By Hilary White

NEW YORK, December 5, 2007 ( – While an analysis of medical statistics on sexual activity and health show that starting sexual activity too early is associated with increased levels of potentially fatal disease, the mainstream media has used it to claim that abstinence-only sex education and waiting for sex until marriage is medically dangerous.

Using information from the 1998 US survey, National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, researchers at Columbia found there were more physical dangers associated with starting sexual activity too early, most significantly, an increase in the rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), including HIV/AIDS. Starting sexual activity later, however, was associated with “sexual function” problems, largely in men, and what the study’s authors said were impeded social and emotional development.

The authors admitted that the greater risks are associated with starting sexual activity too young.

Despite the contrast between the life-threatening consequences associated with an early loss of virginity, and the reported risks of delayed “emotional skills” development of starting too late, the mainstream media has attended heavily to the latter aspect of the findings.

ABC news ran the headline on their website, “Losing Virginity Later Linked to Sexual Problems”. Fox news offered, “Waiting Too Long to Have Sex Linked to Sexual Dysfunction Later in Life, Study Says”. Medical News Today said, “Many Teens Who Take ‘Virginity Pledges’ Substitute Other High-Risk Behavior for Intercourse, Study Says.”

Reuters went so far as to say the findings “cast some doubts on the benefits of abstinence-only sexual education that has been introduced in U.S. public schools.”

The study, titled “Long-Term Health Correlates of Timing of Sexual Debut: Results From a National US Study” published by the American Journal of Public Health, found that loss of virginity at too early an age was also associated with risk factors such as higher numbers of sexual partners and a history of alcohol-related sexual activity.

The study “explored long-term health correlates of age at sexual initiation and of abstinence until marriage” and admitted that “late initiation was associated with fewer risk factors”.

The study’s authors were careful to suggest that their research “only partially” supported abstinence-only education. Reuters quotes them saying that delaying sexual activity may “create health risks by impeding development of the emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal skills that are crucial to satisfactory sexual functioning and general well-being.”

Dozens of internet news reports showed a consistent lack of interest by media in the findings associated with life-threatening illnesses.

The news wire for the Centre for American Progress gave the headline, “Being a 40-Year-Old Virgin Isn’t a Good Thing.” The popular website Celebrity Cafe said, “New Research Suggests Waiting to Lose Virginity Can be Problematic.” News Release Wire said, “Losing Virginity Later Linked to Sexual Problems, Finds Research.” Mike Kuykendall of wrote, “Abstinence Debunked: Lessons from the Front Lines.”

Read the study’s abstract: