Study Says Romance Makes for Safer Sex

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Teenage romance can be a good thing and so can dating, a large study of youth in grades 7 through 12 has concluded.

An analysis of national data conducted by Child Trends, a research center that focuses on children and youth, found that sexually active teens who identify their relationships with a partner as romantic and who go out socially with that person are more likely to use contraceptives than similar teens in more-casual relationships.

This may be because they feel more comfortable talking about contraception with a partner they know and trust, said Jennifer Manlove, a senior research scientist at Child Trends and one of the study's authors. Among girls in particular, good communication and the quality of the relationship appear to play an important role in decision-making.

The analysis, taken from information on more than 4,500 unmarried, sexually experienced young people, also found that girls were more likely to use contraception with boys their age than with older males. The teens were, on average, 16 years old when they first had sex.

A fact sheet released by Child Trends contained some sobering news drawn from the study. For example, a teen's contraceptive use may change from partner to partner. Using birth control consistently in one relationship doesn't necessarily mean that a young person will do the same with another partner.

Use of contraception, in fact, is not as regular as health officials might hope. Four out of 10 sexually active students reported not using contraceptives at all or using them only infrequently. Students who reported having multiple partners were particularly likely not to use protection.

In light of this study, Manlove said, it's not enough for parents to focus simply on whether their kids are having sex. They should engage their kids in conversations about what healthy relationships look like, pay attention to the power dynamics of any relationship and stress the importance of contraception.

The study can be found in the August 2007 issue of the journal Demography.

-- Laura Sessions Stepp

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