Early View

Racial and Ethnic Differences in the Relationship Between Risk‐Taking and the Effectiveness of Adolescents’ Contraceptive Use


Little is known about whether adolescents’ risk‐taking in areas other than sex is associated with the effectiveness of their contraceptive method use, or whether any such associations vary by race and ethnicity.


Data from the 2011, 2013 and 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Surveys were used to examine nonsexual risk behaviors and contraceptive method choice among 5,971 sexually active females aged 13–18. Risk‐taking profiles for White, Black and Hispanic adolescents were identified using latent class analysis. Multinomial logistic regression was used to estimate the associations between these risk profiles and use of less‐ or more‐effective contraceptive methods at last sexual intercourse.


Three distinct risk‐taking profiles were identified for White and Hispanic adolescents and two for Black adolescents. Compared with their counterparts in the low‐risk “abstainer” group, White adolescents in the “high substance use and violence” group were less likely to use condoms alone (relative risk, 0.4) or a prescription contraceptive paired with condoms (0.3) rather than no contraceptive at all, and more likely to use withdrawal or no method rather than condoms alone (2.4 each). However, higher risk‐taking among Whites was positively associated with using prescription contraceptives rather than condoms (1.9). Among Black and Hispanic females, lower risk‐taking was associated only with more condom use.


Future studies should examine whether interventions designed to reduce adolescent risk‐taking improve the effectiveness of contraceptive use, particularly among White females. However, efforts to increase Black and Hispanic adolescents’ use of more‐effective contraceptives should target barriers other than risk‐proneness.

Authors' Affiliations

Mónica L. Caudillo is assistant professor, Department of Sociology; and Shelby N. Hickman is a doctoral student and Sally S. Simpson is Distinguished University Professor, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice—all at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Guttmacher Institute.

Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health