Research and Action for Youth Health
 

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Young adolescents’ choices in sexual behavior and Age of Consent Law in Canada: An examination of developmental theory.

Abstract

This study evaluated the implications of the 2008 increase in age for sexual consent in Canada using a population health survey of Canadian adolescents. Government rationales for the increase assertedyounger adolescents were more likely to experience sexual exploitation and engage in risky sexual behaviour than adolescents 16 and older. Using data fromsexually experienced adolescents in the 2008 British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey (BC AHS,N=6,262; age range 12 – 19; 52% female), analyses documented the scope of first intercourse partners who were not within the ‘close in age’ exemptions, then compared sexual behaviours of younger teens (14 and 15years) with older teens (16and 17) navigating their first year of sexual activity. 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. Results showed very few 14- and 15-year-olds had first intercourse partners who were not within the ‘close in age’ exemptions based on age (boys: <2%, girls: 3-5%). In contrast, among 12- and 13-year-olds (a group unaffected by the law’s change) between 25% and 50% had first intercourse partners who were not within the ‘close in age’ exemptions, and almost 40% of teens who first had sex before age 12 reported a first partner age 20 years or more. In their first year of intercourse, 14- and 15-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.