IOWA CITY, June 21, 2011 ( – A University of Iowa study has found that women who first engage in sex as young teens are more likely to divorce.

Published in the April issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, the analysis found that 31 percent of women who had sex for the first time as teens divorced within five years of getting married, and 47 percent divorced within 10 years. The divorce rate for women who delayed sex until adulthood was far lower: 15 percent at five years, and 27 percent at 10 years.

Author Anthony Paik, associate professor of sociology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, examined the responses of 3,793 ever-married women to the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth.

A first sexual experience that was unwanted or not completely wanted was strongly associated with divorce. If the young woman chose to lose her virginity as a teen, the results were more nuanced.

When the first intercourse took place early in adolescence – before the age of 16 – the women were more likely to divorce, even if that first sexual experience was wanted.

The study also revealed that 31 percent of women who experienced adolescent sexual debut had premarital sex with multiple partners, compared to 24 percent of those who waited. One in four women who had sex during their teenage years had a baby before they were married, compared to only one in ten who waited longer.

Moreover, only a small percentage of women who had sex before age 18 said it was completely wanted. Just 1 percent chose to have sex at age 13 or younger, 5 percent at age 14 or 15, and 10 percent at age 16 or 17. Another 42 percent reported first sexual intercourse before age 18 that was not completely wanted, while the remaining portion of the sample waited until age 18 or older to have sex (wanted, 22 percent; unwanted, 21 percent).

“It’s a timely topic, given the current debate over the sexualization of girls,” Paik said.