This study examines retrospective reports of factors anticipated to impact first intercourse in a random sample of 897 Jamaican women, and contributes to our understanding of the relationship between sexual risk, knowledge, and economic and demographic correlates of first intercourse. A relationship between initiation of intercourse prior to the age of consent (16 years) and factors occurring at or around the time of first intercourse was found. Early initiators were more likely to have had less early family stability and to have experienced menarche at a younger age than late initiators. Although early initiators of intercourse were more likely to report lower socioeconomic status, less STD knowledge, and greater numbers of pregnancies, they were no more likely to report more sexual partners than women who engaged in first intercourse after the age of consent, and had a greater number of long-term relationships. Regardless of age of first intercourse, women need to be made aware of the risks of sexual contact so that they can make informed decisions about the consequences of sexual activity. Overall, results are consistent with work conducted in other parts of the Caribbean and America regarding the age at which young women engage in first intercourse. Findings suggest the need for further work exploring expectations at first intercourse such as marriage, economic support, or relationship stability. Implications of these findings are discussed within the context of economic and structural factors that both increase and decrease risks.
PIP: This study examines retrospective reports of factors anticipated to impact first intercourse among 897 women selected randomly in Jamaica. Three groups of factors were associated with early vs. late initiation of intercourse. A significant association was noted between family structure in childhood and age of first intercourse. Women growing up in one-parent families were more likely to engage in intercourse before the age of 16. The age of menarche was also significantly associated with age of intercourse. The characteristics of the first sexual partner and the characteristics of the relationship were significantly associated with the age of intercourse. On the other hand, there are four sets of variables assessing current demographic characteristics, current relationship status, and factors such as religiosity and knowledge on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It was observed that early initiators of intercourse were more likely to report lower socioeconomic status, less STD knowledge, and a greater number of pregnancies. This study identifies some of the circumstances of first intercourse, which highlight the need to develop health and educational intervention programs that offer more options to young adolescents who may consider early childbearing to stabilize relationships.