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1 April 2005
Sexual Maturity Linked To STD Infection Risk

Girls who are late developers may be more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections than younger, sexually precocious teens, according to research in the Sexually Transmitted Infections journal. The researchers suggest that sexual maturity, rather than age at first sex, seems to be a critical factor.

The research looked at young women attending three sexual health clinics. All the subjects had started having periods within the preceding five years or were aged 17 years and under. The young women were screened for genital infections, including chlamydia, human papillomavirus (wart virus or HPV) and bacterial vaginosis. Almost two thirds of the young women tested positive for HPV, half of which were the high risk types associated with the development of cervical cancer. Over half of those infected with HPV had at least one other infection. Around 25 percent tested positive for chlamydia, which is associated with infertility.

The researchers found that specific behaviour patterns had specific effects on particular infections. A recent new partner or use of a condom was associated with a lower risk of chlamydial infection, while the use of emergency contraception doubled the risk. Sex during a period also increased the risk of bacterial vaginosis. But sexual maturity had a significant impact on all three infections.

Young women, whose breasts were more developed, more sexually mature (older gynaecological age), and who had infrequent menstrual cycles were significantly less likely to have any of the infections. The researchers say that early maturers, who start their periods before the age of 12, have high oestrogen levels and develop physically faster than late developers. This may help cut their infection risk. "We suggest that a sexually active 18 year old with late [periods] may be more susceptible to multiple infections than a sexually active 15 year old with early [periods]," said the researchers.

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