While past research has linked early sexual activity to health problems, a new study suggests that waiting too long to start having sex carries risks of its own.
Those who lose their virginity at a later age -- around 21 to 23 years of age -- tend to be more likely to experience sexual dysfunction problems later, say researchers at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute's HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies
The increase in sexual problems was also seen in those who had a comparably earlier sexual debut. And the researchers were quick to point out that there isn't enough evidence to say for sure whether waiting to have sex necessarily leads to sexual dysfunction down the road.
The researchers, who looked at data from the 1996 National Sexual Health Survey, conducted by the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) at the University of California, San Francisco, also found that men and women who begin having sex in their early teens had their share of problems. They were more likely to have risky sexual partners, to contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and to have sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
While sexuality experts not affiliated with the study agree that it is too early to draw a direct causal link about those who have sex later in life, they say the research offers some interesting new avenues for learning more about certain sexual problems that may be devastating to long-term relationships.
"One of the many dysfunctions that arises is that women never develop the ability to ask for what they want, which leaves them open for life-long disappointment, desire disorders, orgasmic dysfunction, and worse -- they're ripe for abuse and violence," she said.
For men, the opposite message -- that "real men score" -- may lead to negative mindsets both among those who lose their virginity early and those who become sexually active only later -- mindsets that impact their ability to perform sexually.
Because of the intimate link between the psyche and sexual performance, some sexuality experts say the results of these conditions most likely bring about sexual dysfunction through their psychological impacts.