, according to Dr John Perry, a lead author of the study, the work has shown "that age at first sexual intercourse is also influenced by genes."

To identify these genetic differences, sceintists at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge analysed the gene records of 59,357 men and 66,310 women aged between 40 and 69 years old, which were recorded in UK Biobank, a national health study.

In total, the team identified 38 gene variants which are associated with age at first sexual intercouse, some of which were linked to other genes already known to be involved in brain development.

It isn't so much that certain genes determine exactly when a person loses their virginity, but that gene-based traits such as impulsivity can have major effects on sexual behaviour.

For example, one of the variants in the CADM2 gene was found to be associated with a higher chance of having a risk-taking personality - which itself led to a correlation with earlier age at first sexual intercourse, and a greater number of children over a lifetime.

Earlier studies from the same team have found that an earlier onset of puberty can be linked to increased long-term risks for illnesses like diabetes and cancer. Now, according to study author Dr. Ken Ong, it has been determined that these same factors can have an impact at a much younger age.

The team hopes that their study, published recently in the high-profile Nature Genetics journal, will lead to better promotion of healthy sexual behaviours, as educators begin to take into account individuals' personality types and ages of puberty onset.

A similar study was conducted at California State University in 2009. Although it had a smaller sample size, it also found a genetic link to the ages at which subjects lost their virginity.

According to the Family Planning Association (FPA), the average heterosexual Briton, whether male or female, loses their virginity at the age of 16 - a significant drop since the 1950s, when the average age was around 21. The global average is believed to be around 17.3.

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