Adult dating and relationship

See other articles in PMC that cite the published article. Abstract Young adult involvement in sexual behavior typically occurs within a relationship context, but we know little about the ways in which specific features of romantic relationships influence sexual decision-making. Prior work on sexual risk taking focuses attention on health issues rather than relationship dynamics. We identify distinct patterns of risk management among dating young adults and find that specific qualities and dynamics of these relationships are linked to variations in risk management.

Results from this paper suggest the need to consider relational dynamics in efforts to target and influence young adult sexual risk-taking and reduce STIs, including HIV. Contraception, Relationships, Young Adulthood, Sexual Risk During the life stage of emerging adulthood Arnett , most young adults are not married, but are sexually active Lefkowitz and Gillen As such, they are at considerable risk for exposure to sexually transmitted infections STI.

This greater exposure is the result of increases in sexual activity, and declines in condom use relative to the adolescent period Dariotis et al. Behaviors that put young adults at risk for exposure to heterosexually transmitted infections i. Thus, the importance of the relationship context cannot be over-stated, and scholarship is beginning to recognize that understanding the nature of sexual relationships may help prevent STIs e.

Surprisingly, researchers know more about individual, family, peer, and even neighborhood level effects on adolescent and young adult involvement in high-risk sexual activities than about the influence of relationship dynamics such as shared communication on sexual risk-taking and the management of STI risk.

Relationship processes play an important but not well-understood role and likely represent a fruitful and malleable arena for intervention relative to individual, peer, family, or demographic factors.

We conceptualize the process of managing risk in terms of multiple domains including: A strength of the TARS data is the development of an interview protocol that includes direct assessments of these dimensions of risk management as well as potentially important relationship qualities and dynamics i. The analysis also accounts for traditional relationship parameters such as demographic asymmetries and duration of the relationship as potential influences on ways in which sexual risk is managed within the context of young adult relationships.

Evidence suggests that adolescents and young adults who are sexually inexperienced, report higher religiosity, are less educated, and whose parents are perceived to approve of premarital sexual activity are more often inconsistent or ineffective condom users or non-users. Although useful in providing a descriptive portrait, these studies have focused primarily on a specific behavior, i.

Another common approach to understanding high-risk sexual behavior is to view it as part of a broader problem behavior syndrome e. For example, drug and alcohol use are associated with earlier sexual onset, greater numbers of sexual partners, and more instances of unprotected sex e. Increased attention to the linkages between various risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug use and sexual behavior has been helpful, particularly with furthering our understanding that the knowledge, motivation, and skills of adolescents and young adults are quite distinct from those of older adults, especially with regard to attitudes of invulnerability.

Nevertheless, during adolescence and into young adulthood, sexual activity becomes increasingly normative, and unlike delinquency, underage alcohol use and illicit drug use, can be developmentally appropriate Harris et al. Thus, a more multifaceted approach to sexual risk-taking is required one that recognizes the rewarding and status-enhancing social experiences that romantic and other sexual relationships offer even though they can amplify the level of sexual risk-taking.

Thus, interpersonal and situational processes are under-emphasized, including issues surrounding the negotiation of condom use. Our conceptual framework emphasizes that intimate relationships are not individualistic although data may come from one individual , but are complex social bonds that are likely incompletely described with regard to any one construct-such as duration, frequency of interaction, or type of sexual relationship e.

Our multidimensional approach derives from a symbolic interactionist view of relationship exchanges e. As Burgess and Huston , p. The symbolic interactionist lens underscores the need to capture and describe these relationships as the actors themselves experience them. Relationships and Sexual Risk During early adulthood, in spite of much popular culture emphasis on hook-ups, dating relationships are the most common context for sexual activity Kusunoki and Upchurch Yet characteristics of intimate dating relationships vary; consequently, we consider a range of relationship behaviors that include not only unprotected sex, but also concurrency and the ability to effectively communicate with the partner about risk behaviors.

We review the relevance of each of these behaviors for managing sexual risk. Yet, communication processes are central to the use of male methods e. However, researchers acknowledge the inadequacy of simply determining whether communication occurs--the nature of the communication also matters e. A further complication with communication as an indicator of sexual risk management is that querying a partner may signal mistrust or problems in the relationships. Nevertheless, we anticipate that greater self-disclosure and feelings of love are associated with shared communication Giordano et al.

As such, we expect that young adults in relationships with greater intimacy love and intimate disclosure may be more likely to query about sexual risk. Correlates of condom consistency Although shared communication is critical for risk management, two other behaviors are also critical for avoiding sexual risk: Most studies of sexual risk-taking focus on the use or non-use of condoms, largely because condoms are the most effective way to avoid sexually transmitted infections.

Some studies focus on condom use at first or last intercourse, but to better capture protection during the course of a relationship understanding consistency of condom use is necessary. We view condom use as a dyadic behavior, as it involves negotiation between partners on whether or not to use, and importantly, whether to use condoms consistently e. Although prior work has examined condom use based on dating status i.

Surprisingly, apart from relationship type e. Demographic heterogamy The demographic measures of heterogamy age, race, and ethnicity have been studied and linked to inconsistent condom use, with much of the prior work emphasizing age heterogamy. For example, research has examined whether young women who have sex with substantially older men measured as age heterogamy are less likely to use condoms.

Some work finds age gaps are not related to contraceptive or condom use in dating relationships Ford et al. Although less work has examined race heterogamy, it appears that race heterogamy is not associated with condom use among male adolescents e. However, Ford et al. Relationship duration Many studies examine relationship duration and sometimes infer that duration is a proxy for closeness in the relationship.

Generally, as sexual relationships increase in duration, condom use declines Civic ; Crosby et al. Moreover, this pattern has a tendency to repeat itself in subsequent relationships.

Other work has found a negative relationship exists between duration and consistently using contraception e. Similarly, Kusunoki and Upchurch report lower levels of condom use than hormonal methods with greater relationship duration. While longer duration may be associated with declines in condom use, a more comprehensive approach to adult relationships requires attention to relationship qualities and dynamics other than duration.

Subjective qualities While building on these studies, we focus attention on the subjective elements of relationships. A few studies find that emotional closeness and higher relationship quality among subgroups of young adults and teens are both associated with lower condom and contraceptive use e.

That is, as emotional intimacy increases, the need for condoms and contraception diminishes; however, this is not consistent across all studies. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence to suggest that as love and commitment increase, condom use likely decreases. Negative relationship qualities A comprehensive portrait of relationship-based dynamics also requires attention to negative relationship qualities.

Among sexually active girls, relationship violence or abuse is related to inconsistency of contraceptive use Manlove et al.

However, an exclusive focus on abuse is problematic because the majority of young adults do not report engaging in romantic partner violence.

Attention should be paid to a wider array of negative or troubling dynamics that could potentially be linked to contraceptive consistency. As such, we expect that conflict will be negatively associated with consistent condom use among young adults.

An important sexual risk behavior is the link between concurrent sexual behaviors and risk of sexually transmitted infections Ford et al. Analyses based on national surveys indicate that unmarried young adult men and women experience the highest levels of concurrent relationships Adimora et al. Young adult dating relationships are less likely than marital or cohabiting relationships to adhere to a norm of sexual exclusivity.

Yet men with concurrent sexual partners experience lower odds of condom use Adimora et al. A further refinement based on a sample of Hispanic males indicates that their sexual concurrency was not associated with consistency of condom use; however, when they perceived their partner as sexually non-exclusive, the odds of consistent condom use increased Brady et al. Even though young adults may be in committed relationships, they remain at sexual risk as long as they or their partners have concurrent partners or relationships that are not sexually exclusive.

Sexual non-exclusivity represents part of a risk portfolio that can occur at any time and speaks to the nature of the relationship. Thus, sexual non-exclusivity, like communicating with the partner about sexual risk i. Few studies focus on whether partners specifically communicate and assess risk and sexual fidelity. Although referring to homosexual activity, Kippax and colleagues Kippax et al. Yet, having unprotected sexual intercourse in a committed relationship may actually increase the risk of exposure to HIV, in part, because assessments of partner risk often are unknown or inaccurate Ickovics et al.

These longer-term relationships may create the illusion of safety Clark et al. In this paper, we investigate relationship-based influences on three aspects of sexual risk management. First, sexual risk inquiry refers to whether the respondent asked his or her partner about prior sexual risk behaviors. This measure does not indicate whether the respondent modified their behavior based on this information, but it does measure whether the couple communicated about potential risk behaviors prior to having sex.

This measure improves on prior work by expanding beyond communication about condoms. Second, we focus on how two behaviors, sexual exclusivity and consistent condom use, combine to measure sexual risk management.

Prior work often considers sexual risk behaviors as independent when in fact these combine to amplify or control risk. Even though young adults in non-exclusive sexual relationships perceive or have higher risks of STIs, they do not always protect themselves Kelley et al. Teens and young adults who are in monogamous relationships with consistent condom use are in the safest type of sexual relationships. Adolescents who are in monogamous relationships may believe they are in a safe relationship and consequently do not consistently use condoms.

However, these relationships are only seemingly safe because partners could decide, at any time, to engage in sex with others or may have an untreated STI from a previous relationship. Young adults in managed risk relationships have concurrent sexual partners, but manage their sexual risk by always using condoms.

The final group is the unsafe category, comprised of young adults who do not consistently use condoms and are in relationships that are not sexually exclusive. Given that sexual intercourse is by definition dyadic, we evaluate how qualities of the relationship influence management of risk. Research on intimate relationships describes some basic constructs relevant to understanding intimacy interaction and love and conflict Giordano et al. We build on these studies and assess how relationship qualities influence sexual risk management as well as include attention to more basic relationship characteristics such as duration and heterogamy.

We expect that young adults in relationships with high levels of conflict will be less effective managers, as reflected by less consistent condom use and a lower probability of sexual exclusivity. The first wave of completed in-home interviews was conducted with 1, adolescents. The initial sampling universe for TARS consisted of all students enrolled in Lucas County schools in the seventh, ninth, and eleventh grades in the fall of The sociodemographic characteristics of Lucas County closely parallel those of the U.

For our study, black and Hispanic adolescents were over sampled. The focus of the fourth wave of data collection is sexual risk taking and includes measurement that was unavailable in earlier interview waves. This follow-up provides an opportunity to study young adults as they enter an age range that typically involves greater risk exposure to STIs. An additional eight respondents were removed from analyses due to missing data, resulting in a final sample of young adults.

Sexual exclusivity is based on two questions: Consistent condom use and sexual exclusivity are combined to form the four categories of risk management. Relationship Qualities Based on the results of factor analysis, we combine five measures of relationship quality into three indices.


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