Prevalence and Predictors of Sexual Inexperience in Adulthood

Abstract

The emergence of partnered sexual behavior represents an important developmental transition. However, little is known about individuals who remain sexually inexperienced well into adulthood. We used data from 2,857 individuals who participated in Waves I–IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and reported no sexual activity (i.e., oral-genital, vaginal, or anal sex) by age 18 to identify, using discrete-time survival models, adolescent sociodemographic, biosocial, and behavioral characteristics that predicted adult sexual inexperience. The mean age of participants at Wave IV was 28.5 years (SD = 1.92). Over one out of eight participants who did not initiate sexual activity during adolescence remained abstinent as young adults. Sexual non-attraction significantly predicted sexual inexperience among both males (aOR = 0.5) and females (aOR = 0.6). Males also had lower odds of initiating sexual activity after age 18 if they were non-Hispanic Asian, reported later than average pubertal development, or were rated as physically unattractive (aORs = 0.6–0.7). Females who were overweight, had lower cognitive performance, or reported frequent religious attendance had lower odds of sexual experience (aORs = 0.7–0.8) while those who were rated by the interviewers as very attractive or whose parents had lower educational attainment had higher odds of sexual experience (aORs = 1.4–1.8). Our findings underscore the heterogeneity of this unique population and suggest that there are a number of different pathways that may lead to either voluntary or involuntary adult sexual inexperience. Understanding the meaning of sexual inexperience in young adulthood may have important implications for the study of sexuality development across the life course.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Fifty-one participants who reported none of these sexual experiences but reported a marriage partner with a valid marriage date were coded as sexually experienced, with their age at marriage used as their age at first sexual experience. The vast majority of these participants showed patterns of responses (e.g., history of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection) that indicated past sexual experience.

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Acknowledgments

Effort by Drs. Haydon, Herring, and Halpern was supported by grant R01HD57046, awarded to Dr. Halpern of the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. This research was also supported by grant 5 R24 HD050924, Carolina Population Center, awarded to the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health Web site (http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth). No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. At the time this work was conducted, Drs. Haydon and McRee were doctoral students in the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and Dr. Haydon was also a pre-doctoral trainee at the Carolina Population Center, both at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Correspondence to Abigail A. Haydon.

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Haydon, A.A., Cheng, M.M., Herring, A.H. et al. Prevalence and Predictors of Sexual Inexperience in Adulthood. Arch Sex Behav 43, 221–230 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-013-0164-3

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Keywords

  • Add Health
  • Abstinence
  • Virginity
  • Asexuality