Women from rural areas of the United States are having sex for the first time younger than those who live in cities, a new analysis has revealed.
Politicos and cultural commentators alike have made references over the years to the divide between city-dwelling Americans and those residing in rural areas. Several studies and data have been compiled on differences in income, jobs, education levels and health between these two demographics, the Washington Post reports. However, little research has been done on differences when it comes to sexual activity.
This month, the National Center for Health Statistics has released data revealing interesting insights into the differences between women in rural areas and those who live in cities when it comes to sexual activity. One of the major findings of the studies is that rural women start having sexual intercourse at a younger age than those who live in urban areas.
On average, women residing in rural parts of country have sex for the first time when they are 16.6 years old. In cities, the average age is about 17.4. The study also suggests that women who have sex earlier are also more likely to get married younger.
"Among women aged 18–44, a higher percentage of women living in rural areas (51.2 percent) had their first sexual intercourse by age 16 compared with women in urban areas (41.7 percent)," the Center for Disease Control and Prevention report on the findings says.
"By age 18, 79.6 percent of women living in rural areas had ever had sexual intercourse, which is higher than the percentage for women living in urban areas (68.6 percent)."
Besides having sex at an earlier age than women in cities, there are significant differences in the forms of contraception used by both groups.
Among urban women, 25 percent use condoms or withdrawal as their primary form of birth control. More effective methods, such as birth control pills, are used by 23 percent, and 30 percent use highly effective methods such as intrauterine devices. Rural women, conversely, are more likely to turn to highly effective birth control methods, with 41 percent using methods such as intrauterine devices. Among the rural demographic, 19 percent use condoms or withdrawal and 20 percent use the pill or similar methods.
At the same time, while more rural women turn to more effective forms of birth control, their birth rates are actually higher.
"A higher percentage of women living in urban areas had no births (41.6%) compared with women living in rural areas (30.3%)," the report explains. "A higher percentage of women living in rural areas had any births (69.7%) compared with women in urban areas (58.4%)."
When it comes to marriage, women in both demographics appeared similar, with 40 percent of women currently married to an opposite-sex spouse. As for cohabitation, 15.7 percent of urban women were living with an opposite-sex partner versus 18.6 percent in rural areas.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, a research epidemiologist who specializes in women's health at the University of California, Davis, and wasn't involved in the survey, highlighted the need for increasing sexual education among women as well as access to birth control.
"If we really want to help young women and teens have a healthy and safe sexual life, we need to get effective resources and education to them before 16 [no matter where they live]," Schwarz told NPR.
She also pointed out that many of the programs that were reportedly successful at combating teen pregnancy throughout the country are currently being targeted and shuttered by the current presidential administration.