Primary Sources: Qualities of Teens' Romantic Relationships Affect Sexual Behavior

Photograph of a teen couple using a tablet computer together.

Affairs of the Heart: Qualities of Adolescent Romantic Relationships and Sexual Behavior” (abstract), Journal of Research on Adolescence, Vol. 20, No. 4, December 2010.

What it's about: This study looks at more than a thousand 7th, 9th and 11th graders’ romantic experiences and explores how their views of communication, caring and power within relationships affect their sexual behavior. The authors analyzed only heterosexual relationships because too few same-sex couples participated in the survey.

Why read it: When it comes to understanding teens’ sexual behavior, researchers have focused more on family and peer influences than on teens’ subjective experience of the romantic relationship itself. This study adds to our knowledge about the ways in which specific qualities of adolescent romances may influence teens' decisions about sex.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: Overall, both boys and girls reported that girls had more power in their romantic relationships--in other words, they were seen as being more likely to get “their way” in a disagreement. These results challenge the common notion that boys usually have greater power in teen dating relationships and use it to pressure their female partners to have sex. However, girls who saw themselves as having less power in a relationship were more likely to report having had sex than were girls who saw themselves as having more power. Youth workers can help both boys and girls build effective communications skills so that each feels an equal sense of power in a relationship.

Additional reference: This article came out of the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study, which explores the nature and meaning of teens’ relationships with their families, peers and dating partners.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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