Every Saturday The CSPH highlights news or recent research in the field of human sexuality. This week we’re looking at a study showing that girls who are sexually or physically abused may start menstruating earlier than other girls.
Dr. Renee Boynton-Jarrett, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University, and her colleagues analyzed information on approximately 69,000 women and found that those who were sexually abused during their childhood were 49% more likely to have their first period before age 11 than women who were not abused. However, women who suffered severe physical abuse had a 50% increased risk for starting their menstrual cycles after age 15, much later than average.
“In our study, child abuse was associated with both accelerated and delayed age at menarche…” says Dr. Boynton-Jarrett. “There is a need for future research to explore characteristics of child abuse that may influence health outcomes including type, timing and severity of abuse, as well as the social context in which the abuse occurs.” The researchers noted that girls who menstruate earlier may be at greater risk for certain health problems, such as heart disease, metabolic dysfunction, cancer, and depression. Meanwhile, girls who menstruate later may be more likely to have depression and lower bone-mineral density. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the average start time for girls’ periods is about 12.5 years old. This study contributes to existing literature on the long-term effects of childhood abuse in adults. Studies have found that both adult men and women with a history of childhood sexual abuse show greater evidence of sexual disturbance or dysfunction and depression. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services also claims that some physical consequences of abuse, such as damage to a child’s growing brain, can have psychological implications such as cognitive delays or emotional difficulties. While this particular study indicates the need for better understanding of how abuse in childhood affects the health and well-being of individuals later in life, it is important to note that this is a correlational study, and if a girl starts menstruating earlier or later than usual that this does not necessarily mean she has been abused. Additionally, it is possible for a victim of child abuse to develop without abnormal physical or emotional issues. The information gathered in this study serves as a way to help medical professionals be better informed about the potential issues at hand when working with an individual that has a history of abuse. Please click here to read more about the study. Please click here to read more about risk and protective factors for child abuse.