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17 Now Average Age Of First Sexual Experience
Irish Times 17 October 2006
By Evelyn Ring

MOST people now in their 20s had sex for the first time before their 18th birthday, a groundbreaking new Irish study on sexual health and relationships reveals.

It shows that over half of men and women under 25 years had their first sexual experience at 17 years.

And the study shows that people are now having their first sexual experience around six years earlier than was the case around 40 years ago.

The decreasing age of first sex also suggests that an increasing number of young people may be having sex before the legal age of consent, now set at 17 years.

The study of 7,441 adults aged between 18 and 64 found that 31% of men and 22% of women aged 18 to 24 had their first sexual experience before 17.

Women who have sex before 17 are 70% more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy and three times more likely to experience abortion.

Also, men and women who have sex before 17 are three times more likely to report experiencing a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

At the launch of the report, Health Minister, Mary Harney, said it was now clear that people were beginning sexual relationships at a much earlier age and our society had to respond to that.

Mr Harney said it was essential that sex education was provided both at school level and within the home and she believed both teachers and parents needed to be resourced to do that.

“I am particularly concerned that people from a lower socio-economic group, who have a lower standard of education, are having sexual experiences under the age of 17. I believe that is a concern for our society,” she said.

One of the more significant findings in the Irish Study of Sexual Health and Relationships, commissioned by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency and the Department of Health, was that over 90% thought sex education should be provided at school while 80% said it should be provided in the home.

The minister pointed out that pushing the safe sex message was the way to minimise the number of crisis pregnancies. “Knowledge about and access to contraception is the key,” she stressed.

Ms Harney said it would now be a matter for both the Health Service Executive and the Crisis Pregnancy Agency to devise an action programme based on the study's findings.

Among people aged 18 to 24 years, over 90% used contraception when they last had sex. Those who did not protect themselves against pregnancy and STIs said they had been drinking or taking drugs at the time. A number said they did not use contraception because none was available or that the sex was unplanned.

Contraception use was also low among women aged between 35 and 44 years, with 19% not using contraception when they last had intercourse.

This was due to ambivalence to pregnancy; a belief that they were post menopausal and a negative attitude towards the contraceptive pill.