Sexual behaviour, debut and identity among Swedish Schoolchildren

Detta är en avhandling från Linköping : Linköping University Electronic Press

Sammanfattning: Background: Sexual behaviour among schoolchildren and adolescents is a sparsely researched area and there are delicate methodological obstacles and ethical concerns when conducting such research. Still it is a subject that engages both parents and professionals. A sexualized behaviour or an early sexual debut (younger than 14 years) can be a sign of sexual abuse. It is therefore of importance to describe what is common and what is uncommon sexual behaviour among children and what the consequences of an early or a late sexual debut may be for the individual upon reaching late adolescence. Adolescents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) are also a group that needs further attention and research since they are often described as having a lower quality of life and more often experience child abuse than heterosexual teens.Aims: The research leading to this thesis had four goals: 1) to elucidate the sexual behaviour of children between the ages of 7 and 13 as observed by their parents, 2) to investigate the relationship between an early sexual debut (before 14 years of age) and socio-demographic data, sexual experience, health, experience of child abuse and behaviour at 18-years-of-age, 3) to explore associations with no sexual debut (no oral, vaginal or anal sex) at the age of 18, and 4) to describe the relationship between sexual identification and socio-demographic background data, sexual behaviour, health and health behaviour, experiences of child sexual and/or physical abuse and present behaviour among Swedish adolescents.Methods: The parents of 418 children answered questionnaires about their child’s behaviour, both general and sexual, and a sample of 3432 Swedish high school students completed a survey about sexuality, health and abuse at the age of 18. In addition, 362 members of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL) completed the same survey at a mean age of 21.4 years.Results: Most of the sexual behaviours among the schoolchildren were common, and in part related to, or varied with, age and gender. A small number of sexual behaviours often referred to as sexualised or problematic behaviours (for example, kissing adults with the tongue, imitating intercourse, masturbating in public, and touching other children’s genitals with the mouth) were found to be very unusual or not reported by any parent in this normative group of Swedish children. Among the adolescents, an early debut (younger than 14 years of age) correlated positively with number of partners, experience of oral and anal sex, smoking, drug and alcohol use and antisocial behaviour, such as being violent, lying, stealing and running away from home. Girls with an early sexual debut had significantly more experience of sexual abuse while boys with an early sexual debut were more likely to have a weak sense of coherence, low self-esteem and poor mental health, together with experience of sexual abuse, selling sex and physical abuse. A multiple logistic regression model showed that a number of antisocial acts and health behaviours remained significant, but early sexual debut did not increase the risk of psychiatric symptoms, low self-esteem or low sense of coherence at 18-years-of-age. Just under a quarter (24.6%) of the 3,380 adolescents had not had their sexual debut (no oral, anal or vaginal sex by the age of 18). There was a positive correlation between not debuting sexually at age 18 and a number of factors such as: being more likely to have caring fathers; parents born outside Europe; low sexual desire; lower pornography consumption; lower alcohol and tobacco consumption; less antisocial behavior and fewer experiences of sexual abuse than 18 year olds who had already made their sexua  debut. Adolescents with a minority sexual identity more often described their relationship with their parents as based on low care and high overprotection than did their heterosexual peers. The minority adolescents used alcohol and drugs to a significantly higher degree than the heterosexual adolescents. Multivariate analysis showed a positive correlation between a minority sexual identity and experience of anal sex, higher sexual lust, experience of sexual abuse, physical abuse and sexual exploitation. It was more than twice as common to have experience of penetrating sexual abuse and physical abuse with a sexual minority identity.Conclusions: Behaviours usually referred to as sexualised and problematic are uncommon among children at 7-13 years of age. Professionals and should give a child showing a sexualised behaviour special attention and investigate the reasons for the behaviour. Early sexual debut seems to be associated with problematic behaviours during later adolescence, indicating the fact that the early debut for some children is associated with an increased vulnerability, which has to be addressed. Family socio-demographics such as family stability and/or cultural status matter when it comes to time of sexual debut. Personality also seems to matter and further studies are needed to investigate if there is any correlation between personality traits and late sexual debut. Adolescents with no sexual debut at 18 years of age reported fewer antisocial acts, were less likely to smoke and drink alcohol, had less sexual desire and less experience of sexual abuse. Young people with a sexual minority identity (homo- and bisexual) could be seen to have a lower quality of life compared to heterosexual peers and studies need to be done to further explore possible reasons. They have a higher risk of having experience of sexual and physical abuse compared to heterosexual adolescents. Professionals need to be more aware of this group’s additional vulnerability including the increased risk of child abuse and offer different forms of support.