The majority – or 85% – of Barbadian youth who have had sex before the age of 16 has done so by their 13th birthday, according to the results of a 2016 survey.
The research was carried out by dance4life Barbados, which provides internationally recognized, structured behavioural intervention in 14 local public secondary schools and one private secondary school as well as the adolescent Children’s Homes and the Government Industrial Schools.
According to spokeswoman Shakira Emtage-Cave, “32.4 per cent of 12-15 year olds have reported being sexually active and of these, the vast majority have done so before they have reached their teenage years”.
The co-director of dance4life Barbados also said based on the research findings that younger teens were at greater risk of experiencing negative consequences because of their relative physical immaturity, vulnerability to predators, limited education and other resources.
“Younger age at first intercourse is associated with an increased chance of having multiple sexual partners and more frequent intercourse, both of which result in an elevated risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies,” Emtage-Cave said.
According to the results of the dance4life survey, 62 per cent of sexually active youth between the ages of 12 and 15 have had sex with multiple partners and 21.1 per cent have had more than four partners. In an April 2017 report by the Health and Behaviour News Service, teens who have multiple sex partners are also far more likely to engage in other risk behaviours such as fighting, binge drinking, smoking cigarettes and using drugs.
High-risk sexual behaviour is also elevated among younger teens. According to the 2011 Barbados Global School Based Student Health Survey, of the 13-15 year olds who have had sex, more than 35 per cent did not use a condom during their most recent sexual experience.
Teenage pregnancy is also significantly higher in Barbados than in countries with similar levels of human development (those with long life expectancy, excellent school enrolment and length of education). In 2012 the adolescent fertility rate was 40.8, compared to an average of 18.7 among other countries with a very high Human Development Index.
There is also the issue of non-consensual sexual relations. Early initiation of sexual intercourse is frequently linked to previous sexual victimization while large age differences between teens and their first partners suggest exploitation of children by older people. The dance4life study reveals that 12.2 per cent of young people between the ages of 12 and 15 have had forced sexual contact.
Other studies have also found that Barbados has the highest levels of intergenerational sex in the Caribbean region.
The figures released by dance4life raise the alarm that educators must realistically address and accept the necessity for a dialogue on issues surrounding teen sexuality.