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Exploring young women's understandings of the their first experience of sexual intercourse

Katie Brown 2007


There exists a solid body of research finding young people who experience first sexual intercourse prior to age 16 years to be more likely to experience poor sexual health outcomes, like sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy. Less research has been conducted exploring the relationship between early sex and other health outcomes.

This dissertation utilises a qualitative methodology to explore first experience of sexual intercourse in young women who had first sex before the age of 16. Eight participants between the ages of 20 and 22 years were identified through advertisements placed at a youth health centre and a family planning clinic in Christchurch. Participants had all had heterosexual sexual intercourse prior to the age of 16 years. Each participant was interviewed, one-on-one, about her first experience of sexual intercourse, her sexual relationship history and her reflections on her first experience of sex. Transcripts of the interviews were analysed using thematic analysis. Most of the participants described feeling disappointment and regret towards their first experience of sexual intercourse due to the experience not meeting their expectation. These expectations were based upon gendered discourses of first sex, as many of the participants talked of the lack of love and romance surrounding their experience, and their disappointment due to this. Other themes that emerged from the research were experiences of disempowerment and methods to empowerment in sexual relationships, and the significance of the rural context for first sexual intercourse and subsequent sexual experiences, and sexual relationships.

Current sex education does not adequately address the contextual realities within which young women’s first experience of sexual intercourse often occur. This study makes recommendations to improve the current sex education to enhance young women’s abilities to better manage their first experiences of sexual intercourse.