Kirsty Donaldson, 2007
Individuals who have first sex at a young age are less likely to consistently use condoms and to have multiple partners over time. This is associated with an increase in sexually transmitted infections, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, infertility and associated psychological problems. There is a need for strategies that enable young people to delay the age of sexual initiation and to be safe when they do engage in sexual activity.
This dissertation considers the context of young people’s decision making when they sexually initiate. Resiliency factors young people draw on when choosing not to initiate at a young age and how these can be incorporated into sexual health programmes are also considered.
Secondary analysis of existing qualitative data from a study entitled the “Contexts affecting adolescent sexual initiation” was undertaken. The interview transcripts of fourteen participants in this larger, longitudinal study were analysed using a mixture of thematic and discourse analysis. Common themes and patterns related to decision making around the initiation (or delay) of sexual intercourse were identified. Seven of the participants were early sexual initiators and seven participants did not sexually initiate during the period of the study. Here, early initiation refers to initiating sex under age 15 years.
The early sexual initiators were all engaged in non-sexual risk-taking activities, such as alcohol consumption, cigarette and/or marijuana smoking prior to initiating sex. These participants all initiated sexual intercourse during their first year at high school, which was the norm for their peer group. Gender differences in behaviour were evident and the females in this group all expressed regret at their first sex. In contrast, the participants who did not sexually initiate during the study were actively involved in school and other activities. These young people had a positive view of the future, were connected to school and other adults and displayed a sense of autonomy and agency.
The participants were a heterogeneous group who were engaged in varying levels of non-sexual risk taking activities. Accordingly, sexuality programmes must be adaptable, accessible and relevant to young people. Such programmes also need to attend to gender differences and provide opportunities to enhance young people’s negotiation and communication skills.