The Significance of Sexual Debut in Women’s Lives


Purpose of Review

For decades, researchers have been examining the correlates, outcomes, and contexts related to sexual debut. Early inquiries employed mostly retrospective methods with convenience samples, focusing on the negative correlates of early sexual debut. However, recent research has been more nuanced, using longitudinal methods with nationally representative samples around the globe, accounting for relevant covariates, and examining the correlates of early, later, and nonexistent sexual debut. In this review, we discuss the significance of the timing and context of sexual debut for women’s sexual lives, focusing especially on the new conceptualizations and insights gained from research in the past five years.


Although early sexual debut relative to one’s peers typically has been considered problematic in terms of later sexual health and psychological well-being, more recent research has demonstrated that other factors, including individual characteristics and family and peer influences, are co-occurring risk factors that may better explain these significant relationships. More recent research has demonstrated that sexual competence at debut (i.e., maturity and preparedness) has greater predictive utility of later sexual health and wellness, including positive affect and appraisals of sexual desirability.

Summary and Future Directions

From both a sociocultural and a methodological perspective, the framing of sexual debut has changed considerably in the past few decades. Accordingly, it is time to reconsider the framing of sexual debut to account for the wide range of sexual activities and relationship configurations that exist. Moreover, the study of sexual debut needs to include the individual, sociocultural, and contextual factors that might influence the way that the event is interpreted in an individual’s lifelong sexual trajectory.

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Current Sexual Health Reports

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