Early first sexual intercourse (FSI) is a risk factor for unplanned teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection, and adverse social, emotional, and physical health outcomes in adolescence and into adulthood. The aim of this study was to examine relationships between internalizing (eg, anxious/depressed, withdrawn) and externalizing (eg, delinquent, aggressive) behavior problems in childhood and age at FSI.
We used a large, population-based birth cohort (The Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort [Raine] Study) to address this question. Child behavior was measured by using the Child Behavior Checklist collected from parents at ages 2, 5, 8, 10, and 14 and scores calculated for total, internalizing, and externalizing behavior problems. At age 17, 1200 participants reported sexual behavior.
Participants with clinically significant Child Behavior Checklist scores (T ≥60) were at increased risk for earlier first sexual intercourse (FSI) (<16 years). Adjusted odds ratios revealed that total and externalizing behavior problems from age 5 years onward significantly increased the risk of earlier FSI for boys. In girls, externalizing problems from age 10 years increased the risk for earlier FSI. Internalizing problems at ages 8 and 10 were significantly associated with early FSI for boys but not girls.
Externalizing behavior from as early as 5 in boys and 10 in girls is a significant risk factor for earlier age at FSI. Adolescent sexual health promotion should consider early intervention in children with behavior problems, particularly boys.