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3 Million US Women’s First Sexual Experience Was Involuntary, Tied To Negative Health Outcomes, According To JAMA Study

Many women have involuntary first sexual experiences according to a new study from JAMA
Many women have involuntary first sexual experiences according to a new study from JAMA
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The first sexual experience for 1 in 16 U.S. women was forced or coerced intercourse in their early teens, encounters that for some may have had lasting health repercussions, according to a new study in JAMA. 

“Association Between Forced Sexual Initiation and Health Outcomes Among US Women” found that almost 7 percent of women surveyed said their first sexual intercourse experience was involuntary; it happened at age 15 on average and the man was often several years older.

The experiences amount to rape, the authors say, although they relied on a national survey that didn't use the word in asking women about forced sex.

Almost half of those women who said intercourse was involuntary said they were held down and slightly more than half of them said they were verbally pressured to have sex against their will.

In the years after coerced or forced sex, affected women had more sex partners, unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and more reproductive health problems including pelvic pain and menstrual irregularities than women whose first sexual experience wasn't forced. Almost 16 percent reported fair or poor health, double the rate of other women. The study couldn't establish whether forced sex caused or contributed to any of the health or other problems.

We dive into the investigation with the lead author. Plus, how do you talk to teenagers about having consensual sex? How do you help teens navigate advocating for themselves, respecting their partner and creating a safe and healthy space in which to have sexual experiences?  

With files from the Associated Press.


Laura Hawks M.D., lead author of the study; she is an internist and researcher with Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance; she tweets @_LauraHawks

Emmalinda Maclean, program director and co-founder of More Than Sex Ed, a sexual education non-profit based in Los Angeles