Girls who are touched sexually at a young age hit puberty earlier than those who do not have sexual contact until later in life, a study has found.
The findings are part of a broader investigation to determine whether hormones or sexual experience trigger the onset of puberty.
Studying mice, German researchers found females who are touched on their genitals had changes their brain and puberty accelerated.
The researchers said the findings suggest sexual touch might have a bigger influence on puberty than previously thought.
And they warn it shows inappropriate sexual contact has a lasting impact on the brain.
Researchers saw significant cognitive changes in the brains of mice after sexual touch
Professor Michael Brecht, of Humboldt University in Berlin, said: 'Sexual touch is strictly regulated in most human cultures and this is particularly true during development.
'It has also become painfully clear that sexual abuse and inappropriate sexual contact during development have long-lasting detrimental consequences.
'Presumably the long-lasting problems from inappropriate sexual contact during development reflect brain changes resulting from sexual experience.
'Remarkably, structural brain imaging in humans with a history of sexual abuse identified a thinning of putative human genital cortex, as a cortical consequence of childhood sexual abuse.'
Professor Brecht worked with PhD student Constanze Lenschow to explore the