Purpose: To explore whether patterns of sexual relationships, such as sequential (nonoverlapping in time) or concurrent (overlapping in time), are more important indicators of sexually transmitted disease (STD) risk among adolescents than number of sexual partners.
Methods: Data from 4,707 sexually active adolescents from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health were analyzed based on reported heterosexual relationships during the past 18 months. Adolescents were categorized as engaging in single, sequential, or concurrent sexual relationships. Demographic, behavioral, and social characteristics of each group were compared and multivariate logistic models were fit to determine STD risk associated with sexual relationship patterns and overall number of sexual partners during this same time period.
Results: Thirty-five percent of sexually active teens had more than one partner in the past 18 months, and 40% of these multiple partnerships were overlapping or concurrent in time. Teens in sequential and concurrent relationships reported lower condom use and a higher degree of regret of having sex owing to alcohol use than those in single relationships. Teens in concurrent relationships also reported the lowest self-efficacy to use contraceptives. Teens in sequential or concurrent relationships were more likely to report an STD than single-relationship teens (odds ratio 2.3 and 3.9, respectively); however, they were not statistically different from each other. Number of sexual partners during this same time period was not associated with STD risk once relationship pattern was considered.
Conclusions: Adolescents who engage in sequential or concurrent sexual relationships differ in some important demographic, behavioral, and social characteristics and, when compared with those who engage in single relationships, have a significantly greater risk for STDs over and above the number of sexual partners.