Context: While a number of studies have examined the association between individuals' characteristics and their contraceptive use, few studies have examined the influence of partners' characteristics on individuals' contraceptive use.
Methods: Using nationally representative data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, multiple logistic analyses were conducted to identify associations between the demographic characteristics of adolescents' heterosexual partners and adolescents' use of condoms or other contraceptive methods.
Results: The partners of white and black adolescents were likely to be similar to them, while the partners of Latino adolescents and of adolescents of "other" race or ethnicity were more likely to be of a different racial or ethnic group. Differences in age between adolescents and their partners were notable in all racial and ethnic groups. As adolescents age, the characteristics of their partners become more heterogeneous. The less similar adolescents and their partners are to one another--whether because of a difference in age, grade or school--the less likely adolescents are to use condoms and other contraceptive methods.
Conclusions: Many adolescents have relationships with partners whose characteristics differ from theirs and with whom they are less likely to use condoms or other contraceptive methods. This behavior is more common as adolescents grow older. To provide appropriate counseling, sexuality educators and family planning providers need to consider the ways in which adolescents' relationships change as they age and discuss with them the dynamics of relationships involving partners who differ in age or other characteristics.