Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 37, Issue 9, pp 1085–1096 | Cite as

Sexual Debut Timing and Depressive Symptoms in Emerging Adulthood

Empirical Research


The association between sexual debut timing and depressive symptomatology in adolescence and emerging adulthood was examined using data from Waves I, II and III of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Respondents who reported never having sexual intercourse at Wave I and were 18–22 years of age at Wave III were included (n = 5,061). Twenty percent of respondents experienced early (<age 16) and 49% experienced typical (ages 16–18) sexual debut. In bivariate analyses, pre-debut depressive symptoms were associated with earlier sexual debut among female but not male adolescents. In models adjusting for demographic characteristics and pre-debut depressive symptoms, sexual debut was positively related to adolescent (Wave II) depressive symptomatology, but only among female adolescents age less than sixteen. However, sexual debut timing was unassociated with emerging adult (Wave III) depressive symptomatology for both male and female respondents. Findings suggest sexual debut timing does not have implications for depressive symptomatology beyond adolescence.


Sexual initiation Longitudinal Depression Sex differences 



This research uses data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by a grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Persons interested in obtaining data files from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516–2524 ( No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. Ms. Spriggs’ time on this project was supported by the Carolina Population Center, NICHD NRSA predoctoral traineeship, grant number NIH-NICHD T32-HD07168. An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the 2007 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Maternal and Child HealthUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Carolina Population CenterUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

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