What Happens When Girls Have Sex Before Turning 17

January 4th 2016

Laura Donovan

The average person has sex for the first time around 17, but girls who have intercourse before this age face a social backlash unknown to their sexually active male counterparts, a recent study found.

Here's what the study found.

The study researchers used data from the PROSPER longitudinal study, which observed two cohorts of youth from nearly 30 rural communities in Iowa and Pennsylvania when the student subjects went through sixth to ninth grade and were from ages 11 to 16 years old. Students were interviewed about their best friends during fall and spring of sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth grades.

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During the interview waves in which students reported having sex, girls experienced a 45 percent decrease in social acceptance while boys experienced a nearly 90 percent increase in social acceptance. When girls reported simply "making out" rather than having sex, they experienced a 25 percent increase in social acceptance while boys experienced a nearly 30 percent decrease in social acceptance.


"Our results are consistent with traditional gender scripts," Derek Kreager, the study lead and an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Pennsylvania State University, said in a release.

"Men and boys are expected to act on innate or strong sex drives to initiate heterosexual contacts for the purpose of sex rather than romance and pursue multiple sexual partnerships. In contrast, women and girls are expected to desire romance over sex, value monogamy, and 'gatekeep' male sexual advances within committed relationships."

This creates a harsh double standard.

Because women and girls who "violate traditional sexual scripts and have casual and/or multiple sexual partnerships are socially stigmatized, whereas men and boys performing similar behaviors are rewarded for achieving masculine ideals," Kreager said.

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While girls who have sex tend to lose female and male friends, boys who simple make out rather than have sex mainly lose male friends. Kreager said that it's not surprising that girls don't shame boys for making out, as making out is physically and personally satisfying for boys and girls alike. But boys still shame girls for having sex even though it benefits them personally and physically, and the researchers suggested that boys who aren't having sex may be social punishing girls who do out of spite.

"[O]nly a small minority of boys have such sexual access, so those who do not have sex negatively define the girls who are having sex," Kreager said.

Sex educator Logan Levkoff told The New York Times' Women in the World section in 2015 that young people who grow up with these kind of beliefs could develop a skewed view of what makes a fulfilling relationship.

“[The study suggests that] judgment is based on the behavior, rather than the context or health of the relationship or interaction,” she told the publication. “Everyone is entitled to explore and express their sexuality free from shame, guilt, and the sexual double standard.”

The findings are reminiscent of 2010 comedy, "Easy A," in which actress Emma Stone plays a young girl who pretends to have sex with a lot of people at school to stop feeling invisible among her peers. Though some find her cool, she is shamed by many classmates for developing a "promiscuous" reputation. She begins wearing the letter "A" on her clothing in reference to "The Scarlet Letter," in which main character Hester Prynne is forced to don the letter "A" as social punishment for committing adultery.

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Young girls are shamed for more than just having sex.

Many female teens face sexist dress code policies at school, which punishes girls for dressing in a way that might distract their male peers. This puts the blame on girls rather than holding young men accountable for focusing in class.

Teen girls who may be more physically developed than most can also face increased social shaming. Seventeen-year-old "Modern Family" star Ariel Winter has said many times that others have criticized the way she looks and dresses given her large natural breasts. Last year, she was harassed online for posing in a bikini beside her nieces in a photo.


A photo posted by Ariel Winter (@arielwinter) on


A photo posted by Ariel Winter (@arielwinter) on

Last summer, she told Glamour about her decision to have breast reduction surgery, adding that hurtful comments about her body lowered her self-esteem.

"There was so little that I could wear that was age-appropriate. I’d have to wear the dress that was super tight and formfitted everywhere because if I didn’t, it didn’t look good. I didn’t really have an option other than to wear fitted clothes. Everyone would [say], 'Why is she dressing so mature? That’s so inappropriate for her age!' I understood what they were saying. It’s not like I wanted to pick out those inappropriate dresses, it’s just that I didn’t really have another choice, or I was going to get ridiculed. It’s hard when you’re a teenage girl and you already have a lot of ridicule and then you pile on more, and it’s kind of…it just gets too much."

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