A recent Yale psychiatry study shows that early to bed might not equal healthy, wealthy or wise.
“Early to Bed: A Study of Adaptation Among Sexually Active Urban Adolescent Girls Younger Than Age Sixteen,” is based on survey data collected in 1998 from students in New Haven public schools. The study found that sexually active adolescent girls scored lower in school, lacked academic motivation, and were more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression, including substance abuse.
“Teenage pregnancy was one of the initial hooks,” project leader and psychiatry professor Dr. Andres Martin said. “I wanted to understand a little more about the pathways leading to teenage pregnancy and how pregnant teenagers might cope with it.”
The sexually active students surveyed rated their academic motivation six percent lower than the other participants, and the sexually active teens’ depression scores were over 30 percent greater than subjects who were not sexually active.
He said the study was originally intended to look solely at teenage pregnancy and its association with psychosocial variables. But Martin said he did not realize the rate of teenage pregnancy would be so low, and he could not obtain a large enough group to gain meaningful data. Instead, he broadened his subject population to include teenagers with any early sexual experience. The mean age of the students surveyed was 13.4 years.
Argyro Caminis MED ’07, who researched pre-existing information on the topic, found that Martin’s study was one of the first to look at the sexual experiences of adolescents younger than 16.
“The studies need to focus on kids that are younger,” Caminis said. “Kids seem to be having sex at younger ages than are in these studies. There are a lot of studies about 16-year-olds but not enough on 10-year-olds to 12-year-olds.”
Martin said relying only on middle school and high school students for the entirety of the data was both an advantage and a disadvantage for the study.
“Some students may not have responded to all of the questions, some students might not have gone to school that day, and a student could be lying,” he said. “These are all cons that come with this type of research.”
While some students may have not answered honestly, Caminis said data from a large number of students revealed major patterns that she said are accurate, even if some were dishonest.
Martin said the study was designed to be administered to a large population and it did account for the comfort level of the questioning atmosphere.
“Obviously some of these questions are very personal and by the very nature of how they are asked — in a public classroom by someone reading the questions — it can be very awkward and personal,” he said. “We erred on the side of big numbers. It was not a very intimate type of research.”
The paper will be published in April, and Caminis said data is already being collected for a follow-up study that will compare the responses of girls and boys.
“Both boys and girls are effected by early sexual experience,” Caminis said. “Both sexes need to be studied, no question.”