Expert Commentary

Contraceptive choice among U.S. youth: The importance of relationship context

2011 study published in the journal Demography on the role of relationship type in contraceptive use.

Understanding contraceptive use among young adults is important to preventing negative health outcomes, and much research has focused on the impact of relationship status. A 2011 study published in the journal Demography, “Contraceptive Method Choice Among Youth in the United States: The Importance of Relationship Context,” draws on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to better understand the role of relationship type in frequency and type of contraceptive use for teenagers and young adults up to age 24.

In the study, the researchers classified relationships as one of five types, ranging from transitory liaisons to cohabitation. The association of the relationship type with the type of contraceptive use was then examined, as well as demographic factors, differences between the partners, and prior relationship experiences.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Use of the detailed relationship typology revealed that “individuals may behave differently in different relationships.” For instance, women who were dating were more likely to use condoms or dual method contraception, while those living with a partner were less likely to report condom and dual method contraception.
  • For those in less-committed relationships, familiarity with one’s partner increases condom use among women but reduces it among men.
  • In the most committed relationships, women are less likely to use condoms or dual method contraception, but men are not.
  • Both men and women are less likely to report contraceptive use in relationships with partners who are at least three years older.

Findings indicate that, for both men and women, difficulty communicating with partners may be a barrier for contraceptive use. The authors recommend that future studies focus on understanding the mechanisms that allow relationship context to influence contraceptive behavior.

Tags: gender, sexuality, youth