Adolescents and young adults who have positive attitudes toward marriage and negative attitudes toward cohabitation are less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, according to a study conducted over time.
The study, “The Enduring Significance of Skin Tone: Linking Skin Tone, Attitudes Toward Marriage and Cohabitation, and Sexual Behavior,” published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, may help prevent health problems related to risky sexual behaviors, including sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, and cervical cancer.
The findings also show that attitudes toward marriage and cohabitation vary across racial groups and among people with lighter or darker skin tones.
Understanding how marriage and cohabitation attitudes impact decisions about sex may help scholars understand what leads young people into, or away from, harmful or healthy sexual and relational behaviors, assistant Prof. Antoinette Landor of the College of Human Environmental Sciences at the University of Missouri and Prof. Carolyn Tucker Halpern of the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina wrote in the study report.
“Examining what early factors influence risky sex can lead to better prevention and intervention strategies that encourage healthy sexual decision-making,” the authors wrote.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, non-Caucasians are at higher risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases than Caucasians. The investigators conducted a longitudinal analysis of 6,872 adolescents from diverse backgrounds (70 percent Caucasian, 15.8 percent African-American, 3.3 percent Asian, 10.9 percent Hispanic) to assess their attitudes about monogamous relationships and sexual behaviors.
They found that adolescents who planned to get married and who had negative attitudes toward cohabitation had fewer sexual partners and were less likely to have concurrent sexual partners.
When skin tone was considered, the study noted that positive attitudes toward marriage correlated to less risky sexual behaviors among light-skinned African-Americans and Asians, compared to those with darker skin whose attitudes toward marriage were more negative.
“These findings offer important implications for policy and prevention,” Landor said in a press release. “Rather than just focusing on skill building, clinicians and educators could develop materials that promote healthy attitudes toward romantic relationships which could ultimately encourage healthy decision-making and behaviors. Results also suggest that skin tone may be a culturally relevant factor to consider in public health campaigns involving sexual health among minority groups.”