A girl who gets her period early may wind up having sex at a younger age, as well as an earlier pregnancy and higher vulnerability to some sexually transmitted infections, according to a new study, published online in the journal PLoS ONE.
While connections have been made between early menstruation (before age 12) and sexual and reproductive health outcomes in the U.S. and other high-income countries, not much was known, until now, about such connections in less advanced economies. But the meta-analysis of studies from Malawi, South Africa, Nepal, Jamaica, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, India, and Bangladesh, as conducted by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, showed patterns of sexual and reproductive health outcomes to be similar across the board.
“Menstruation marks the beginning of a girl’s reproductive life and is an important indicator of girls’ physical, nutritional, and reproductive health, yet it is often overlooked in public health,” senior author and associate professor of sociomedical sciences Marni Sommer said in a press release about the findings.
The researchers did not try to figure out why the connections existed. However, Sommer and her colleague Mobolaji Ibitoye note in an email to Yahoo Beauty, “There may be different reasons. For example, as the onset of menstruation occurs after other pubertal development such as breasts, it may be that girls are perceived differently by the society or men and boys around them, making them more vulnerable to sexual advances.”
Sommer and Ibitoye used data from peer-reviewed studies and databases to analyze the link between first periods and various negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes in adolescence — including early sexual activity, experiencing sexual advances from older men, early pregnancy and childbirth, sexual risk taking, early marriage, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
And overall, an earlier age at menstruation was associated with an earlier age of sexual initiation, age at pregnancy, and first live birth.
A sample of Jamaican women who menstruated early were 28 percent more likely to engage in sexual intercourse before the age of 16. In rural Malawi, 55 percent of girls who had their first period before age 14 had sex before the age of 16, compared with 27 percent of those with menses onset at age 14 to 15. Only 4 percent of girls whose first period came at age 16 or older had sex before age 16. Few girls engaged in sexual intercourse before they began menstruation.
Studies from several high-income countries have shown that early onset of menstruation is also associated with negative factors such as substance use and depression — all of which have sexual and reproductive health implications.
“I think that what was most surprising was how little the association has been explored in low- and middle-income countries,” the authors tell Yahoo Beauty. “Given the dropping age of menarche in some of these contexts, there is a clear need to more specifically explore the potential outcomes related to [it].”
While there have been many more studies conducted in high-income countries, including the U.S., the study authors add, “although the evidence we found thus far remains small, there do appear to be similarities between the lower income contexts and that of American girls.”
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