Forty-year-old virgin Don't panic! Losing your virginity later in life helps you enjoy more satisfying relationships, say scientists
Psychologists discovered that those who have sex after they turn 20 are more likely to have happy relationships
These people are less likely to be married and more likely to be university educated
14:46 GMT, 18 October 2012
People who lose their virginity later than their teenage years are more likely to enjoy satisfying relationships later in life, according to a new study.
Researchers found that people who didn’t have sex until they turned 20 or even later are more likely to end up in a happy relationship.
However, these people are less likely to be married and are also more likely to have had a university education and work in a well-paid job.
Losing your virginity later in life means you are more likely to enjoy a happy relationship, according to a new study
While parents worry about their children getting involved in all kinds of risky behaviour, their children's’ forays into sexual relationships is their prime concern.
Previous research suggests that there may be cause for concern, as timing of sexual development can have significant immediate consequences for adolescents’ physical and mental health.
However, until now little had been done to study long-term outcomes, and how early sexual initiation might affect romantic relationships in adulthood.
Psychological scientist Paige Harden, of the University of Texas in the United States, set about changing this.
She wanted to investigate whether the timing of sexual initiation in adolescence might predict romantic outcomes – such as whether people get married or live with their partners, how many romantic partners they’ve had, and whether they’re satisfied with their relationship – later in adulthood.
Doctor Harden used data from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health to look at 1,659 same-sex sibling pairs who were followed from around the age of 16 to about the age of 29.
Each sibling was classified as having an ‘early’ (younger than 15), ‘on-time’ (age 15 to 19), or ‘late’ (older than 19) first experience with sexual intercourse.
Those who lost their virginity later on in life were more likely to have a well-paid job
They found, as expected, later timing of first sexual experience was associated with higher educational attainment and higher household income in adulthood when compared with the early and on-time groups.
People who had a later first sexual experience were also less likely to be married and they had fewer romantic partners in adulthood.
Among the participants who were married or living with a partner, later sexual initiation was linked with significantly lower levels of relationship dissatisfaction in adulthood.
Dr Harden said the association held up even after taking genetic and environmental factors into account and could not be explained by differences in adult educational attainment, income, or religiousness, or by adolescent differences in dating involvement, body mass index, or attractiveness.
She said: 'It’s possible, for example, that people who have their first sexual encounter later also have certain characteristics – for example, secure attachment style – that have downstream effects on both sexual delay and on relationship quality.
'They could be pickier in choosing romantic and sexual partners, resulting in a reluctance to enter into intimate relationships unless they are very satisfying.
'It’s also possible, however, that people who have their first sexual encounter later have different experiences, avoiding early encounters with relational aggression or victimization that would otherwise have detrimental effects on later romantic outcomes.'
Although later sexual experiences lead to more satisfying relationships in later life, those who do lose their virginity later are less likely to marry
Dr Harden added: 'Individuals who first navigate intimate relationships in young adulthood, after they have accrued cognitive and emotional maturity, may learn more effective relationship skills than individuals who first learn scripts for intimate relationships while they are still teenagers.'
In previous studies, Dr Harden and her colleagues have found that earlier sexual intercourse isn’t always associated with negative outcomes.
For example, using the same sample from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, she found that teenagers who experienced their first sexual intercourse earlier, particularly those who had sex in a romantic dating relationship, had lower levels of delinquent behaviour problems.
She added: 'We are just beginning to understand how adolescents’ sexual experiences influence their future development and relationships.'
Her latest findings were reported in the journal Psychological Science.