Prevalence and predictors of sexual inexperience in adulthood

Abigail A. Haydon, Mariah M. Cheng, Amy H. Herring, Annie Laurie McRee, Carolyn Tucker Halpern

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    32 Scopus citations


    The emergence of partnered sexual behavior represents an important developmental transition. However, little is known about individuals who remain sexually inexperienced well into adulthood. We used data from 2,857 individuals who participated in Waves I-IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and reported no sexual activity (i.e.; oral-genital, vaginal, or anal sex) by age 18 to identify, using discrete-time survival models, adolescent sociodemographic, biosocial, and behavioral characteristics that predicted adult sexual inexperience. The mean age of participants at Wave IV was 28.5 years (SD = 1.92). Over one out of eight participants who did not initiate sexual activity during adolescence remained abstinent as young adults. Sexual non-attraction significantly predicted sexual inexperience among both males (aOR = 0.5) and females (aOR = 0.6). Males also had lower odds of initiating sexual activity after age 18 if they were non-Hispanic Asian, reported later than average pubertal development, or were rated as physically unattractive (aORs = 0.6-0.7). Females who were overweight, had lower cognitive performance, or reported frequent religious attendance had lower odds of sexual experience (aORs = 0.7-0.8) while those who were rated by the interviewers as very attractive or whose parents had lower educational attainment had higher odds of sexual experience (aORs = 1.4-1.8). Our findings underscore the heterogeneity of this unique population and suggest that there are a number of different pathways that may lead to either voluntary or involuntary adult sexual inexperience. Understanding the meaning of sexual inexperience in young adulthood may have important implications for the study of sexuality development across the life course.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)221-230
    Number of pages10
    JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Feb 2014

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    Acknowledgments Effort by Drs. Haydon, Herring, and Halpern was supported by grant R01HD57046, awarded to Dr. Halpern of the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. This research was also supported by grant 5 R24 HD050924, CarolinaPopulationCenter,awardedtotheCarolinaPopulationCenteratthe University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute ofChildHealthandHumanDevelopment,withcooperativefundingfrom23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design.InformationonhowtoobtaintheAddHealthdatafilesisavailableon the Add Health Web site ( No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. At the time this work was conducted, Drs. Haydon and McRee were doctoral students in the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and Dr. Haydon was also a pre-doctoral trainee at the Carolina Population Center, both at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


    • Abstinence
    • Add Health
    • Asexuality
    • Virginity

    PubMed: MeSH publication types

    • Journal Article
    • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
    • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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