The present research examined how the within-person association between sexual initiation and internalizing symptoms decays over time, using data with annual measurement occasions across adolescence (N = 1,789) and statistical models of within-person change. Sexual initiation was associated with increased levels of internalizing symptoms for early-initiating girls (ninth grade, approximately age 15), but not for on-time-initiating girls or for boys. The association between girls' early sexual initiation and internalizing symptoms declined precipitously over time. Indeed, 1 year after sexual debut, early-initiating girls were similar to on-time or noninitiating girls on internalizing symptoms, suggesting early sexual initiation does not produce lasting detriments to girls' mental health. Findings inform how researchers perceive sexual initiation, both as a developmental milestone and as a prevention target.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cultural Studies
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Behavioral Neuroscience