Context: Despite widespread efforts to increase contraceptive use to prevent both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among sexually active adolescents, most prior work examining adolescent contraceptive use does not explicitly recognize that sexual decision-making inherently involves both partners in a couple.
Methods: An analytic sample of 1,593 females who first had intercourse during adolescence (prior to age 18) was drawn from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth. Logistic regression and multinomial logistic regression techniques were used to model the effects of sexual partners' characteristics and relationship type on contraceptive use at first intercourse and contraceptive method selected at first intercourse.
Results: Approximately 31% of respondents used no contraceptive method at first intercourse. Roughly half (52%) of adolescents who had just met their sexual partner used no method, compared with 24% of those who were going steady. Whereas 75% of teenagers who practiced contraception at first intercourse used a condom, 17% relied on the pill. In multivariate models, net of other variables, adolescents who had just met their partner had 66% lower odds than those who were going steady of practicing contraception at first intercourse. Individual-level factors that influenced contraceptive use at first intercourse were age at first intercourse, race or ethnicity family type, parents' education, grades in school and receipt of birth control education prior to first intercourse. Differences between respondents and their partner in age and race or ethnicity mostly were not significantly related to method use at first intercourse. One exception was that adolescents who first had sex with a man six or more years older had reduced odds of practicing contraception. Type of relationship was significantly associated with method selection only among adolescents who were just friends with their first partner, who had higher odds of using "other" methods rather than the condom. Variables associated with pill use rather than condom use were age at first sex, race, family type, mother's education and school grades.
Conclusions: Further efforts to understand contraceptive choice among adolescents should focus on relationship features. Research on the decision-making process surrounding contraceptive use may benefit from treating this as a partner decision and not just as a decision made by one member of the couple. Further research examining the qualities of the relationship may provide important clues for understanding adolescent contraceptive choice.