Here are some first sexual experience statistics that will shock you: According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 1 in 16 women’s first sexual experience was non-consensual. The survey of more than 13,000 women between 2011-2017 revealed that nearly 6% of women surveyed reported that they were forced or coerced the first time they had intercourse.
The timing of the survey proves most interesting. The data was collected long before the #metoo movement that began a much larger national conversation about consent.
“It is likely that the increase in public discourse about the prevalence of sexual violence in the United States has influenced how comfortable women are discussing their own experiences of rape [today],” Dr. Laura Hawks, M.D., lead author and Harvard Medical School Researcher tells Parentology. “Therefore, it is possible that this prevalence is an underestimate of the actual rate for forced sexual initiation.”
Breaking Down the Research
The respondents represented a cross-section of women ages 18-44 from across the United States. The term “rape” was not used in the survey, but Dr. Hawks does not think that had an impact on participants’ responses.
“I think the question in the survey — which was administered by the CDC, not us — is very explicit. I am not sure how changing the wording would have changed responses.” No matter what the wording the response from those who were forced was clear. “All participants [that] identified their first sexual experience occurring against their own free will — this is consistent with the legal definition of rape,” Hawks noted.
Dr. Hawks and her colleagues utilized the previously collected data in an effort to determine the prevalence of forced sexual initiation and its subsequent effects on women and their gynecological, reproductive and general health. What they found was that women who had a nonconsensual first sexual experience had more sexual partners, more unwanted pregnancies, more abortions and more general gynecological health problems than women who had a consensual first experience.
While those are the physical effects, the mental and emotional effects of sexual assault are just as far reaching. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that emotional effects of sexual violence can include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, substance abuse and dissociation.
The hope is that this information will continue the national conversation about the importance of clear consent. Sexual education is at the forefront of that conversation, teaching both young men and women the importance of consent no matter what the sexual encounter.
“These findings highlight the possible need for public health measures and sociocultural changes to prevent sexual violence, particularly forced sexual initiation,” Hawks’ report states.