Early Sexual Initiation and Mental Health: A Fleeting Association or Enduring Change?

Rose Wesche, Derek A. Kreager, Eva S. Lefkowitz, Sonja E. Siennick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)611-627
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Research on Adolescence
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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