CONTEXT: Although sexual debut has been negatively associated with adolescent educational performance and aspirations, it is not clear whether such relationships continue beyond adolescence.
METHODS: Initiation of postsecondary education by young adulthood was assessed among 3,965 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health who had not experienced sexual intercourse at baseline. Associations between age at sexual debut and educational progress were examined in bivariate and multivariable Poisson regression analyses.
RESULTS: Most respondents experienced sexual debut during adolescence: 15% before age 16 (early) and 53% at ages 16–18 (typical). Sixty-five percent of respondents initiated postsecondary education by early adulthood; however, the proportion was significantly lower among those who had had an early (49%) or typical sexual debut (63%) than among those who debuted late (78%). In unadjusted analyses, early and typical debut were associated with a reduced likelihood of initiation of postsecondary education for both females (relative risk ratios, 0.6 and 0.8, respectively) and males (0.7 and 0.8). However, in adjusted analyses, the associations were attenuated for females (0.8 and 0.9) and were at best marginally significant for males. Childbearing was a significant mediator of this relationship.
CONCLUSIONS: Adolescent sexual debut appears to be modestly negatively associated with early adult postsecondary education initiation, particularly for females. Targeting mediators of the sexual debut–education relationship, such as early childbearing, could lead to effective interventions.