Girls are more likely to have sex, get pregnant and even have sexually transmitted infections if they begin menstruation early, a new study has reported.
The study involved a review of several studies done in low and middle income countries. It was conducted by researchers at Columbia university and published on June, 7 in PLOS one.
The studies looked at data collected in African countries such as Nigeria, Malawi, South Africa, Zimbabwe and other low and middle income settings such as India, Nepal and Jamaica.
The main finding was that when a girl begins her menstruation early in life (defined as menstruation before the age of 14 years) this increases the likelihood that she will:
- Receive sexual advances from older men
- Have early onset of sexual intercourse
- Have sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV
- Become pregnant and have a child at a younger age
According to the lead author Mobolaji Ibitoye in a statement released to Sciencedaily, “despite possible similarities in the relationship between early menarche (first menstruation) and sexual and reproductive health in low-, middle- and high-income countries, the factors associated with early menarche and early marriage may differ across ethnic groups within the same country. This highlights the need for a greater understanding of the cultural and regional variations in the effect of age at menarche on age at marriage both within and between countries.”
The Falling age of menstruation
Several studies have showed that the age a girl begins her period (menarche) has been falling in the past decades. About 50 years ago, it was about 16-17years but has declined to 10-13years in recent times. Although uncommon, there have been reports of girls having their first menstruation at the early age of 6 or 7 years. Some researchers have attributed this decline to chemicals in the environment. And this study has suggested it may have serious lifelong social, physical and emotional implications too.
In Nigeria, the age at which girls begin their menstruation vary from 12 years reported in the South East to 15 years reported in Northern Nigeria. Generally well nourished girls with higher Body mass Indices were likely to begin menstruation early.
According to the study published by Mobolaji Ibitoye and others, in a sample of adolescent girls aged 13–19 from Nigeria, those that had their first ‘period’ at or before age 13 were significantly more likely to be sexually active than those than begin theirs at age 14 or older.
Why is the information important?
This information should be a source of concern to parents, caregivers and policymakers because it has been reported that girls aged 15–19 are five times more likely to be infected with HIV than boys their age.
According to the authors, a better understanding of the effect of early menstruation on sexual and reproductive health, helps us to identify new approaches, including when sexual education and access to reproductive health services should begin.