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Shaky case for sex and delinquency

March 12, 2007

Re: "Early Sex, Later Troubles" [March 5], I haven't read the study in last month's Journal of Youth and Adolescence, but I think it's important to be careful about confusing cause and effect with mere correlation.

Maybe it is true that something about early sexual experience leads teens who lose their virginity earlier to steal, destroy property, shoplift, or sell drugs more than their virgin counterparts.

But maybe kids who are destined to "be wild" or to not follow the law have earlier sexual experiences as part of a general behavioral or psychiatric disorder, or as part of a response to a family situation (such as homelessness, parental unemployment or divorce) or a disturbing personal experience (such as sexual abuse or observing the murder of a close friend). Perhaps they later go on to have trouble and cause trouble because of a deeper problem than earlier sexual experience.

And I'm not sure how research would differentiate the real cause.


Los Angeles


This is a classic case of post hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning. The fact that teens who engage in early sex are statistically more likely to become delinquents does not establish a causal relationship between early sex and delinquency.

Indeed, it would seem equally likely that the studies are simply establishing that teens who go against other social norms and become delinquent also go against norms of sexual behavior.




This study reminds me of another one that "discovered" that students who engage in after-school activities were less susceptible to delinquency. The correct conclusion should have been that students who were less susceptible to delinquency tended to engage in after-school activity.

Are there any studies out there that have concluded that the crowing of roosters causes the sun to rise?



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