A new study by University of Virginia researchers suggests that early sexual activity (14 – 15 years old) may by associated with lower levels of delinquent behavior in later adolescence. The researchers are defining delinquent behavior as drug us, criminality, antisocial behavior, and emotional problems.

Now, this really goes against most of what most people think they understand about early sexual behavior. So what’s the deal with the new findings? Well, what these researchers did was really quite cleaver. They looked at twins.

The first piece of this twin study that is important is that identical twins had first sexual intercourse at more similar ages than fraternal twins, who had first sexual intercourse at more similar ages than non-twin siblings. Basically, this means that time of first sexual intercourse probably has something to do with our genetic make-up. That’s a pretty big statement.

So here’s the next big piece of information: when looking at identical twins, the ones who had sex as young adolescents (14 – 15) were less likely to be involved in the aforementioned delinquent behavior (drugs, criminality, antisocial behavior, and emotional problems) than their siblings who had first sexual intercourse later. This, too, is a huge finding.

Does this mean that we should be encouraging our younger teenagers to be having sexual intercourse? Clearly not. Having sex is a very, very personal decision that needs to be born out of a relationship.

But this does mean that we need to stop freaking out at the idea of teenagers having sex. Sometimes it keeps them busy and off the streets, doing other, potentially much more harmful activities.

I can hear the up-roar now: But what about teen pregnancy! But what about STDs! But what about morality!

This is where a little thing I like to call education comes in handy. Another lovely piece of research has recently shown that comprehensive sexuality programs dramatically increases condom and contraception use. This trend is also rather clear in the rest of the industrialized world, where sex education is comprehensive, and rates of teen pregnancy, STDs, and abortions are all far lower than in the U.S.

So to re-cap: early sexual intercourse isn’t generally such a bad thing (after genetics have been accounted for) and comprehensive sexuality education can protect teenagers against the negative effects of sexual intercourse.

Hmmm…maybe we’re really, really, really on the wrong track in this country.