Health Behaviors and Reproductive Health
Risk Within Adolescent Sexual Dyads
J. Dennis Fortenberry
Indiana University School of Medicine
From a clinical and public health perspective, the visible tracks of adolescent romantic relationships are the untoward consequences of sex marking obscure developmental trails toward a monogamous maturity expected by social traditions. These consequences—sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and unplanned pregnancy—are major causes of morbidity within adolescence. Rates of STD such as gonorrhea and chlamydia are as high or higher among 15-19year-olds than among any other age group (Division of STD Prevention, 2002). Although most infections due to human immuno deficiency virus (HIV) occur in young adults, risk behaviors for this sexually transmitted infection typically begin during adolescence. In terms of unplanned pregnancy among adolescents, approximately 1 million occur each year. About 56% end with a live birth, 30% with an abortion, and 14% by miscarriage (Henshaw, 1999). Romantic partnerships are often integral to the sexual relationships that are key proximal factors to these adverse health events.
Romantic partnerships unfold within the context of increasing importance of friends (both same-sex and opposite-sex) as sources of support, shared values, companionship, and status (Buhrmester &Furman, 1987). Friends tend to share membership in cliques and other collectives defined on the basis of shared interests, intimacy, and activities (Brown, 1990). Romantic partnerships share many of the identity and affiliation functions of other types of friend relationships.
Friends resemble each other in terms of behaviors as well as attitudes and interests. Both similarity and socialization processes contribute to relative concordance of health-related behaviors within adolescent friendship dyads (Fisher & Bauman, 1988; Kandel, 1985). Similarity refers to a process of