, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 165-185

Young Adult Dating Relationships and the Management of Sexual Risk

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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 draw on data from the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study (n = 475) to examine the association between qualities and dynamics of current/most recent romantic relationships such as communication and emotional processes, conflict, demographic asymmetries, and duration and the management of sexual risk. We conceptualize ‘risk management’ as encompassing multiple domains, including (1) questioning the partner about previous sexual behaviors/risks, (2) using condoms consistently, and (3) maintaining sexual exclusivity within the relationship. 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.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, San Francisco, March 2006. This research was supported in part by the Center for Family and Demographic Research, Bowling Green State University, which has core funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R24HD050959-07).