Every Saturday the CSPH highlights news or recent research in the field of human sexuality. This week we’re discussing a study published in The Journal of Adolescent Health that aimed to find out if teenage girls whose primary source of spending money is from their boyfriend are less likely to use condoms than the average teenager.
Researchers Janet Rosenbaum, Jonathan Zenilman, Eve Rose, Gina Wingood, and Ralph DiClemente wanted to find out whether adolescent women who received economic benefits from their boyfriends were less likely to use condoms. Their research proposal stemmed from the idea that women who are financially reliant on their boyfriends are more susceptible to coercion – a concept highlighting the prevalence of intimidation and peer-pressure related to sexual activity among teenage girls. In order to prove that this type of coercion has specific results such as lower rate of condom use, the researchers gathered data from a longitudinal HIV prevention intervention study with 715 African American adolescent women in urban Atlanta. The women were surveyed at 6 months and again at 12 months. The primary outcome was never using condoms in the past 14 days at 6 months and 60 days 12 months. The primary predictor was having a boyfriend as their primary spending money source at baseline. The data loosely confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis, but it was gathered from a very limited population and the outcomes were drawn from correlations in the data and not from direct reports of the participants.
Twenty-four percent of the respondents in the study identified a boyfriend as their primary source of spending money. These respondents all had lower education, history of abuse and risky sexual behavior, and more sexually transmitted infections than the other girls in the study. According to the data, the women who identified a boyfriend as their primary source of spending money were 50% more likely never to use condoms than the women who identified other primary sources of spending money. The researchers claim that women who identified a boyfriend as having been their primary source of spending money but later found another spending money source were more likely to start using condoms than women who continued receiving money only from a boyfriend, although it is not clear how this was measured. Another correlation published was women whose boyfriends owned cars were more likely never to use condoms. This is noted as a significant finding, but may or may not be related to the fact that the boyfriends with cars also had more money and/or were the primary source of spending money to their girlfriends.
The researchers stated that receiving spending money from a boyfriend is “common among adolescent women in populations targeted by pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection prevention interventions, and may undermine interventions’ effectiveness” calling for clinicians and reproductive health interventions to address females’ economic circumstances when providing treatment. As stated previously, this research builds on the idea that women who are financially reliant on their boyfriends are more susceptible to coercion – but the researchers did not directly address this in their surveys/interviews with the participants. The study also claims there is evidence that if teenage boys are given greater access to condoms they are more likely to use them, but the same doesn’t hold for teenage girls. Isn’t it possible that the reason teenage girls are less likely to use or enforce the use of male condoms with their partners is because they are not being instructed or educated about safe sex practices? This study would be more informative if the researchers had a follow-up interview with the respondents asking them why they did not use a condom and inquiring what would have changed this behavior. The generalization of this study is also limited due to its limited respondent pool in terms of culture and location. In general, if more teenage girls understood the importance of practicing safe sex and were taught how to use male condoms rather than just being handed samples of them, it may result in higher instances of condom use – regardless of source of spending money.