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CONTEXT

Associations between early sexual initiation and parental support and knowledge have not been uniformly tested in multiple European population-based samples. Understanding such associations is important in efforts to discourage females’ early sex.

METHODS

Data were compiled for 7,466 females aged 14–16 who participated in the 2005–2006 Health Behaviors in School-Aged Children survey in nine countries (Austria, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Lithuania, Romania, Spain and Ukraine). Univariate, bivariate and multivariable analyses were run with standard error corrections and weights to assess how sexual initiation before age 16 was related to maternal and paternal support and knowledge of daily activities.

RESULTS

Prevalence of early sexual initiation ranged from 7% (in Romania) to 35% (in Iceland). In bivariate analyses, maternal and paternal support were significantly negatively related to adolescent females’ early sexual initiation in most countries. In models with demographic controls, parental support was negatively associated with early sexual initiation (odds ratio, 0.8 for maternal and 0.7 for paternal). After parental knowledge was added, early sexual initiation was no longer associated with parental support, but was negatively associated with maternal and paternal knowledge (0.7 for each). These patterns held across countries.

CONCLUSIONS

Parental knowledge largely explained negative associations between parental support and early initiation, suggesting either that knowledge is more important than support or that knowledge mediates the association between support and early sex.