April 15th, 2007

body paint

What really struck me about this story...

...I've picked up from a couple of blogs (can't track down where right now) that classes in sexual abstinence in the US actually made no difference to the average age at which the students attending them first had sex.

That's no big surprise. But what really struck me - indeed, shocked me - was that the average age of first sexual intercourse among the American students surveyed was 14.9. I've been vaguely googling to get an idea of what the European figures are, and while of course all statistics are a bit vague (and do you mean the age at which all today's adults first had sex? Or the age at which today's teenagers first had sex, which will pull the figure down because of the reasonably large number who are still virgins and so don't count in the tally?) the US figure strikes me as incredibly low.

The big European survey on this appears to be "Sexual Initiation and Gender in Europe: A Cross-cultural Analysis of Trends in the Twentieth Century" by M. Bozon and O. Kontula, a chapter in Sexual Behaviour and HIV/AIDS in Europe published in 1998. I haven't been able to get hold of it in the course of a half-hours surfing (quelle surprise), but there are enough quotes from it in on-line sources that it appears that Bozon and Kontula found the age of first sexual intercourse in most EU countries to be in the 17-20 age range. This BBC article says the average age for the UK is now 16, still over a year older than the US figure.

Evidence from a different part of the world: in this fascinating survey of HIV/AIDS in Africa, the two lowest ages for 24 African countries are 15.6 (for women) in Niger and 15.7 (for men) in Gabon. For most countries it is more in the British/European range of upper teens. A UN report on the Cape Verde Islands says: "The median age of first sexual intercourse was estimated at 16.3 years for girls and 15.3 years for boys" - so still older than the Americans in the survey. The UN goes on to say, "This alarming situation is the result primarily of the sociocultural context and of inadequate reproductive health clinical services for youth." Switching to yet another part of the world, another UN report on Vietnam states with regret that "The average age of first sexual contact has dropped to about 19 years and even lower for adolescents living in the streets".

So, do we really think that American teenagers are having sex earlier than teenagers in almost any other country in the world - in fact, earlier than in any other country where I have been able to find statistics? Isn't that the real story here? And how do we think that the US compares to the Cape Verde Islands in terms of "the sociocultural context and ... reproductive health clinical services for youth"?

Edited to add: I misunderstood the key statistics - see correcting post here.

April Books 12) Blindsight

12) Blindsight, by Peter Watts

Next up in my set of this year's Hugo nominees. Lots of Stuff here: a crew of five almost-human specialists is sent out to investigate a vast alien artifact which has appeared in the vicinity of the Solar System, with shades of Hyperion, Rendezvous with Rama, and lots and lots of ideas about the physical nature of consciousness and perception, tied up with a damaged and therefore probably unreliable narrator. There's enough here to keep specialists or enthusiasts in that field very happy. Myself, I found the beginning too rushed; I could have done with a decent expository chapter, or even some good old-fashioned info-dumping, to get me on track earlier. Also the author has a scholarly afterword written with welcome flashes of wit and humour, which sadly did not leak into the pages of the novel itself. Not bad, though.