Beyond age at first sex: patterns of emerging sexual behavior in adolescence and young adulthood.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Although the emergence of sexual expression during adolescence and early adulthood is nearly universal, little is known about patterns of initiation.


We used latent class analysis to group 12,194 respondents from waves I and IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) into one of five classes based on variety, timing, spacing, and sequencing of oral-genital, anal, and vaginal sex. Multinomial logistic regression models, stratified by biological sex, examined associations between sociodemographic characteristics and class membership.


Approximately half of respondents followed a pattern characterized predominately by initiation of vaginal sex first, average age of initiation of approximately 16 years, and spacing of >1 year between initiation of the first and second behaviors; almost one-third initiated sexual activity slightly later but reported first experiences of oral-genital and vaginal sex within the same year. Classes characterized by postponement of sexual activity, initiation of only one type of behavior, or adolescent initiation of anal sex were substantially less common. Compared with white respondents, black respondents were more likely to appear in classes characterized by initiation of vaginal sex first. Respondents from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to be in classes distinguished by early/atypical patterns of initiation.


A small number of typical and atypical patterns capture the emergence of sexual behavior during adolescence, but these patterns reveal complex associations among different elements of emerging sexuality that should be considered in future research.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Haydon, AA; Herring, AH; Prinstein, MJ; Halpern, CT

Published Date

  • May 2012

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 50 / 5

Start / End Page

  • 456 - 463

PubMed ID

  • 22525108

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC3336094

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1879-1972

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1054-139X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.09.006


  • eng