A new study out of the Guttmacher Institute warns that an alarming number of boys are having sex before the age of 13. Perhaps more importantly, while some data shows differing quantification, the quality of these experiences are similar. In fact, the study authors advise that our culture has broad scripts about masculinity that might encourage sex as early [and often] as possible.
Only about half of the US states mandate some kind of sex education at some point during public elementary and/or secondary schooling. Generally, most children will receive this education between grades 6 and 12, but what they learn is not standardized. Instead, the context and content of sexual education, in America, is extremely dependent on region, school, and parental preferences.
This imbalance is so prolific, in fact, the Guttmacher Institute advises that fewer than half of all high schools—and not even a quarter of middle schools—delivered sex education curriculum that cover all of the 16 critical maturation topics identified by the CDC were available, as recently as 2014.
Accordingly Guttmacher Institute researcher Laura Lindberg comments, “Too often, the sexual health needs of young men are overlooked. Outdated attitudes and harmful gender stereotypes leave many young men without needed information and services.”
As such, Marcell recounts stories of boys and adolescent males discussing their first sexual encounter in ways which suggest they did not anticipate or understand the event; nor did they comprehend what was appropriate. He expressed concern that “early sex experiences happening to boys could be unwanted and influence their future health.”
Indeed, the study indicates that of the boys between 18 and 24 who confirmed the first sexual encounter before the age of 13, 8.5 percent characterized the experience as unwanted and 37 percent reported mixed feelings. In addition, the study warns young men of color (and black males, in particular) and those exposed to hypermasculine stereotypes tend to feel pressured towards early sexual initiation.
Arik Marcell, MD. MPH is an associate professor of pediatrics with Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkin’s Children’s Center. He explains that boys who have sex before the age of 13 have not typically received appropriate sexual education. As such, we need to develop a better system that can respond to (or—perhaps more effectively—anticipate) their needs.
The study has been published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.