Sexual relationships and contraceptive use were at the forefront of the Cutting Edge Sexual Research talk Wednesday at the University of Michigan.
Yasamin Kusunoki, an assistant professor of nursing and faculty associate in the Institute for Social Research, was the keynote speaker for the event.
The presentation, a segment of a week-long series hosted by Sexpertise, discussed about sexual and reproductive health effects, particularly among young women.
Specifically, Kusunoki explained the “Relationship Dynamics and Social Life” longitudinal study she began in 2008 along with Sociology Prof. Jennifer Barber. Kusunoki’s talk focused on relationship seriousness, instability and intimate partner violence in relation to contraception use.
“Rates of unintended pregnancy remain high in the United States, especially for a developed country, and there is a lot of variation of cross groups with much higher rates amongst disadvantaged young people,” Kusunoki said. “There are still a lot of people who don’t use contraception, and when they do use it, they don’t do so consistently.”
Her study’s participants were 1,000 18- to 19-year-old socioeconomically diverse women from a southeastern Michigan county. All participants identified as heterosexual. Face-to-face interviews regarding demographics, family background, attitudes and beliefs, relationships, education and employment served as the initial research.
At baseline, over 25 percent of the sample had reported being pregnant before, 60 percent first had sex by age 18, 7 percent had two or more sexual partners by age 18, and over one-third of participants reported receiving public education during childhood.
Ninety-five percent of the young women from the baseline agreed to participate in weekly journal-based surveys for two-and-a-half years through the Internet or phone.
Over the course of the study, 25 percent of participants experienced an unexpected pregnancy.
Kusunoki said her study found that the longer a man and woman are together, regardless of how long they have been serious, the more likely they are to be consistent with contraception use. However, she said this only adds up to a point, after which use will start to decrease.
Contraception use was broken up into four categories — long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC), the pill, condoms and withdrawal (“pulling out”).
She noted that the use of condoms, unlike other forms of contraception, was associated with the seriousness of a relationship, not just the duration. Condom use decreased as the seriousness of a relationship increased, and then at a certain point began to increase again.
Rackham student Mitchell Bloch said he found Kusunoki’s research pertinent to real relationships.
“I found it interesting that, at a certain point, contraceptive use goes down in relationships,” Bloch said. “I didn’t expect the results to shift in that way.”
The study also suggested that intimate partner violence was associated with increased rate of pregnancy. Kusunoki said this correlation was a result of pressure to not use contraception or negotiating use and “contraception sabotage,” the idea that one partner may want a pregnancy and not the other.
Study results showed 45 percent of the sample who engaged in sexual relations reported psychological threat during the study period, and 16 percent reported physical abuse. Of those in serious relationships, 21 percent reported psychological threat and 6 percent physical abuse.
“We really tried hard to not only get dynamic weekly data, but to really look at the continuum of how much one wants to get pregnant and not to get pregnant,” Kusunoki said. “We also have multiple measures of contraceptive use.”
Only those who reported being in a relationship were assumed to be having sex, and only those people were asked about contraception use. Several issues with representation existed in the sample — it came from only one Michigan county, and thus has low generalizability. The study also included few Latinas and did not provide reports from partners of the female participants.
Meredith Richard, a Waterford resident who found out about the presentation online, attended the event for entertainment and to gain knowledge. She said she thought some methods of contraception were antiquated.
“The choices of contraceptive within the demographic I think is really interesting,” Richard said. “I can’t believe that withdrawal is still a thing.”