Intimate relationship dynamics and Women’s expected control over sex and contraception


We examined whether women's experiences across and within their intimate relationships affect their expected level of control over sex and contraceptive use.

Study design

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.