Characteristics of Young Adult Sexual Relationship

Characteristics of Young Adult Sexual Relationships: Diverse, Sometimes Violent, Often Loving

Child Trends Research Brief

 Data for this study was obtained from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health’s third survey wave in 2001-2002 that included unique information about the lives of young people from 18 to 25. Child Trends specifically used 7,539 heterosexual young adults between the ages of 18 to 25 who were in current sexual relationships. 

Twenty percent of young adults  reported being married, 20 percent were living with his/her partner, and 35 percent were in dating relationships. Of those 35 percent, 27 percent reported that their relationships were exclusive and the remaining 8 percent said that they were dating casually. The remaining 25 percent of young adults surveyed said they were sexually active but not in ongoing relationships. 

Young adults have relatively high rates of non-marital sex and unintended childbearing, as well as high rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). As of 2000, young adults made up one-half of the new STD cases.

Young adult relationships are often characterized by relatively high levels of violence: Twenty-six  percent of young adults reported experiencing violence in their current relationship. Twenty-two percent reported threats, throwing objects or pushing and shoving. Ten percent reported slapping and kicking.

Although research finds that violence occurs in all types of relationships, it is less likely in dating relationships than it is in cohabiting or married ones.

Most young adults use some form of contraception. Young people in dating relationships were the most likely to do so (79 percent). Those who were married were the least likely.

Despite the occasional spates, the research shows that the majority of young adults are in mutually loving relationships. More than 90 percent of young adults in the study who were married, cohabiting or in exclusive relationships reported that they were faithful to each other.

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