Pubertal Timing and Adolescent Sexual Behavior in Girls

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Abstract

Girls who experience earlier pubertal timing relative to peers also exhibit earlier timing of sexual intercourse and more unstable sexual relationships. Although pubertal development initiates feelings of physical desire, the transition into romantic and sexual relationships involves complex biological and social processes contributing both to physical maturation and to individual interpretations of pubertal experiences. Using a sample of female sibling pairs (n = 923 pairs) from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the present study investigated associations among menarche and perceived pubertal timing, age of first sexual intercourse (AFI), and adolescent dating and sexual behavior using a behavioral genetic approach. Genetic factors influencing age at menarche and perceived pubertal timing predicted AFI through shared genetic pathways, whereas genetic factors related only to perceived pubertal timing predicted engagement in dating, romantic sex, and nonromantic sex in the previous 18 months. These results suggest that a girl’s interpretation of her pubertal timing beyond objective timing is important to consider for the timing and the contexts of romantic and reproductive behavior.

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