Our purpose was to describe Black adolescent mothers’ decisions regarding condom use with various partner types, including the biological fathers of their children. We found that mothers always used condoms during sex with “one night stands” and “pop-offs,” which entailed relationships described as primarily sexual and lacking in trust or emotional intimacy. Mothers reported that they never used condoms during sex with males who were also the biological fathers of their children. The mothers’ sometime use of condoms depended upon a mix of factors related to partner type, and emotional and relationship considerations.
“One night stands” and “pop-offs” were the only partner types identified in which mothers said that they would, in all circumstances, refuse to have sex without using a condom. This finding is consistent with reports in the literature that adolescent females use condoms more consistently with “one night stands” (Ellen, Cahn, Eyre, & Boyer, 1996
) and other partner types that are typically classified as casual (Morrison-Beedy, Carey, Lewis, et al., 2002; Seage et al., 2002
). Our findings advance the adolescent HIV/STI prevention science by highlighting an interesting strength in adolescent females’ perceived self-efficacy for condom use with certain partner types. Most research on condom use self-efficacy has involved a view of it as a function of behavioral skills acquisition for the negotiation and actual physical use of a male or female condom (Morrison-Beedy, Carey, & Aronowitz, 2003
; Soler, Quadagno, & Sly, 2000
). The results from our study suggest that there may be a considerable degree of situational variation in condom use self-efficacy among Black adolescent females that is more related to sex partner classification than to the mastery of specific condom use techniques or negotiation skills.
The mothers reported categorically forgoing condom use with sexual partners who were the biological fathers of their children. The “baby daddy” was the only partner type associated categorically with never using condoms. This phenomenon has received scant attention in the research literature. The few reports of partner type studies published on this topic only marginally reflect this phenomenon; in these studies condom use was negatively associated with being in a sexual relationship with the father of the baby. In a recently published study of 107 African-American adolescent mothers, Johnston-Briggs et al. (2008)
found that inconsistent condom use was associated with reports of being sexually active with the baby’s father (p
=.05). Although the mothers in our study reported that they made categorical decisions to forego condom use with the fathers of their children, the underlying reasons for the decisions were not well articulated. This coincides with results from sociological studies in which researchers encountered difficulties eliciting clear and cogent narratives from individuals regarding the reasoning for their observed or reported behavior, even when it was behavior that presumably occurred regularly. For example, regarding participants in her study, Angus (2005
, p.899) stated that:
People are often remarkably inarticulate when asked to explain or describe specific reasons for some everyday decisions or activities because the underlying logics are part of an assumptive order that facilitates rapid decision making.
More in-depth research is needed to determine if there are underlying assumptions that ground condom nonuse behaviors that adolescent mothers’ may exhibit with the biological fathers of their children.
There are partner-related risks for Black adolescent mothers that exist at the intersection of sexuality and paternity. These risks highlight the need for more research into understanding how co-parent status influences adolescent mothers’ compartmentalization of sexual risk with the fathers of the children so that effective HIV/STI prevention interventions can be developed to address these distinct needs. The finding from our study regarding the categorical forgoing of condom use both challenges and advances the literature regarding the influence of trust on condom use by highlighting the limits of its impact with regard to sexual encounters with “baby daddy” sexual partners (Jones, 2004
; Kershaw, Ethier, Niccolai, Lewis, & Ickovics, 2003
; McNair & Prather, 2004
; Williamson, Buston, & Sweeting, 2009
). Decisions to forego condom use with “baby daddy” partners were sometimes moderated by trust; nonetheless, trust did not appear to override, or even mediate, the influence of this partner-type on adolescent mothers’ condom use. More research is needed aimed at understanding the unique influence of the father of the baby on sexual risk behaviors of Black adolescent mothers as well as whether and why factors that influence condom use with other partners do not hold true for this partner.
Love, trust, and relationship seriousness were distinct from each other, yet their influences on condom use decisions were likely interactional. For example, young mothers could be in serious relationships with male partners, yet condom use could still have been moderated by the level of trust she had for the partner at the time of the sexual encounter. They could also be in relationships with male partners that they trusted but did not love, or that they loved but did not fully trust. We were unable to distill from these data exactly how the multitude of configurations of these factors specifically influenced condom use in our sample. The influence of relationship factors on condom use signifies a need for more research with adolescent mothers that is focused on factors influencing sexual risk at the relationship dyad level versus the individual level (Karney et al., 2010
). Dyad-level HIV/STI prevention interventions with adult heterosexual (El-Bassel et al., 2003
) and men who have sex with men (Wu, El-Bassel, McVinney, Fontaine, & Hess, 2010
) samples have been effective at reducing sexual risk behaviors by targeting the relationship as the site of intervention. HIV/STI prevention intervention research targeted to co-parent dyads (adolescent mothers and their children’s fathers) may offer promise in making gains similar to those seen in other target populations.