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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. This study evaluated the implications of the increase in age for sexual consent in Canada using a population health survey of Canadian adolescents. Government rationales for the increase asserted younger adolescents were more likely to experience sexual exploitation and engage in risky sexual behaviour than adolescents 16 and older. Comparisons included: forced sex, sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs, multiple partners, condom use, effective contraception use, self-reported sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy involvement.

In their first year of intercourse, and year-olds were slightly more likely to report forced sex and 3 or more partners than older teens, but otherwise made similarly healthy decisions. This study demonstrates the feasibility of evaluating policy using population health data and shows that better strategies are needed to protect children 13 and under from sexual abuse. It is important that public policy be grounded in empirical evidence. Although ideally this takes place before laws or policies are enacted, it is not always possible; however, it is just as important to evaluate existing policy based on the best available information.

The effectiveness of a law or policy can be measured by the health outcomes of the population. For more than years, from to , the legal age of sexual consent in Canada was In , Bill C was put forward in Parliament, to take effect January 1, , which raised the legal age of consent for non-exploitative sexual activity to Eighteen remains the age of consent for anal intercourse and exploitative sexual activity, which includes prostitution, pornography, and situations where one individual is in a position of authority over the other individual. Lawmakers and law enforcers believed Bill C would send a strong message to sex offenders, especially to internet predators from the U.

Bill C has been controversial. Most adolescents are not aware of legal issues, and may not understand what Bill C means Pearce, Sexual health organizations and other groups who opposed raising the age of consent claimed this confusion might prevent adolescents from accessing information or resources on safer sex and sexual health Black, Most adolescents do not know that they have the right to request and receive these services without disclosing the age of their partner Wong, Another issue is the inconsistency of the law compared to other laws.

For example, a year-old can be given an adult sentence in youth court for committing a theft, based on the belief that a year-old can appreciate the consequences of his or her actions Black, , so these young adolescents legally have the maturity necessary to take responsibility for their actions in the case of theft, but not in the case of sex. Bill C was also not in line with the age of consent for anal intercourse, which is Some sexual health organizations argue this is discriminatory toward gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents Weber, Age of sexual debut, sexual coercion, and sexual health decision-making of adolescents have received considerable attention in the research literature, although the strength of the evidence, especially in Canada, is limited.

Some of the strongest evidence is from population studies in other countries. This association was strongest for females who debuted earliest: adolescents initiating sexual activity at age 14 or younger were up to seven times more likely to have experienced partner violence than women who first had sex at a later age. Early sexual debut has been associated with a of sexual health risks, including higher of sexual partners, alcohol and drug use, lack of condom use, pregnancy, and STIs, although these have been mixed, and drawn from correlational studies. In Canada, Saewyc et al.

Protective sexual health behaviours have also been explored in light of age of first sex, with mixed . Coker et al. Manlove and colleagues found that males and females who first had sex younger than age 15 with an older partner were less likely than other sexually experienced adolescents to report having used contraceptives. However, Sneed found that year-olds were less likely to report using a condom at latest intercourse compared to year-olds, regardless of age at sexual debut. In the BC AHS, among females, condom use was highest among sexually active adolescents aged 12 to 14, and lowest among sexually active adolescents 17 and older, but this was complemented by a corresponding increase by age group of females reporting the use of birth control pills Saewyc et al.

Potentially due to this lower condom use, American adolescents who first had sex before 13 years of age were more likely to report pregnancy involvement, and females but not males were more likely to report contracting an STI Coker et al.

Similarly, almost half of adolescent females who had sex before age 15 with an older male reported a teen birth compared with one quarter of other sexually experienced adolescent females Manlove et al. This suggests that maturation eventually attenuates any effects of early sexual experience. Not only does the literature contain mixed findings around the impact of early sexual debut, with the greatest differences found between U. Likewise, while there is a considerable amount of research on females, there is not much evidence of the effect of early sexual debut on young men.

Even more problematic is that, depending on types of sampling and analyses, the comparison of earlier and later age of first sex may actually conflate multiple reasons for the differences in behaviour.

If one is comparing older and younger sexually active teens at the present moment, differences could be based on cohort effects, i. Alternately, those differences could be based on experiential effects, i. Analyses with such samples cannot differentiate these influences from maturational effects, i. Such a study requires comparing teens of different ages but similar time-spans and levels of experience since sexual debut, for example, assessing teens who have started having sex during the same time period, preferably recently.

To our knowledge, no studies exploring the link between early debut and sexual health behaviours have focused on recently debuted adolescents only, despite indications that this could be useful Kaestle et al. Given the limitations and mixed of the evidence to date, especially the limited data from Canada, an updated, focused analysis of Canadian-based evidence to inform this change in the law is warranted. The purpose of this study was to test the rationales provided by the government for raising the age of consent, using population-based data from British Columbia.

The specific aims included identifying the scope of the problem addressed, i. We hypothesized that adolescents who first had sex at younger ages before age 16 would be more likely to report an older sexual partner than older teens, especially one aged 20 or older. We also expected that younger sexually experienced adolescents those aged 14 and 15 years when navigating their first year of sexual activity would be more likely than similarly-experienced older adolescents aged 16 and 17 to report sexual abuse or coercion. In terms of risky sexual behaviours and negative outcomes, we expected younger teens to be more likely than older teens to have had sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs, to have more sexual partners, to report an STI, and to be involved in a pregnancy.

When it comes to safer sexual behaviours, we hypothesized that younger adolescents would be less likely than older adolescents to use condoms or other barrier methods, or effective contraception the last time they had sexual intercourse. Public school classrooms were randomly selected within each grade and region from participating school districts in BC 50 of 59 districts to provide a provincially and regionally representative sample of grade 7 to 12 students age 12 — The survey consists of items covering demographics, perceptions of current physical and emotional health, risky behaviours and experiences, and positive health behaviours.

The anonymous surveys were administered by public health nurses and other trained personnel external to the school. Data were weighted to adjust for the differential probability of sampling within regions and response rates, to ensure its representativeness. This sample was used to test the hypotheses about the scope of adolescents affected, and age differences between partners at first intercourse. Then we selected those adolescents who were 14 through 17 and who reported first sex at their same age, to compare younger adolescents and year-olds with older adolescents and year-olds who were within their first year of sexual intercourse.

By focusing on recently experienced teens, we could rule out explanations for disparities in behaviours as due to increased experience or skills, as well as relationship length; healthy sexual decision-making, like most skills, can become easier with familiarity and practice.

There were younger and older adolescent females, and younger and older adolescent males who were at the same age as when they reported first having sexual intercourse. Thus, each of the four groups of adolescents who were within their first year of sexual intercourse had approximately adolescents. Beyond questions about ever having sexual intercourse, age at first sexual intercourse, and the age of first sexual partner, the BC AHS asks several questions about both risky and safer sexual behaviours.

These included lifetime experiences of forced intercourse by adults or by other youth, having unwanted sex in the past year because of alcohol or drug use, using alcohol or drugs before the latest episode of sexual intercourse, the of sexual partners in the past year, as well as condom use or other contraceptive use at last intercourse, ever being diagnosed with an STI, or ever being pregnant or having caused a pregnancy.

Most variables were dichotomous or were recoded to be dichotomous measures, based on the literature; for example, of sexual partners in the past year was re-coded as 1 or 2 vs. Because differences in patterns of sexual behaviour between adolescent males and females have been extensively documented in research, analyses were conducted separately by gender. The second set of analyses compared risky and safer sexual behaviours between younger and older groups. As would be expected, the of adolescents who reported being sexually experienced increased with age for both genders see Table 1 for estimated prevalence by age.

Of those who had sexual intercourse under 12 years of age, Of the students who reported first intercourse at age 12, Of the students who had first had sexual intercourse at 13 years of age, However, contrary to our first hypothesis, i. Like their older counterparts, the majority of 14 and year-olds first had sex with another teen who was within three years of their age.

Younger males were slightly more likely 5. While teens in each group were more likely to be forced by another youth rather than an adult, there was no ificant difference between older or younger teens in whether they were forced by an adult or by another youth. A small percentage of females, but not males, reported having been forced by both a youth and an adult Table 5. However, younger females were ificantly more likely to report having had unwanted sexual intercourse because of drug or alcohol use than were older females One-quarter of both older and younger adolescents reported using alcohol or drugs before their most recent episode of sexual intercourse.

The large majority of adolescent males and females had only one or two sexual partners in the past year. However, for both males and females, younger adolescents were ificantly more likely to have had three or more sexual partners in the past year Among non-abused teens, younger males and females were still ificantly more likely to have had multiple partners than their older peers data not shown. Younger males were ificantly more likely than older males to report using condoms at last intercourse While the overwhelming majority of sexually active teens of either gender reported using effective contraceptive methods at last intercourse In order to determine whether these patterns in condom and contraceptive use might be because older adolescents relied on the use of hormonal birth control, additional analyses were conducted to compare the use of only condoms, only hormonal birth control including the pill, the ring, the patch, depo provera, and IUDs , or dual method use both condoms and hormonal contraception.

Older males were almost four times more likely to report having used only hormonal birth control than younger males Very few adolescents of either gender or age category reported a health care provider told them they had a sexually transmitted infection within their first year of sexual intercourse. Younger males were statistically more likely to report an STI than older peers, but the rates were very low 2. There was no statistical difference between older and younger females. According to population health data collected from BC adolescents in public high schools in , very few of the and year-olds that Bill C aimed to protect actually experienced first intercourse with partners outside of the legal age range.

Adolescents 13 years of age and younger were the most likely to have sexual partners outside of the legal age range, and the most vulnerable group was those who first had sex under 12 years of age, which has been illegal since Unfortunately, Bill C did not provide any additional legal measures to further protect these adolescents beyond laws that were already in place. The prevalence rates reported in this study and much of the literature reviewed lead us to the conclusion that the most vulnerable group of sexually active adolescents are those aged 13 and younger.

This study did not examine the sexual risk behaviours of adolescents aged 13 and younger because Bill C did not change the laws for this age group. Among BC adolescents in public high schools, younger adolescents age 14 and 15 were more likely than older adolescents age 16 and 17 to report higher prevalence of only a few sexual risk behaviours in their first year of sexual intercourse. The clearest differences for both males and females were in experiencing forced intercourse and of sexual partners, while there were no differences for sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and somewhat marginal differences in diagnosis of an STI, or pregnancy involvement for only males or only females, respectively.

As we expected in our hypothesis 2, younger teens of both genders were more likely to report forced intercourse. These were consistent with the New Zealand birth cohort research Dickson, et al. Contrary to the rationale provided for Bill C, however, younger adolescents were more likely to be forced by another youth than by an adult. Consistent with U. These findings likely differ from the prior Canadian data Saewyc et al. This can be a concern, because a greater of sexual partners can increase the chances of contracting and sharing an STI or being involved in an unintended pregnancy.

However, overall, we found Hypothesis 3, that younger adolescents would be more likely to engage in riskier sexual behaviour than older peers, only partially supported. In examining health behaviours, rather than risk exposures, however, the necessity for a change in the law, i. Condom and contraceptive use in this study was similar to reported ly by Saewyc et al.

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