United Kingdom: Late Developers' Sex Risk Warning
April 12, 2005
Results from a study of 127 young women from three sexual health clinics indicate that the risk of STD infection seems to be more closely linked to late sexual development than to early sexual debut. The researchers believe that girls who mature early may derive some protection from their hormones.
The subjects were age 17 or younger and had begun menstruation in the previous five years. Screening for genital infections -- including chlamydia, human papillomavirus (HPV), and bacterial vaginosis found that almost two-thirds were infected with HPV; one in four had chlamydia; and more than half those with HPV had at least one other infection.
Certain behaviors affected particular infections, the researchers found. A recent new partner or condom use was associated with a lower risk for chlamydia. The use of emergency contraception was associated with a doubled risk of chlamydia. Smoking conferred protection against HPV, while sex during menstruation raised the risk of bacterial vaginosis.
All three infections, however, were significantly affected by sexual maturity: The more sexually mature females were less likely to have any of the infections, even after adjusting for factors like the number of partners.
The key, the researchers believe, may be that females who reach sexual maturity earlier have high levels of estrogen, which might help reduce the risk of infection by speeding physical development and protective changes in the reproductive tract.
Lead author Dr. Loretta Brabin said, "Our findings dispel the myth that vulnerability to sexual infection is all about the age of onset of sexual activity and high risk behavior." Still, she warned that no young woman should engage in risky sexual activity, especially since the research shows they are more likely to contract multiple STDs.
The full report, "Biological and Hormonal Markers of Chlamydia, Human Papillomavirus, and Bacterial Vaginosis Among Adolescents Attending Genitourinary Medicine Clinics," was published in Sexually Transmitted Infections (2005;81:128-132).
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.