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Gender, ethnicity, and the developmental timing of first sexual and romantic experiences

Pamela C. Regan, PhD (California State University, Los Angeles, CA, USA), Ramani Durvasula, PhD (California State University, Los Angeles, CA, USA), Lisa Howell (California State University, Los Angeles, CA, USA), Oscar Ureno (California State University, Los Angeles, CA, USA), Martha Rea (California State University, Los Angeles, CA, USA)

Abstract


One of the most important tasks faced by adolescents and young adults is the formation of romantic relationships. Little is known, however, about the developmental timing of early relational experiences. This study investigated the age at which an ethnically diverse sample of young adults (N = 683) experienced their very first date, love, serious relationship, kiss, and act of intercourse. Most had experienced each event by the end of high school, with first dates and kisses occurring at earlier ages than falling in love or intercourse. Gender and ethnic differences were found. For example, young men began dating at earlier ages than did young women. Asian American participants were less sexually and romantically experienced, and had their very first sexual experiences at an older age, than African American, Latino/Hispanic, and Caucasian/non-Hispanic White participants. Interestingly, there were no differences in first romantic love experience. Almost all men and women within each ethnic group had fallen in love at least once, typically around age 17; this suggests that romantic love is a common human life event and that it first occurs during the developmental period spanning late adolescence and early adulthood.

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