Indicator 9.2: "Young people having premarital sex in last year"
The percent of young never married people (aged 15-24) who have had sex in the last 12 months of all young single people surveyed.
UNAIDS general population survey; DHS AIDS module; FHI BSS (youth).
What It Measures
This indicator is a measure of premarital sex among young people. A high score on this indicator reflects a failure of prevention messages stressing abstinence until marriage.
The converse of this indicator (that is, the indicator score subtracted from 100), functions as an indicator of abstinence among unmarried young people. Success in promoting abstinence should be reflected in a later age at first sex, as measured by Young People's Sexual Behaviour Indicator 1. This indicator, however, captures an additional dimension: anyone who has been abstinent for more than a year (regardless of whether they have ever had sex) will not be counted in the numerator for Young People's Sexual Behaviour Indicator 2. So the inverse indicator of abstinence will include not only virgins but people who have given up sex for at least the last year as a protective measure against HIV and other STIs. Given that young people should be the focus of education and prevention programs at all ages, deciding to abstain from sex after having precocious sexual activity would be an expected program outcome.
How to Measure It
In a survey including people aged 15-24, respondents are asked about their marital status and their sexual partnerships. Those that are never married and report any sex in the last 12 months enter the numerator. The denominator is all respondents who have never married.
The indicator should be reported separately for men and women. It may also be constructed separately for those aged 15-19, <15 and 20-24, as appropriate. In some settings, the proportion of those aged 20-24 who are never married will be very low, at least among women, and it may not be appropriate to construct the indicator for this age group in these cases.
Strengths and Limitations
This indicator has a critical role in advocacy. Resistance to improved sexual education and service provision for young people frequently comes from parents or other authorities who believe that abstinence until marriage is the only acceptable message for young people. An indicator that tracks premarital sex tracks the success or failure of this message and may point to gaps in the current approach. In addition, this indicator measures changes in what may be culturally and socially ascribed norms for early sexual activity. Where programs are advocating a delay of first sex or abstinence outside of a married, monogamous relationship, the indicator should show a decrease.
A limitation may also be that small sample sizes of the different age strata could make analysis and interpretation of results quite difficult. As well, in areas where early marriage is both encouraged and acceptable, prevention programs may have limited affect on changing prevailing social and cultural norms around marriage.