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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Characterization of Young Adults' Nonmarital Sexual Relationships: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health

  • Author(s): Kusunoki, Yasamin
  • Upchurch, Dawn M.
  • et al.

The relational patterns and behaviors that are experienced during adolescence and young adulthood are influential for reproductive health outcomes and set the stage for future family formation choices and behaviors. In order to better understand the extent to which the relational context influences behavior within relationships, it is imperative that researchers first explore these relationships in a more comprehensive manner than has been done previously. Using the retrospective sexual relationship histories of young adults from the most recent wave (2001-2002) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), this paper provides a detailed description of young adults’ nonmarital sexual relationships and explores young adults’ relationship histories. Findings suggest that the characteristics of the nonmarital sexual unions that are formed during the early life course are quite diverse. The type of relationship (defined as cohabiting, exclusively dating, frequently but not exclusively dating, dating once in a while, and having sex only) and other features of these sexual relationships (e.g., duration, age difference between partners) differ depending on the gender, race/ethnicity, and age of the young adult. Additionally, some patterns of associations across racial/ethnic groups and age categories differ for women and men. Moreover, the features of these sexual relationships vary across the different relationship types. Finally, a number of individual-level sociodemographic characteristics are associated with having experienced certain types of relationship histories. In particular, there are enduring effects of family background and religious denomination during adolescence that differ for women and men.

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