• Is the age you lose your virginity due to your genetic makeup? (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The reason we all lose our virginity at different ages might be in our genes, according to a world-first study.
By
Yasmin Noone

19 Apr 2016 - 1:03 PM  UPDATED 19 Apr 2016 - 1:11 PM

The age at which you lose your virginity has less to do with your romantic destiny and more to do with your genetic makeup, according to UK researchers who believe that our patterns of sexual activity could be largely determined by our genes.

A world-first study, published today in Nature Genetics, finds that our genes influence the age we hit puberty, when we experience sexual intercourse for the first time and when women first give birth.

Researchers from Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge examined the DNA of over 125,000 people to discover 38 genetic variations associated with the age at which a person first engages in sexual intercourse.

“We found that both age at first sexual intercourse and age at first birth are substantially influenced by genetic and biological factors, and not just environmental factors and social cultures,” says paper co-author, paediatrician and program leader at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, Dr Ken Ong.

The average age at first sexual intercourse in the study was 18 years, which has fallen from 21 years in 1937.

Dr Ong explains that genesalter early patterns of sexual activity and the body in two ways.

Genes also influence our temperament and personality, which in turn impacts our choices and sexual actions.

“Those with larger bodies and who physically mature earlier during adolescence are more likely to have sex earlier.”

Genes also influence our temperament and personality, which in turn impacts our choices and sexual actions.

Some genetic variants discovered during the research were located in or near genes that had been previously implicated in risk-taking behaviour, irritable temperament, number of children, and processes and traits related to brain development.

One example is a genetic variant in CADM2, a gene that controls brain cell connections and brain activity.

“Those with more risk-taking personalities or more agreeable – less irritable – temperaments are more likely to have sex earlier.”

The study is the first to show that genetic and biological factors influence patterns of puberty and early sexual activity, in addition to environmental factors (social and cultural reasons).

Its findings were based on people of white European heritage, conducted on a large number of UK residents, with results confirmed in cohorts from the USA and Iceland.

Director of The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne’s Adolescent Health Research, Professor George Patton, says the research conclusions are transferable to an Australian context.

However, he believes social and cultural factors could override the role genetics plays in pre-determining the age when puberty and sexual activity begins in the Australian population.

Social and cultural factors could override the role genetics plays in pre-determining the age when puberty and sexual activity begins in the Australian population.

“Social and cultural circumstances, the nature of your family and education play a huge role, and in a country like Australia, are likely to be the dominant factors likely to affect the age of first sexual intercourse and first birth,” says Professor Patton.

“That’s not to say genetic factors don’t also influence the age of puberty and patterns of sexual activity. We just need to put it in context.”

Past studies conducted by the same team find that an earlier age at puberty is linked to increased long-term risks for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

“We have already shown that early puberty and rapid childhood growth adversely affect disease risks in later life,” adds Dr Ong.

“But we have now shown that the same factors can have a negative effect at a much younger age, including earlier sexual intercourse and poorer education attainment.”

The research team hopes that the study’s results could lead to more targeted and effective approaches to health interventions and promotion of healthy behaviours in younger people.

“We hope that the current findings will support the development of future public health efforts to help people avoid puberty starting at early ages in young children,” says Dr Ong, “for example by diet and physical activity and avoiding excess childhood weight gain.

“Our findings predict that this would have benefits both on reducing adolescent risk-taking behaviours and also for their future health in later life.”

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