Dating Couples and Their Relationships: Intimacy and Contraceptive Use

Article excerpt

Surveys in the United States indicate high rates of unintended pregnancy, as well as a rising number of cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) among heterosexuals (Centers for Disease Control, 1994). These trends have largely been attributed, to failure regarding contraceptive practices (Institute of Medicine, 1994).

In their investigations of the ineffective use of contraceptives, researchers have generally conceptualized the issue in individualistic and gender-specific terms. In particular, researchers have focused on the role of females rather than both sexes (e.g., Grinstead, Kegeles, Binson, & Eversley, 1993), and have often designed intervention and prevention programs solely for females (e.g., El-Bassel & Schilling, 1992). However, individual-focused theoretical frameworks have been criticized. Amaro (1995), for example, questions the use of theories which assume that "sexual behaviors and encounters are always initiated under the individual's control" (p. 440).

Despite findings in the 1970s on sexual risk-taking behaviors in premarital interactions which suggested that one of the strongest, most persistent correlates of contraceptive use is partner involvement, or seriousness of the partners' relationship (Reiss, Banwart, & Foreman, 1975; Foreit & Foreit, 1978), studies in the subsequent two decades have largely failed to examine the relationships of sexually active dating couples. An exception was Inazu's (1987) study of contraceptive use at first coitus, which found that couples who discussed intercourse and contraception before engaging in sex were more likely to contracept with effective methods than were those who did not discuss such issues. Inazu suggested that partners who are more seriously involved care more about one another and are able, furthermore, to translate this concern into effective and consistent contraceptive behavior.

Bandura (1988) posited that the management of sexuality involves managing interpersonal relationships, and noted the importance of examining the nature of relationships experienced by sexually active couples. However, according to Butcher, Manning, and O'Neal (1991) and Moore and Rosenthal (1991), there has been little examination of the nature of relationship dynamics between males and females relative to contraceptive use.

Findings from the marriage counseling literature provide theoretical direction for an investigation of this issue. For example, intimacy has been highlighted as an important relational dimension (Schaefer & Olson, 1981). Intimacy involves satisfaction of mutual needs (Clinebell & Clinebell, 1970) and closeness to another human being on a variety of levels (Dahms, 1972).

Schaefer and Olson (1981) adhere to an interactional model, and describe intimacy as existing in various forms and enhancing personal well-being. They identify five intimacy dimensions: emotional, social, sexual, intellectual, and recreational. Emotional intimacy involves open and reciprocal communication, feeling understood by a partner, and having a sense of togetherness and mutual concern or support. Social intimacy entails spending time with others as a couple, having mutual friends, and sharing similar interests. Sexual intimacy pertains to sexual intercourse and other sexual expression. Intellectual intimacy involves the sharing of beliefs regarding important issues, respecting a partner's ideas, and assisting a partner to clarify thoughts. Recreational intimacy entails participating in recreational activities together.

The present study examined the contraceptive behaviors and realized and expected levels of emotional, social, sexual, and intellectual intimacy of young dating couples. It sought to extend the parameters of research on contraceptive use by moving beyond an individualistic or female-focused framework.

METHOD

Participants

Thirty heterosexual dating couples attending a private New England university volunteered to participate. …