When it comes to those first time sexual encounters, Britons aren’t the earliest nor are they the latest, they are in fact, resolutely in the middle. With an average age of virginity loss at just under 18, we are on a European demographic as well as a global level, unremarkable. Yet a study has recently emerged that shows the problem lies not in the age of our experience, but in our happiness with the experience itself.
A study published by The London School of Sexual Health and Tropical Medicine shows that more than half of women and girls who lost their virginity between the ages of 13 and 24, felt that they were not yet ready to have sex, whilst a third of men felt the same way. It is important to note before going any further that, rather disappointingly, this study did not include anyone from the LGBT+ community, thus any type of sex other than heterosexual experience is not included within the following findings.
Whilst in some cases issues such as being under the influence during their first encounter and not feeling confident with their partner were contributing factors, this did not seem to get down to the crux of the issue. The research institute suggests that in most cases, lack of contraception and the ensuing worries afterword were the largest contributing factors.
Indeed as a nation, we are not largely au-fait with the use of contraception in first experiences. Whilst German teens were the youngest in a study of Europe by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to have their first sexual encounter, (16 on average) they were extremely rigorous in their use of contraception, with 95 per cent of teens using barrier methods on their first time. British teens, despite compulsory sexual health classes, do not share in this, leading to a much higher birth rate between 15-19 year olds of 28 per thousand, in contrast to Germany’s 12 per thousand; less than half.
In an interview in The Guardian, the study’s co-author Kaye Wellings stated that “the message from the paper is not ‘scrap age, let them have sex at 12.’ It is much more about the variability, that actually you might be 17, 18, 19 and not be ready.”
Indeed she went on to say that first intercourse was a very memorable event, with only 3 per cent of the population not remembering their first time. The pungency of this memory, she states, and whether it was positive or negative can also largely impact the individual’s later associations with sex as it is an important part of life and relationships. Somewhat disturbingly too is the implication from the findings that double the amount of women felt unhappy or pressured into their first sexual experience than men.
This raises the question as to whether in a quarter of cases the female party were not comfortable with the experience to the ambivalence of the male, or an equally unsettling alternative, that this quarter of teenage boys that were happy with their experience were losing their virginity to a minority number of girls who had multiple sexual partners in their early sexually active years.
We must not fall into the trap, however, of ignoring the finding that the number of boys that were uncomfortable with their first sexual experience is still too high, even though the statistic of their female counterparts outweighs it.
Amongst boys there seems to be an even greater stigma around still being a virgin at a later teenage age according to 2019 interviews conducted by the BBC, an implication that by the later years of high school in Scotland and college in the rest of the UK, that one is somehow defunct or lacking in sexual appeal if they have not yet had a sexual partner.
It appears that what these findings show is that there needs to be a greater conversation in Britain about the emotional side of people’s first sexual experiences and whether the person is in the optimum mental state to consent, rather the simple classic of having a condom to hand and being above the age of consent. Something which we, in comparison to the rest of Europe, are largely behind on.
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