Gender, women and health

Violence against women by non-partners

Forced first sex

Respondents were asked whether their first experience of sexual intercourse was (a) forced (b) not wanted but not forced, or (c) by choice, and the age at which this experience had happened. In 10 of the 15 settings, over 5% of women who had ever had sex reported their first sexual experience as forced, as shown in Figure 9. The figure was 14% or more in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, provincial Peru, and the United Republic of Tanzania. The wide variation may in part reflect social attitudes towards female sexuality (for example, in cultures which frown on women expressing a desire to have sex, women may have a higher tendency to report their first sexual experience as forced) or real cultural differences in women’s ability to control the circumstances of their first experience of sexual intercourse.

In all settings except Ethiopia, the younger a woman at the time of her first experience of sexual intercourse, the greater the likelihood that her sexual initiation was forced. Figure 10 shows that in more than half the settings, over 30% of women who reported first sex before the age of 15 years described that sexual experience as forced. This is consistent with other studies, which have documented a strong association between early sexual initiation and coercion (16). In some countries (notably Bangladesh and Ethiopia) high levels of forced first sex are likely to be related to early sexual initiation in the context of early marriage, rather than to violence by acquaintances or strangers.