Macro-level age norms for the timing of sexual initiation and adolescents' early sexual initiation in 17 European countries.
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PURPOSE: To examine the relationship between country-level age norms for sexual initiation timing and early sexual initiation (ESI) among adolescent boys and girls. METHODS: Nationally representative data from 17 countries that participated in the 2006/2007 European Social Survey (ESS-3, n = 33,092) and the 2005/2006 Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Study (HBSC, n = 27,702) were analyzed. Age norms were measured as the average country-level response to an item asking the age at which ESS respondents believed someone is too young to have sexual intercourse. HBSC respondents (aged 14-16 years) self-reported age at sexual initiation, which we defined as early (<15 years) or not early (15 years or no initiation). Control variables included age, family affluence, perceived socioeconomic status, family living arrangement, substance use, school attachment, and country-level legal age of consent. Multivariable three-level logistic models with random intercepts were run separately by sex. RESULTS: In multivariable analyses, higher overall age norms were associated with reduced likelihood of ESI among girls (AOR .60, 95% CI .45-.79); associations with ESI were stronger for parent cohort (ages 31-65 years) norms (AOR .37, 95% CI .23-.58) than for peer cohort (ages 15-20 years) norms (AOR .60, 95% CI .49-.74). For boys, overall norms were also significantly negatively associated with ESI (AOR .68, 95% CI .46-.99), as were parent cohort norms (AOR .66, 95% CI .45-.96). Peer cohort norms were not significantly related to boys' ESI. CONCLUSION: Macrolevel cultural norms may impact adolescents' sexual initiation timing. Research exploring the sexual health outcomes of early initiators in countries with contrasting age norms is warranted.