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The use of the average age of onset of sexual relations can confuse young people, according to a study by the University of Navarra.

This has been confirmed by a group of research of Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) that has analyzed the data of 7,011 young people from El Salvador, Peru and Spain.

16/06/11 14:23
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From left to right, the authors of the study Jokin de Irala, Cristina López, Alfonso Osorio, Silvia Carlos, Mari Calatrava and Miguel Ruiz-Canela. PHOTO: Manuel Castells

According to the conclusion of the research team of project Education of Human Sexuality and Affectivity at Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) of the University of Navarra, it can be confusing to use the average age of sexual debut among young people because it is usually calculated taking into account only those who have already had sexual intercourse.

In contrast, the proportion of young people in each group age group who are already sexually active is a measure that takes into account both those who have already had sex and those who have not at each age, and is therefore a clearer way of providing this information to the population.

This is what emerges from the study"Mean age of first sex. Do they know what we mean?", recently published in the medical journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour. Its authors are the professors Alfonso Osorio, from department of Education, Miguel Ruiz-Canela, from department of Humanities Biomedicas; and Silvia Carlos and Cristina López, from department of Preventive Medicine, all of them directed by Jokin de Irala, researcher of the same department and Associate Dean of the School of Medicine.

For this analysis, the experts used data from 7,011 young schoolchildren from El Salvador, Peru and Spain. "According to these results," explains Dr. de Irala, "various research studies and programs of study usually use the age average of sexual debut when reporting on youth sexual activity. These data may be interpreted to mean that most young people of that age are already sexually active, when it is uncertain."

22% of youth initiate at age 16.

"For example," continues the coordinator of the research, "the average age of sexual debut in Spain is 16 years old. However, the proportion of young people who are sexually active at 16 is 22%. The significance of this data lies in the fact that international public health organizations are trying to delay the age of sexual debut in young people and this confusion may hinder their work".

For all these reasons, the researchers at Institute for Culture and Society of the University of Navarra recommend talking about youth sexuality taking into account the proportion of young people of each age who are sexually active, "and not the age averages, which can confuse young people", emphasizes Dr. de Irala.

This study is part of the project YOURLIFE, dedicated to analyzing the lifestyles and opinions of young people about relationships, love and sexuality. In its development has counted with the partnership of Intermedia Consulting (Italy), Concultura (El Salvador), the University of Piura (Peru) and the Government of Navarra.