Adults who were born prematurely are more likely to remain life-long virgins and never form romantic relationships, research has found.
Analysis of studies covering about 4.4m adults has shown those who were born pre-term are twice as likely to remain virgins, and less likely to experience parenthood.
Researchers at the University of Warwick believe this is partly because premature birth is associated with people who are more withdrawn and shy, and can be less likely to take risks in adolescence.
Analysis found those born pre-term were 28% less likely to form a romantic relationship and 22% less likely to become parents, compared with those born at full-term.
The researchers looked at studies of sexual relations of pre-term individuals and found they were 2.3 times less likely to ever have a sexual partner.
Those born before the 28-week mark were more than three times less likely to have sex.
First author of the paper, Dr Marina Goulart de Mendonca, said: “The finding that adults who were born pre-term are less likely to have a partner, to have sex and become parents does not appear to be explained by a higher rate of disability.
“Rather, preterm-born children have been previously found to have poorer social interactions in childhood that make it harder for them to master social transitions such as finding a partner, which in turn is proven to boost your wellbeing.”
However, the paper found that the pre-term adults who did have a romantic relationship or formed friendships did not have diminished partnerships compared with full-term individuals.
The authors said a lack of sexual and romantic relationships may lower wellbeing and lead to poorer physical and mental health.
But they did not think it would add to the theory that adults born prematurely take longer to reach milestones.
They wrote: “We verified that the difference of experiencing these transitions in comparison to (those born full-term) did not alter in the older age group, and in some cases, it was even higher in the older age group.”
Dr Chiara Nosarti, a reader in neurodevelopment & mental health at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, said: “Several studies have investigated pre-term individuals’ social outcomes at different stages of life and the general consensus across studies is that social adjustment difficulties following pre-term birth emerge in childhood and remain throughout the lifetime.”