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CONTEXT

Early sexual initiation (before age 16) has been linked to an increased risk of teenage pregnancy and STDs. Most research on correlates of early sexual initiation is from the United States; no similar work has been conducted in France, where the sociocultural environment differs.

METHODS

Cross-sectional data from the 2010 Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children survey were used to examine the relationships of personal, family, peer, school and neighborhood characteristics with early sexual initiation among 1,094 French females in grades 8–10. Two-level logistic regressions were used to identify associations.

RESULTS

Twenty-five percent of respondents had had sex before age 16. Early sexual initiation was primarily -associated with individual-level characteristics. Young women had an elevated likelihood of having initiated sex early if they went out after school at least four times a week (odds ratio, 2.0), had repeated a grade (1.8), lived with a single parent or in a stepfamily (1.8 and 1.5, respectively), perceived a low level of parental monitoring (1.6) or had two or more male friends (2.8). At the environmental level, respondents who attended school in areas with a high proportion of residents who were foreigners had a reduced likelihood of having initiated sex early (0.5–0.6).

CONCLUSIONS

Although early sexual initiation in France was essentially linked to individual-level variables, further research is needed to understand its relationship with neighborhood characteristics. Such studies should include additional environmental variables, test new hypotheses and employ a longitudinal approach.