Teens, Romance, and…Contraception?

Washington, DC — New research from Child Trends indicates that teens in strong, positive romantic relationships are more likely to use contraception.  The study finds:


  • Teens who identify their relationships as “romantic” and who spend more time with their partners in dating activities are more likely to use contraceptives.
  • Female teens who discuss contraception with their partners before sex are twice as likely to practice safe sex.
  • Female teens whose partners are similar to themselves, particularly in age, are more likely to use contraception.
  • Teens continue habits from previous relationships.  Those who used contraception consistently in an earlier relationship (either on their own initiative or from a partner) are more likely to also do so in a current relationship, indicating that teens may learn from their experiences across relationships.


new fact sheet summarizes the findings of the study, which was published in the journalDemography and analyzes survey data from high school students to identify contraceptive use patterns.  Among the other findings:


  • Many teens use contraception inconsistently.  In four out of 10 relationships, teens never or only inconsistently used contraception.
  • Teens’ contraceptive consistency varies across their sexual relationships.  In other words, teens may use contraception every time they have sex with one partner, but may use contraception only sometimes or not at all with a different partner.
  • Teens who engage in a high number of relationships are less likely to consistently use contraceptives across these relationships than their peers who have fewer relationships.


“Inconsistent use of contraceptives puts teens at a high risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies,” said Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors.

“Pregnancy prevention programs should pay more attention to the importance of partners and relationships in teens’ sexual decision making and should consider integrating the multiple dimensions of sexual relationships into role-playing exercises to help teens learn how to negotiate contraceptive use with their partners.”


Child Trends’ analysis is based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative survey of youth in grades seven through twelve.


Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children from pregnancy to the transition to adulthood.  Its mission is to improve outcomes for children by providing research, data, and analysis to the people and institutions whose decisions and actions affect children.