Faculty Working Paper: Hans Saint-Eloi Cadely (Associate Professor, Dept. of Human Development and Family Science)

Discussant: Nicole Weiss (Assistant Professor, Dept. of Psychology)

Sexual Risk-Taking among Adolescents in Committed and Noncommitted Partnerships

  • Date:February 11 , 2022
  • Time: 3:00 PM EST
  • Location: This event was on Zoom and has concluded.


Although for nearly three decades fewer adolescents are reporting to have sex, reports of adolescent engagement in sexual intercourse within the United States remains high. For instance, approximately over 40% of adolescents between the ages of 15-19 indicated to have had sexual intercourse during the period of 2011-2015 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). Many adolescents who are having sex are seeking these experiences within casual/noncommitted relationships. Adolescent involvement in noncommitted relationships is associated with sexual risk-taking (e.g., lack of contraceptives during sex) (Manlove et al., 2007; Manning et al., 2000). Such factors stress the need to understand casual sexual relationships during adolescence.

Saint-Eloi Cadely et al. (2020) recently investigated associations between insecurities, beliefs, and attitudes about sex and romantic relationships and sexual risk indicators (i.e., age at first sex, number of sexual partners, condom use, length of time with sexual partner, seriousness of relationship, and frequency of sex). Results showed that endorsing healthy sex attitudes (e.g., not rushing to have sex) served as a protective factor against sexual risk-taking; such participants reported less sexual partners, had sex for the first time at an older age, and knew their partner longer before having sex. Insecurities emphasizing on the loss of independence and fear of rejection were related to less commitment to the relationship prior to having sex. Lastly, holding constraining relationship beliefs (e.g., love is enough to sustain a relationship) was associated with less condom use and greater sex frequency.

The present study expands on these findings by examining whether these associations vary between male and female adolescents within committed and noncommitted relationships. Participants were 801 sexually active adolescents who indicated to have had vaginal sex within 30 days prior to data collection (Age range: 14-20 years old; M = 16.25 years old, SD = 1.04; 53.6% females; 43.6% European American and 55.9% identified as an ethnic minority). Participants were grouped based on gender and whether they were having sex within a serious or noncommitted relationship. Results indicated that healthy sex attitudes were related to fewer sexual partnerships and knowing one’s partner longer before sex across groups (except males in noncommitted relationships). However, the association for length of time knowing the partner was stronger for females and strongest for females in noncommitted relationships. Lastly, the associations between romantic attachment insecurity, constraining relationship beliefs, and sexual risk-taking varied across gender and relationship groups. Results of the present study contribute to current understanding of adolescent involvement in noncommitted relationships and provide implications for prevention and intervention programs targeting adolescent sexual risk-taking.