Teenage girls engaging in sexual activity double their chances of depression, according to a new study from America.
Girls who engage in sexual activity during adolescence are often left with feelings of regret and low self-esteem, the researchers found.
The study, published in the respected Journal of Health Economics, said that these feelings could be directly ascribed to early sexual activity, rather than other factors such as family instability.
The researchers looked at 14,000 adolescents aged 14-17. They found symptoms of depression among 19 per cent of the girls who had had sex, compared with 9.2 per cent who had not.
It has been suggested that the conclusions may not be directly transferable to the UK because of differences between British and American culture.
But family campaigners welcomed the research. Dr Trevor Stammers, of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said it shows “as closely as we have been able to show so far that there is a genuine link between increased risk of depression and adolescent females engaging in sex.
“My experience is that, for girls, depression, regret and shame are very common.”
Earlier this year a study by Girlguiding UK and the Mental Health Foundation concluded that the mental health of teenage girls was being damaged by pressure to engage in early sexual activity.
Dr Andrew McCulloch, the Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, commented at the time: “We are forcing our young people to grow up too quickly and not giving them the spaces and experiences they require to be safe and confident. We are creating a generation under stress.
“This is our responsibility as adults and adult society to put right.”