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The Influence of Peers, Romantic Partners, and Families on Emerging Adults’ Sexual Behavior

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Prior research acknowledges that families and peers influence adolescents’ sexual behaviors. Far fewer studies have explored whether and how families and peers influence sexual behaviors among emerging adults, especially among those in committed intimate partnerships, while also accounting for dynamics specific to the intimate relationship and respondents’ sociodemographic characteristics. Even less is known about whether and how previous romantic relationship experiences might influence emerging adults’ future sexual behavior both within and outside the confines of committed intimate partnerships. Drawing on longitudinal data from the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study, we examined how emerging adults’ family backgrounds, peers’ sexual attitudes and behaviors, and past and current relationship experiences influenced their engagement in casual sex and sexual non-exclusivity. We found that each of these contexts was significant predictors of emerging adults’ casual sex, and that both peers and romantic relationship experiences significantly influenced the likelihood of engaging in sexually non-exclusive behaviors among those in committed dating, cohabiting, and marital partnerships. We discuss potential theoretical mechanisms linking these relationships and provide suggestions for future research.

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Data Availability

The public-use data files of the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study (TARS) for Waves 1 and 2 are available through ICPSR’s Data Sharing for Demographic Research (DSDR) and may be applied for together at: Restricted-use data for Waves 1 and 2 may be applied for through ICPSR’s Secure Dissemination or Virtual Data Enclave processes. The public-use data files for Wave 5 are available through the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data’s (NACJD) Fast Track Release at: The restricted-use data for Wave 5 may be applied for separately through the NACJD website. Waves 3 and 4 data are not available to the public.

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This research received support from The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD036223), and 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 (R24HD050959-01). The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Angela M. Kaufman-Parks.

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Appendix A. Correlations Between Continuous Independent Variables

Appendix A. Correlations Between Continuous Independent Variables


Interparental conflict

Peers’ sexual behavior

Peers’ sexual attitudes

Partners’ previous non-exclusivity

Relationship duration

Relationship uncertainty

Respondent age

Interparental conflict



Peers’ sexual behavior




Peers’ sexual attitudes





Partners’ previous non-exclusivity






Relationship duration







Relationship uncertainty








Respondent age








  1. N = 694 respondents; *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001
  2. Source: Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study

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Kaufman-Parks, A.M., Longmore, M.A., Manning, W.D. et al. The Influence of Peers, Romantic Partners, and Families on Emerging Adults’ Sexual Behavior. Arch Sex Behav 52, 1561–1573 (2023).

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