We examined whether women's experiences across and within their intimate relationships affect their expected level of control over sex and contraceptive use.
We used data from 648 women ages 18-20 in the Relationship Dynamics and Social Life (RDSL) study, which interviewed a random, population-based sample in a Michigan county. We used ordered logistic regression with fixed-effects to control for individual- and relationship-level characteristics.
We found a u-shaped relationship between intimacy/commitment and expected control, with the lowest expected control in the least intimate/committed and the most intimate/committed relationships, and the highest expected control in the intermediate relationships. Women expected more control in their long-term compared to short-term relationships, and expected control increases over time in a specific relationship. Women also expected less control in their conflictual and/or asymmetric relationships – those with older and/or violent partners, and expected control decreases after experiencing violence or a partner's non-monogamy.
Our results are consistent with cross-sectional research suggesting that women in violent relationships experience more reproductive coercion than women in non-violent relationships, but we also found that other aspects of intimate relationships are important determinants of expected control over sex and contraception.
Intervention strategies should consider a wider range of intimate relationship characteristics – beyond violence – to improve women's control of their reproductive behaviors.