Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
 
Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health
Volume 36, Number 1, January/February 2004
DIGEST

Relationship Type, Goals Predict the ConsistencyOf Teenagers' Condom Use

Adolescents who consistently use condoms during sex differ from those who do not in terms of the types of relationships in which they are involved, their goals in relationships and their motivations for having sex, according to a 2001 study of Dutch vocational high school students.1 Among young people who had had sex with a steady partner but had never had casual intercourse, those who used condoms consistently had a more positive attitude about condom use and perceived more social pressure to use condoms, but needed less intimacy in a relationship and less often had sex to express love than those who engaged in unsafe sex. For those who had had casual sex, consistent condom use was positively correlated with perceived ability to use condoms in difficult situations, attitude regarding condoms and perceived social pressure to use condoms.

To examine whether certain behaviors, attitudes and motives regarding sex and condom use are associated with consistent condom use within casual and steady adolescent relationships, researchers recruited students from five Dutch vocational high schools to complete a questionnaire. Participants answered questions about their sexual history, condom use, attitude toward condom use, perceived social pressure to use condoms, perceived ability to use condoms in difficult situations (i.e., while drunk or highly aroused, when their partner does not want to and during unexpected sex), need for intimacy within relationships and motivations for having sex. The researchers analyzed the data using Pearson correlations, Student's t-tests and discriminant analyses.

Of the 701 students interviewed, 60% were male and 40% were female; their ages ranged between 15 and 23, and averaged 18. The vast majority (89-91%) were born in the Netherlands and still lived at home. Eighty-six percent had ever had a relationship, and 43% were involved in a relationship at the time of the study. Two-thirds of respondents had ever had sex; of these, one-third had had one partner, nearly a third had had two partners and slightly more than a third had had three or more partners. Almost all sexually experienced students (93%) had ever had a steady partner, whereas fewer than half (46%) had ever had a casual partner (defined as "someone with whom you do not have a relationship, 'one night stands'"). Respondents who were not sexually experienced were excluded from the analyses.

Among those who had had a steady partner, 23% reported using condoms always, 16% most of the time, 14% sometimes and 47% rarely or never; use of the pill and having known a partner for a long time were the most often cited reasons for inconsistent use or nonuse of condoms with steady partners. Among those who had had sex with a casual partner, 48% reported using condoms always, 28% most of the time, 10% sometimes and 14% rarely or never; use of the pill, unavailability of a condom, substance use and "it did not cross our minds" were the most often cited reasons for inconsistent use or nonuse of condoms. A greater proportion of men than of women had ever had casual sex (56% vs. 39%), and a greater proportion of women than of men had had unprotected sex (85% vs. 68%).

Lifetime number of sexual partners was negatively correlated with students' perceived ability to use condoms in difficult situations and need for intimacy within relationships (r=-.13 for both), and was positively correlated with the frequency with which they had sex to please others (.10), to enhance their mood (.15) and to experience pleasure (.14). Lifetime number of casual partners was positively associated with having sex to please others (.20) and to enhance their mood (.23).

Compared with respondents who had ever had casual sex, those who had never had casual sex considered themselves better able to use condoms in difficult situations and were more inclined to seek intimacy in relationships. Respondents who had had a casual partner, however, more frequently had sex to please others, to enhance their mood or to experience pleasure.

Among respondents who had had sex only with a steady partner, those who used condoms consistently had a more positive attitude about condom use and perceived greater social pressure to use condoms, but needed less intimacy in a relationship and less often had sex to express love than those who did not use the method consistently. Having a more positive attitude about condoms, perceiving greater social pressure to use condoms and having sex to express love were correlated with consistent condom use among both males and females. In addition, women who used condoms consistently, compared with those who did not, were more confident that they could use condoms in difficult situations and less often had sex to experience pleasure.

Among respondents who had had casual sex, consistent condom users were more certain that they could use condoms in difficult situations, had a more positive attitude regarding condoms and perceived greater social pressure to use condoms than those who used condoms inconsistently or not at all. Men who consistently used condoms within their casual relationships tended to have a more positive attitude about condoms, a greater perceived ability to use condoms in difficult situations and a stronger perception of social pressure to use condoms than those who had unsafe casual sex. Women who consistently used condoms within their casual relationships had a greater perceived ability to use condoms in difficult situations, expressed a greater need for intimacy within a relationship and were more motivated to have sex to please others or to express love than women who had unsafe casual sex.

The authors comment that according to their findings, the type of relationships in which adolescents are involved and the motivations adolescents have for engaging in sex are associated with consistent condom use. They suggest that interventions that "target specific subgroups and as such take into account the type of relationships (e.g., steady or casual) and the meaning of the relationship and sex itself would be even more effective in promoting safe sex."

—J. Rosenberg

1. Gebhardt WA, Kuyper L and Greunsven G, Need for intimacy in relationships and motives for sex as determinants of adolescent condom use, Journal of Adolescent Health, 2003, 33(3):154-164.