Friday, November 30, 2007

Use it or Lose it?

Those who have sex later, particularly men, seem to experience more sexual dysfunction, according to a new study (Hat tip: Larry):

While past research has linked early sexual activity to health problems, a new study suggests that waiting too long to start having sex carries risks of its own.

Those who lose their virginity at a later age -- around 21 to 23 years of age -- tend to be more likely to experience sexual dysfunction problems later, say researchers at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute's HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies.

The article points out that psychological factors are likely to play a part in this sexual dsyfunction:

From a clinical standpoint, there are often dynamics other than the desire to be abstinent until marriage, such as fear of intimacy, body image problems, alcohol and drug abuse, and sexual dysfunction," he said. He adds that these factors "might influence the delay of sexual debut as a means of avoiding sexual issues."

Okay, so if you want to know the real reason for this study, it seems to be apparent by the end of the article:

The researchers say this preliminary evidence may point up detrimental effects of abstinence-only education.

The authors write that the study "lends credence to research showing that abstinence-only education may actually increase health risks," adding that other approaches may better equip young people to avoid both short- and long-term sexual health consequences.

I am not a fan of abstinence-only education, but I wonder how much of this particular research is driven by a desire to find fault with providing these programs in schools?


Blogger Karasoth said...

Woooooh a H/T

also the study was based on data which (as near as the article tells me) occurred before widespread use of Abstinence only education

1:00 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger Earnest Iconoclast said...

They need to be reminded that correlation does not imply causation. People who wait to have sex for some reasons (low self-esteem, fear, etc...) may have problems while people who wait for more healthy reasons (wanting to save sex for someone they love, etc...) may not.

It's like saying that diets cause people to be fat just because so many fat people are on diets...


1:01 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger Cham said...

Was the study funded or influenced by any group that is opposed to abstinence-only government funding? If not, then the author hypothesized about the reasons for the results and the possible impact of government funding decisions. It might have been an offhand comment from the author about abstinence-only education that has no impact on anything.

I will agree with the author that the longer a man holds off sexual activity the more likely there are mental problems or alcohol and drug issues.

Abstinence-only education hasn't done much to decrease sexual activity among students. The kids can take all the abstinence oaths they want, when the hormones rage they have sex anyway. By the time anyone figures out which boys/men are delaying sexual activity for the wrong reasons the males are already in their 20s, far away from the reaches of the public school system.

1:11 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


Really? I thought abstinence-only education started being pushed in the 1980's.

1:29 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger Serket said...

As a 24-year-old male virgin, I find this a little disturbing. I'd say my two main reasons for it are: the desire to be abstinent until marriage and fear of intimacy.

2:11 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger DADvocate said...

This was also in the article:

The increase in sexual problems was also seen in those who had a comparably earlier sexual debut.

ABC News chose to focus on the "too late" aspect. The article contains too much speculation and opinion only tangentally related to the study. It reads more like an op-ed piece using the study as a starting point.

If there is any abstinence-only education in my kids' schools, I haven't heard about it. But, they don't hand out condoms either. Although you can bet you booty that's what was taught at the Catholic high school from which me older son recently graduated.

This does at least border on being a case of using "science" to push a political/social agenda.

2:23 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger Memphis said...

Any 'study' that includes a political message invariably is proven to be crap in time. The truth will out and something like this is as much about influencing who gets funding and who doesn't as anything else. It's just politics as usual. But don't be surprised if, even after it is disproven, politicians will continue quoting it and new bills and laws will emerge based on it.

2:57 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger Karasoth said...


their were attempts to start it in the 1980s and those got tied up in Court. it wasn't until the Newt Era welfare reforms (and after a settlement occurred which laid out how it could be done) that it happened on any significant scale. The feds have also since the 90s started robust grant programs to the states for it. all of which occurred within 2 years of the start of the study which this study uses for Data Analysis. So I find it exceptionally unlikely that their conclusion can work

3:26 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger Jason said...

My wife & I received a subscription to a Christian marriage magazine as a wedding present. One of the articles I remember was about newlywed couples who - having spent their entire adult lives treating sex as a danger to be avoided - needed counseling to overcome that mindset after marriage.

I've been married for eleven years now, so it's been a known issue within the abstinence community for at least a decade.

4:06 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger tomcal said...

Does this take into account that any boy who has reached puberty has sex (albeit with himself) at least 6 times a day?

Maybe it's just late bloomers who suffer the problem :)

4:56 PM, November 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend of mine got an infection (in our early twenties at the time) from not umm, clearing the holding tanks out often enough.

The doctor actually told him to find a loose girl friend, or spank the monkey with the reckless abandon. He's been blind for better than thirty years now.

5:15 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger tomcal said...

I imagine he grew hair on his palms as well.

That's got to be a sight, a blind man with hairy palms headed toward you...

5:25 PM, November 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that where that hair comes from?

6:29 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger Cham said...

Jason, I never understood this whole issue of saving oneself for marriage and then be able to be an acrobat in the bedroom nightly afterward. I can't imagine some of these devotedly religious young people getting the fire and brimstone treatment at church about having sex outside of marriage for years then getting hitched and be immediately able to prance around the bedroom in the latest angel fashions from VS working a 69. It just doesn't compute.

6:31 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger Dave said...

Sex is natural, sex is fun, sex is best when it's one on one!

What's the big deal? It's just sex. Life's too short to wait.

6:40 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger Friend of USA said...

Those who lose their virginity at a later age -- around 21 to 23 years of age -- tend to be more likely to experience sexual dysfunction problems later, say researchers at Columbia University

Does that mean that those who have been abused at a young age by a pedophile are even less likely to experience sexual dysfunction problems later?

10:22 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger Sid said...

Dr. Helen said "but I wonder how much of this particular research is driven by a desire to find fault with providing these programs in schools?"

Sid said "How much? All of it". Faulty design to gather faulty data always yields faulty results.

Ignore the man behind the curtain, I'm the researcher of OZ.

10:33 PM, November 30, 2007  
Blogger El Duderino said...

There are at least two types of people who refrain from having sex, those who want to and those who have to. Presumably, those who want have their reasons. It’s not surprising that those who have to may have some sexual dysfunction other than being very unattractive.
I have a friend who did not have sex until he was married at age 34, which amazed me since he’s a tall, good looking, brilliant former NCAA division 1A athlete and very, very wealthy. Do people who refrain from sex have that ability because of some underlying inability, disinterest or pathology?
In the mid eighties, when I came of age, people acted like if you had unprotected heterosexual sex just once your chances of contracting AIDS were 50/50. Talk about amping up fear for political purposes. Conservatives were all about keeping things zipped up anyway and the liberals wanted the heterosexual community to be invested in the fight against AIDS, even though the chance of two suburban kids at a Catholic high school infecting other in 1983 were pretty damn low.

12:48 AM, December 01, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

My worry is in creating fear. There's a dangerous amount of fear-mongering is social-science and advocacy; at least, that is how I see it.

I have no idea if there is anything to the study. Repeat it with different authors. But that leads to the problem Feynman pointed out in the 1960's ... social science people not repeating experiments to see if one gets the same results.

4:10 AM, December 01, 2007  
Blogger SGT Ted said...

My dad used abstinence only education. He said "Son, keep it in your pants until you are married. That way you can get married when YOU want to, not because you HAVE to." Shotgun weddings were still fashionable then. I took it to heart. At least, until I was 20 and out of the house. :D

1:09 PM, December 01, 2007  
Blogger tomcal said...

After marriage, it's not nightly, its more like bi-annually, and that only lasts while you are trying to get pregnant.

4:41 PM, December 01, 2007  
Blogger Bruce Hayden said...

Another possible problem with causation - sex drive. Sex drive seems to vary enormously across the population. Much of this is probably tied to hormone levels. So, someone who delays becoming sexually active may do so because they are not as hormonally driven to do so. And it should be no surprise that they might be ultimately more susceptible to sexual performance problems.

I find the hormone level hypothesis at least as plausible as the abstinence only hypothesis discussed above.

5:01 PM, December 01, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'll add another problem here, age of which sexual maturity. I was 18 before I noticed girls that way. That is not all that uncommon in males. I rather doubt the authors corrected for age of full maturity.

4:51 AM, December 02, 2007  
Blogger Sissy Willis said...

Could anything be quainter than the notion of "losing" one's virginity? How about "embracing" life, for starters? It's only Darwinian.

6:26 PM, December 02, 2007  
Blogger Magson said...

I became "active" at the age of 23 on my wedding night. That's why I "waited." I never thought of it as waiting, though.

Never had any problems since either.

5:04 AM, December 03, 2007  
Blogger N/A said...

I didn't have intimate relations with anyone until I met the woman of my dreams. I was in my mid twenties at the time.

My reasons for waiting were manifold. First, the lesson I took away from sex ed (which was not by any means abstinence only) was that the world was full of horrible diseases, and a night with a random strumpet wasn't worth a lifetime of crotch-rot or worse.

Second, and more importantly, I was raised with the idea that sex was an aspect of a loving relationship, and that the latter came before the former.

Third, and most importantly, I was raised with the peculiar idea that a man should take responsibility for his actions. The lack of a 100% success rate for anything but abstinence with regards to birth control strongly suggested that I keep my lingham out of anyone's yoni until I was ready to commit to raising a kid. (People like me are often accused of hating sex simply because we know what it's for.)

Haven't had any troubles in the bedroom department so far. Even managed to produce a beautiful baby girl with my wife, in spite of my "damaged" sexual psyche.

9:16 AM, December 03, 2007  
Blogger N/A said...

Cham said:
Jason, I never understood this whole issue of saving oneself for marriage and then be able to be an acrobat in the bedroom nightly afterward. I can't imagine some of these devotedly religious young people getting the fire and brimstone treatment at church about having sex outside of marriage for years then getting hitched and be immediately able to prance around the bedroom in the latest angel fashions from VS working a 69. It just doesn't compute.

It doesn't compute if you think that the only good sex involves contortions and acrobatics.

It is my opinion that if you and your partner can't enjoy the plain missionary position, at least one of you is doing something wrong.

9:20 AM, December 03, 2007  
Blogger LZ said...

Dysfunctional people delay sexual activity, therefore everyone who delays sexual activity is dysfunctional?

9:27 AM, December 03, 2007  
Blogger Earnest Iconoclast said...

I suspect that finding someone who is waiting for whatever reason and forcing them to have sex early won't make the "problem" go away... If they are going to have problems later on, it may not be BECAUSE they waited to have sex, but because of something else that also caused them to wait to have sex.


1:10 PM, December 03, 2007  
Blogger Serket said...


I noticed in your profile that you live in Utah and so do I. I imagine because of the religious environment, waiting for marriage is more common here than in other states.

Sissy willis,

I might have missed your point, but I agree that you should wait for someone special and not waste it.

2:04 PM, December 03, 2007  
Blogger ricpic said...

I was a "late bloomer" sexually and, yes, I can now see that it was related to fear of intimacy, which is maybe a genteel way of saying fear of being devoured by the female. Since I have had recurrent failures to "get it up" since, I assume that that fear persists, if in a diminished state. So, based on my own experience, I'd say its better not to start late, sexually.

10:55 AM, December 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love to be around and talk with women. They are certainly wonderful to have conversations with. That is, as long as there is a beginning, and an end. Beyond that (now) my fear of intimacy has never been greater. There is a line in a friendship, or acquaintance, with a woman, that I will never step across again. I joke about many things. But not this.

The point was discussed at length on this blog quite a while back. Somehow, the rules change once this line is crossed. It is akin to someone gives, so someone owes. I have to put up with too much of that crap in the business world, and see too much of it in politics. I find that too strange an arrangement - even if it's with a brunette possessing the most beautiful green eyes and heart melting smile I've ever seen.

I'm not saying I see it clearly. But I am saying it is not for me anymore. I can (and do) love my kids completely, unconditionally.
And I know they love me. In the current clime, it is no longer safe to do so with a partner.

9:36 PM, December 08, 2007  
Blogger Davey Jones said...

Hi Dr Helen,
This is an interesting article. I'm a 35 year old male from the U.K. and I'm still a virgin. As far as puberty goes I'd say I was a late-ish bloomer, started growing pubic hair when I was 13, gradual deepening of my voice and experiencing orgasm for the first time when I just hit 16 when I had my first nocturnal emmision. I don't think I've ever had a problem with body image even though I'm a really skinny guy. I've been fairly comfortable showering naked during my teenage years at school. Also our sex-ed at school wasn't abstinence based really but more kinda common sense based.
I've have had a happy childhood and had fairly trouble free adolescent years (well my parents thought so!) and I've been happy playing racket sports etc. I've never taken drugs or consumed excess alchohol but I haven't had a girlfriend yet. The closest I've raelly come to sex (apart from masturbation!!) was when I was 26 and a girl of about 19 walked into the men's changing room at my sports club and saw me showering naked! I was a little embarrassed, maybe slightly excited at being seen nude by a girl, but wasn't really bothered by the incident. I guess my time may come but hope that I'm able to intimate with a girl and not have any sexual hang-ups!

3:58 PM, February 25, 2008  
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