Early sexual debut is commonly defined as having had first
sexual intercourse at or before age 14 years and is associated with risks to
sexual and reproductive health. It is associated with risky sexual behaviors,
multiple sexually transmitted infections, cancer of the cervix and early
marriages. Both girls and boys with a sexual debut before14 years of age have
more sexual partners and as much as two times more experience of anal sex at
the age of 18 than girls and boys with a later sex debut. An early debut might
explain the experience of having more sexual partners, simply because they have
spent more time engaging in sexual activity. It could, however, also indicate a
trend of increased risk-taking sexual behavior, as well as other risky
behavior, such as substance use and antisocial behavior.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, the onset of sexual activity
typically occurs by age 20 with the median age at first intercourse ranging
from 16-19 years.
According to the KDHS 2014, Fifteen percent of women age
20-49 had their first sexual intercourse by age 15, 50 percent by age 18, and
71 percent by age 20. Older women are slightly more likely to have had their
first sexual encounter at an earlier age.
Men usually have an earlier sexual debut than women, a
pattern that holds true for most age groups. For example, 22 percent of men age
20-49 had first sexual intercourse by age 15, 56 percent by age 18, and 76
percent by age 20. The median age at first sexual intercourse among men age
20-49 (17.4 years) is also slightly lower than that among women (18.0 years)
Kenya has a large adolescent population aged between 10 – 19
years of age with 23.4% being male while 22% are female.
Though the first debut may be coerced, there is increasing
evidence of consensual sex at an early age due to various factors and
especially the “perception of self” as will be discussed in much more detail in
this write up
defined as “The idea you have about the kind of person you are”. The perception
of self-restraining capacity is significantly correlated with age. The older a
person is, the stronger their perceived self-restraining capability is.
Nevertheless, given the early age at sex-debut, female
adolescents are under threat from male sexual advances, often taking the form
of abduction and rape.
This article aims to explore the role of self-esteem, dating
identity exploration, Demographic variables, motivation and sensation seeking,
permissive attitude towards sex, advances in physical maturity that may
influence early sexual debut among adolescents.
general, self-esteem is higher during childhood, decreases during adolescence
and then gradually increases through adulthood. During adolescence, self-esteem
can be affected by the physical and hormone changes. Self-esteem is also
influenced by the social context and higher among adolescents with quality
parental relationships and social support. Good relationships with peers and
perceived popularity were positively correlated with self-esteem among female
while school performance was positively correlated with self-esteem among male
may be affected by a number of factors as discussed below which in turn
influence early sexual debut among adolescents
a. Parental support and Parental psychosocial
Parenting has important implications for adolescents’ sexual
and romantic relationships. A good number of studies have included
family-related measures such as family structure, parental education, and
family socioeconomic status .All these studies seem to suggest that family
process variables, especially parenting, may be more relevant in predicting
adolescent sexual outcomes.
Parental support includes any ongoing behavior
carried out by a parental figure which contributes to the well-being and nurturing
of the adolescent. Parental support has a direct correlation to lower levels
of adolescent problem behaviors, including risky sexual behavior. Supportive
parenting deters adolescents from having sex at earlier ages and sexually
inexperienced 10th grade youth report more supportive relationships with their
parents than their sexually experienced counterparts. A recent study found that
more warmth in the family is associated with adolescents having lower numbers
of sexual partners. Supportive parents who have warm and open relationships
with their adolescents can communicate their values about relationships and sexuality,
which in turn results in the adolescent being less likely to take sexual risks.
Parental support also has been linked with social initiative and higher levels
of adolescent self-esteem
Parental psychological control refers to manipulative
or intimidating behaviors that attempt to control the adolescent’s thoughts or
beliefs. Parental psychological control can hinder social and psychological
maturation by discouraging independent thinking or self-discovery, and/or by
manipulating adolescent children in order to fulfill parental goals.
Psychologically controlling parents do not give adolescents
the autonomy they strive for and can impede adolescent identity exploration. Parental
psychological control has autonomy-stifling aspects that push adolescents away
from close relationships with parents, making them potentially more vulnerable
to risky behavior within their romantic relationships. Furthermore, parental
psychological control has been found to be associated with sexual risk taking and
also that parental psychological control was associated positively with
engaging in sexual intercourse in a sample of African American youth from
single parent families.
In sum, parental support and psychological control can
influence adolescents’ decision making, including the choices adolescents make
about sexual behavior. Further, adolescents’ views of self can be influenced by
the relationships they have with their parents and adolescents’ self-development influences
decision making including choices adolescents make about sexual behavior.
Many studies emphasize that adolescents whose sexual debut
occurred by the age of 15 have reported worse relationships with their mothers
than other adolescents
b. Dating identity exploration
Dating identity exploration is consistent with self-esteem
which implies that the more an adolescent engages in figuring out how she or he
views the dating identity the more likely that adolescent will think seriously
about the meaning of engaging in sexual activity with a partner. Thus, dating
identity exploration may promote waiting until a relationship is more serious
and getting to know a partner longer before engaging in sexual activity with
that partner. Alternately, adolescents who delay engagement in sexual activity
with a partner may have greater opportunities and/or flexibility to explore
their dating identities. (Mruk C.J. 2013)
c. Esteem boosters for adolescents
Scholastic Competence: This refers to the
child’s perceived cognitive competence, as applied to schoolwork. Thus, items
make reference to doing well at school, being able to figure out the answers,
finishing one’s schoolwork quickly, and feeling that one is intelligent.
Social Competence: This is social acceptance
emanating from social support. It may imply; knowing how to make friends,
having the skills to get others to like oneself, knowing what to do to have
others accept you, understanding what it takes to become popular, etc.
Athletic Competence: Athletic competence items
primarily refer to one’s ability to do well at sports, including outdoor games
and demonstrating one’s athletic prowess.
Physical Appearance. These items tap the extent
to which one feels one is good looking, happy with one’s looks, body, face,
Job Competence. This refers to the extent to
which an adolescent feels that (s)he has job skills, is ready to do well at tasks
given, and feels that (s)he is doing well at the jobs that (s)he has.
Romantic Appeal. This is a perception where the
adolescents are romantically attractive to those in whom they are interested, they
are dating the people they would like to be dating, and they feel that they are
fun and interesting on a date.
Behavioral Conduct. This subscale taps the
degree to which one likes the way one behaves, does the right thing, acts the
way one is supposed to act, and avoids getting into trouble.
Close Friendship. This refers to one’s ability
to make close friends, those with whom one can share personal thoughts and
Global Self-Worth This is a general feeling or a
sense of adequacy in specific arenas of one’s life. Thus, there are no
references to specific competencies or skills, or specific characteristics.
2. DEMOGRAPHIC VARIABLES
Age and Gender; the
global mean for sex debut is 15.4 years (15.3 for girls and 15.5 for boys).
Usually 7.5% have had their sexual debut before the age of 14 (7.8% for girls
and 7.2% boys). The slightly lower debut age among girls could be explained by
the fact that girls tend to have an earlier onset of puberty than boys and this
correlates positively with an early sexual debut.
Family structure: This
has a huge impact on sexual debut whether the family structure is a single
parent, biological parents or adoptive parents
Living with both biological parents, or at least alternating
between them, seemed to be a protective factor for having an early sexual debut
for both girls and boys. Adolescents from two-parent families are less likely
to have sex and had fewer sexual partners. Findings from a Greek study showed
that adolescents with an unstable home environment, due to divorce, recent death,
or not living with their mother, were more likely to be sexually active. Living
with both parents seemed to be a protective factor, except for when the mother
was very young, poorly educated, or if either of the parents had alcohol use
disorder. There is a link between family stress or impaired families and both
early sexual debut and risky sexual behavior. Parents who did not care or were
overprotective seem to be a risk factor for early sexual debut, especially for
boys. With regard to parental education there was no signi?cant association
with early sexual debut.
Social class and
Ethnicity / Race
Social class influences early sexual debut, and for girls
ethnicity has been found to influence early debut.
Social class may indicate variations in access to health
protective resources which may include unequal access to sexual health
protective resources, which may consequently lead to differences in life
chances. Social class seems to be among the greatest risk takers of early debut
for boys. Social class variations for girls particularly increased risk for
early debut among working class girls.
Gendered power relationships may have different implications
in different social relationships where young men tend to take their dominant
role for granted.
Religiosity is shown to have a protective association for sexual activity and
the number of partners
3. MOTIVATION, SENSATION SEEKING, DRUG USE AND
Drug use: Girls
and boys who smoke are more likely to have an early sexual debut. Boys who
drank more than four times a month have a higher percentage of early sexual
debut group. Adolescents with an early sexual debut were more likely to have
tried different kinds of drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, ecstasy or
amphetamine. Having used hashish/marijuana doubled the odds for early sexual
debut among girls and increases the odds fourfold for boys. Having used
anabolic steroids increased the risk of having had an early sexual debut among boys.
Together with the increased use of drugs, there is a connection
between early sexual debut and risky health behavior. Earlier Swedish studies
showed that when a teenager had their sexual debut at 14 years old or younger there
was already a risk of developing a hazardous lifestyle involving more use of
tobacco, alcohol, and drugs and being more involved in physical violence.
Others studies have shown a correlation between early sexual debut and a higher
risk of early development of substance use disorder. Antisocial behavior and early
sexual debut were linked to each other and could be explained by a common trait
to test the limits of their behaviors.
4. PERMISSIVE ATTITUDES TOWARDS SEX
Access to internet, technology and sex information may have
a direct correlation with early sexual debut. An early sexual debut is directly
linked to exposure to pornography and sexual content in movies.
who sexted reported higher perceptions of approval for sexual behavior from
parents, peers, and the media, higher intentions to engage in sexual behavior,
lower emotional awareness, and lower emotional self-esteem.
Sexual text messaging
behavior of any kind, with or without pictures, was associated with greater
likelihood of engaging in a variety of sexual behaviors, including touching
genitals, having a “friend with benefits,” oral sex, or vaginal sex. Teenagers
who had sexted were between 4 and 7 times more likely to have engaged in these
sexual behaviors. For example, teenagers who had sexted were 5 times as likely
to have had vaginal sex, putting them at greater risk for pregnancy or sexually
transmitted infections. Consistent with previous literature, sexting was also
associated with same-sex sexual behaviors (making out, touching genitals). In short,
sexting appears to co-occur with sexual behaviors and may represent an
indicator of sexual risk. Although any sexting appears to be a marker for
sexual risk, sending photos is associated with even greater likelihood of early
sexual activity. Students who sent photos were more likely than text-only peers
to engage in all of the behaviors above, with the exception of same-sex genital
touching. Some demographic factors were associated with sending photos; photos
were more likely to have been sent by female adolescents and Latinos. This may
be related to the demographics of those who are requesting sexual photos; for
example, boys may request pictures (of young women) more often; however, this
study did not assess characteristics of sexting partners. Most risk-related
cognition and emotional competence measures demonstrated differences between
adolescents who engaged in sexting compared with their non sexting peers
(although not between those who sent texts only versus photos). Those who had
sexted endorsed more intentions than their peers to have sex in the next 6
months, suggesting that targeted interventions with this group are warranted.
Other differences suggest that adolescents who sexted had less awareness of
their emotional state and perceived less self-efficacy for managing their
emotions. These deficits may make it difficult for youth to react to others or
may lead to impulsive actions driven by feelings (such as sexting). These
characteristics may also lead adolescents to use sexting as a form of self-expression,
instead of more emotionally challenging direct interactions. Findings also were
consistent that those who sexted perceived more acceptance of sexual activity
from their environment. These perceptions may normalize and reduce inhibitions
related to sex, including sexting. Alternatively, teenagers who sext may
selectively attend to attitudes that condone these behaviors. Longitudinal
research will be needed to clarify these relationships, but these constructs
may provide direction for interventions with at-risk youth and their families,
who should be encouraged to monitor sexting like other sexual behaviors
Age mixing: There
is also evidence on age mixing with evidence showing that 2% to 6% of female
adolescents aged 15-19 years old had a partner aged 10 years older than them.
Mixing adolescents with older individuals who may have had sexual experiences
may make them more likely to be inducted into sexual behavior quite early
Peer socio-demographic attributes, such as age, gender,
or in-school status could influence
the behavior of adolescents perhaps
by influencing perceived norms about
their behaviors, or they might affect whom an adolescent comes into contact with, potentially acting as social network bridges to influential people
peer behaviors (descriptive norms) could provide models of behavior to be
Peer approval (injunctive norms) might cause
adolescents to adapt their behavior in a process similar to that involved with descriptive
norms, but injunctive norms might or might not differ from the behaviors that
adolescents perceive their friends to actually be engaged in.
Peer communication could play a role in
diffusing information, perceived peer behaviors or norms, or provide a context
in which adolescents could question or re-negotiate dominant norms.
Peer connectedness, or social and emotional
support. This is sometimes measured as a count of relationships, a scale of
their quality, or a score to indicate the degree to which an adolescent’s peers
are connected to each other might influence behavior. We include self-esteem in
the domain of peer relationships to be in this category.
Status and position within the network of peer
relationships could determine an adolescent’s exposure to information,
resources and behaviors that might influence their behavior. Additionally,
given the normative pressures on behavior, network position might reflect
popularity and status amongst peers with respect to age/ gender /residence. Another
study found that participants had 1.7 times the odds of reporting ever having
had sex if they thought they would lose friends if they did not have sex compared
to those who disagreed with this statement, (Kakoko, 2013), with ever having
Early puberty; early onset of puberty might be
linked to early sexual debut, unprotected sex, early introduction to alcohol
and being drunk. In addition, it could be linked to more aggressive behavior in
boys and to more time off school and being bullied in girls. Girls tend to have
an earlier onset of puberty, as well as an earlier sexual debut than boys
5. HISTORY OF PHYSICAL AND SEXUAL ABUSE
(COERCED SEXUAL DEBUT) ; DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS
Teenagers who may have a kind of antisocial behavior like
having been away for one night without their parents knowing, having been in a
?ght or hurt someone, having hurt animals, having been violent with a teacher
and having threatened or bullied someone are more likely to have an early
sexual debut than the adolescents with an older sexual debut and it was much
more common for boys to be physically violent towards both people and animals
The girls in the early debut group had experienced significantly
more sexual abuse than the girls with a later debut and the odds of an early
sexual debut increased if the girl had been sexually abused. Most girls
engaging in early sexual debut state that they had sold sex – that is they had
displayed their genitals, been photographed or ?lmed, had masturbated for
someone, had oral sex, vaginal or anal intercourse or had been photographed or
?lmed in sexual situations for payment. This was more common in boys and girls
in the early debut group and having sold sex increased the odds of having had
an early sexual debut
Experiences of different kinds of physical abuse among boys
were signi?cantly more common in the early debut group. Among boys, experience
of having been pushed or shaken, having something thrown at them, being hit
with an object or a hand, being kicked, burnt or scalded all signi?cantly
increased the odds of an early sexual debut compared to boys who had not
experienced these types of physical abuse. The results were similar among the
girls: experience of having been pushed or shaken, been hit with a hand, been
kicked and hit or bitten were all associated with increased odds of having had
an early sexual debut
Experience of sexual abuse, especially among girls, and
physical abuse, especially among boys, and sexual exploitation were more
prevalent in the group of young people with an early sexual debut.
Association between depressed moods and sexual risk behavior
is previously documented internationally, and is supported by the present
findings. Several studies also show association between depressed moods and
social class in youth.
In summary, psychosocial factors seem to play a somewhat
greater independent role for boys than do the structural factors, while the
opposite holds true for girls. This indicates that girls on the one hand
experience less reconfirmation and positive validation on their
self-development than do boys. This gender difference accentuated the
difference by social class in self-perception and depressed moods. This gives
girls an added disadvantage, having to oppose more stringent social class power
structures, and gendered power structures, as they enter the arena of sexual
relationships. The fact that a larger proportion of boys than girls are willing
to risk early debut may not be an indication of higher acceptability of various
risks. It may also be an indication that boys, to a greater extent across
parental socioeconomic backgrounds, are vulnerable to possibly compensate
emotional stressors or lacks in family function by seeking peer
acceptance9 and alternative access to intimacy.