Sexual intercourse between unmarried adolescents can be problematical. The first coitus is often a disappointing experience, especially for females, and it may therefore not be repeated for quite a while. Males may also be unsatisfied because of their own clumsiness and lack of experience. Such frustrations are usually overcome with continued practice. A more serious problem is the justified fear of infection with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and the worry about an unwanted pregnancy. It is therefore important that both young females and males know about STD prevention and contraception. Unfortunately, many of them do not have the necessary knowledge or, if they do, fail to act on it. Some adolescents have, in the meantime, adopted various techniques of “safer sex” which they call “outercourse”, i.e. intercourse that avoids vaginal penetration. These techniques often precede the first coitus by several years, and they may also be practiced by unmarried couples in traditional societies that insist on the “virginity” of brides on their wedding day.
In this context, it is now often forgotten that, for the greater part of human history, young people did not have to wait long before they could marry. Once they reached puberty, they were initiated into the community of adults and could start a family of their own. Females were “given in marriage” as soon as they could bear children, and even where males had to wait a few years for some economic reason, they had other sexual opportunities: In many societies of the past, temporary homosexual contacts and visits with prostitutes were not considered “serious” and were silently tolerated. In other words, for thousands of years, young people were not expected to go through an extended period of sexual abstinence. It was taken for granted that, after puberty, everyone was ready for and entitled to sexual intercourse.
Marriage at an early age was the norm in many societies of the past. In Europe, it served the political interests of the aristocracy well into modern times. Shown here is the wedding of Marie Adelaide of Savoy (age 12) and the Duke of Bourgogne (age 14) at Versailles 1697. King Louis XIV, the bridegroom’s grandfather, can be seen on the right.