Six hundred eighty six (24.8%) of the never married respondents had a penetrative pre-marital sexual debut and 79.0% of them had initiated sex before 18 years of age. Males initiated sex at earlier age compared to the females. The mean age at sexual debut for females was roughly comparable with lower median age reported from other countries [12
] and lower than the earlier Ethiopian DHS report, and the mean age at sexual debut for males in the current study was lower than the previous estimates [8
]. This is may be because of the difference in the study population; as this study involved only in-school adolescents within narrow age range (13 - 19 years) while the DHS covered a wider area and diverse population. The median age at sexual debut for males was lower than that for females in this study. This contradicts with the previous DHS reports. This is may be due to the difference in the study population. This study dealt with only unmarried in-school adolescents while the DHS studied a wider age range and different population groups. Moreover, the difference could also be attributed to difference in the period of the study, which may suggest a changing trend in easiness of reporting sexual matters and increase in pre-marital sexual debut coupled with a rising age at marriage.
Family residential area was associated with pre-marital sexual debut. The adolescents from urban families were more likely to engage in pre-marital sex than those from rural area. This finding is consistent with the study conducted in South Africa, which identified periurban residence association with earlier age at first sex [17
]. This may be due to the more liberal life styles in urban areas compared to cultural conservatism in rural areas, and may also be attributed to easiness of reporting pre-marital sexual debut by urban adolescents.
Pre-marital sexual debut was associated with gender, in that females were 56% less likely to report pre-marital sexual debut compared to males. Similar findings were documented from other studies [12
]. The possible explanation for such differences can be due to a double standard cultural expectations of virginity at marriage for females while lesser cultural pressure on males or even greater tolerance towards male pre-marital sexual experimentation.
Family wealth index was not associated with pre-marital sexual debut; however, the amount of pocket money per month was a strong predictor, in that the higher the amount of pocket money per month, the greater was the pre-marital sexual debut. This is may be due to lack of skills to wisely use the pocket money which may be above what was required for subsistence. Particularly as the association was significant for male gender may be because more pocket money may predispose to commercial sex (Adjusted OR and [95% CI]
1.29 [1.04–1.60], 1.50 [1.12–2.02]; and 1.18 [0.75–1.85], 1.84[0.92–3.66] for males and females corresponding to the pocket money per month respectively).
Perception of self-educational rank was associated with pre-marital sexual debut, in that those who perceived to have lower educational rank were almost two times more likely to engage in pre-marital sexual debut, compared to those who perceived top educational rank. This may be because low educational rank perceivers may easily be involved in a “group study” practiced commonly by in-school adolescents in the study area which may easily expose them to sexual experimentation.
Rental alone living arrangement during high school education was associated with increased pre- marital sexual debut compared to living with parents/relatives; this finding is consistent with other studies [6
]. This may be due to the absence of parental monitoring and guidance.
Perceived self-confidence to refuse sexual intercourse when not ready for it was found to be protective from engaging in pre-marital sexual debut. Only 53.2% of in-school adolescents reported having such confidence and adolescents who had perceived self-confidence were 38% less likely to engage in pre-marital sexual debut. This may be because adolescents who perceived less self-confidence may easily be influenced by peer or adults’ pressure to engage in sexual activity that they may regret about it afterwards. On the contrary, students with more self- confidence may have a higher sense of future achievement and feel too self-confident to resist external influence to have sex.
This study involved a large sample size with an excellent response rate. The major limitation of this study was its sensitivity as it dealt with the personal lives of in-school adolescents. Even though data were collected by facilitator guided self-administered method and the anonymity of the information was maintained to make respondents establish a sense of trust, it may be difficult to overcome the risk of social desirability bias completely. The fact that the study was limited to in-school adolescents who were found at school during the time of data collection was another limitation as it may be difficult to generalize the result to out of school and drop-outs that might have different life experiences.