Many U.S. teenagers have their first sexual experience during high school, which is why understanding the possible relationship between sexual behavior and academic performance is important. A study published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, just like previous research, showed that the negative impact of first sexual intercourse on educational success is possible and mostly concerns younger females, especially those belonging to minorities.
Mechanisms that may be responsible for the negative relationship between early sexual debut and education range from distraction from educational goals, prioritizing social and romantic relationships over studying to problems resulting from emotional states following first intercourse.
For this study, researchers from the University of Massachusetts used data from 1,321 eight and ninth-graders born in 1980 and 1984. Information was collected over four years and used to examine the relationship between first sexual intercourse and grade point average (GPA). Researchers took into consideration not only academic achievement and first intercourse but also age, gender, ethnicity and relationship context in which the sexual intercourse happened.
Although no relationship was found overall between students’ first sexual intercourse and GPA, results were different when looking at younger minority adolescents. This confirmed previous research emphasizing the negative effect among younger black females and Latinos of both genders. Interestingly, for black females, the negative effect of intercourse on GPA was found only in the context of romantic relationships, with a predicted GPA score of approximately 250, between a C+ and a B-. Among individuals who hadn’t experienced sexual debut the score was significantly higher- above 280, between B- and a B. Similar results were found for 14-year-old Lations of both gender – GPA for those who had first intercourse was approximately below B-, whereas those who hadn’t had sex scored closer to B.
The authors argue this effect is due to a combination of racism and sexism.
“One of our key findings was the negative association between first sex and GPA for black females and Latinos of both genders, but not for black males or whites of either gender”
“Young minority females often face a combination of racism and sexism that appears to constrain their sexuality to a greater degree than sexism alone constrains the sexuality of white females.”
The authors note several limitations to the study; limited information on the sexual experiences and a somewhat outdated sample, considering the newer generations’ attitudes toward adolescents having sex have become slightly more open with improvements in contraceptive use. Finally, the sample sizes for minority groups were relatively small and should be viewed with caution and replicated using additional data, the authors conclude.
The study, “Sex and Education: Does Sexual Debut During Adolescence Lead to Poor Grades?”, was authored by Tanya Rouleau Whitworth and Anthony Paik.