Multiple sexual partners among U.S. adolescents and young adults

Fam Plann Perspect. 1998 Nov-Dec;30(6):271-5.


Context: Because many teenagers and young adults fail to use condoms correctly and consistently, the number of sexual partners they have is an important risk factor for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Identifying factors that are associated with having multiple partners can help in the design of disease interventions.

Methods: Data on 8,450 males and females aged 14-22 who participated in the 1992 Youth Risk Behavior Survey were used to examine the prevalence of and factors associated with young people's having multiple partners.

Results: In all, 63% of female respondents and 64% of males were sexually experienced. Among those who had had sex during the three months before the survey, 15% and 35%, respectively, had had two or more partners during that period. At each age, the majority of sexually experienced respondents had had more than one lifetime partner; between ages 14 and 21, the proportion who had had six or more rose from 8% to 31% among females and from 14% to 45% among males. In logistic regression analyses, alcohol use, illicit drug use and young age at first coitus were associated with increased odds that females had had two or more partners in the previous three months, and being married lowered the odds; black or Hispanic race or ethnicity, alcohol use and young age at first coitus increased the odds for males, and being married reduced the odds. As the number of reported alcohol-related behaviors increased, the adjusted proportion of respondents who had recently had multiple partners rose from 8% to 48% among females and from 23% to 61% among men.

Conclusions: The strong association between alcohol use and having multiple sexual partners underscores the need to educate young people about the effects of alcohol on partner choice and the risk of infection with sexually transmitted diseases.

PIP: This study estimated the prevalence of having multiple sex partners (MSPs) and examined potential risk factors associated with having MSPs among adolescents and youth in the US. Data were obtained from the 1992 National Health Interview Survey and Youth Risk Behavior Survey among a multistage probability cluster sample that was weighted to represent the youth aged 12-21 years. This analysis was based on a limited sample of 4075 youth who were sexually experienced (SE). Initial factor analysis yielded 2 clusters related to first intercourse: substance use and weapon carrying or fighting. Weapons was excluded due to poor internal consistency. Orthogonal rotation revealed 2 cluster factors: alcohol use and illicit drug use. Cross-tabulations were used to identify potential independent predictors. Logistic regression was used to estimate the independent influence of predictors. Findings indicate that most had 2 or more lifetime partners (LPs). The proportion of those with 6 or more LPs rose from 8% at age 14 to 31% at age 21 among females and from 14% to 45% among males. Only 20% of SE females and 13% of SE males reported 1 lifetime partner. Alcohol use, illicit drug use, and young age at first intercourse were associated with increased odds of females having 2 or more partners in the preceding 3 months. Marriage lowered the odds for both sexes. The same 3 factors, in addition to being Black or Hispanic, increased the odds for males. Increases in alcohol-related behaviors contributed to increases in adjusted proportions of recent MSPs from 8% to 48% among females and from 23% to 61% among males.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / ethnology
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sexual Behavior / ethnology
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sexual Partners*
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • United States / epidemiology