The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Teen Sex and Dating Violence

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

Given the near-complete breakdown of marital and sexual norms, it should not be surprising that “hooking-up,” “friends with benefits,” and “date rape” have replaced “courting,” “going steady,” and “getting pinned” among the younger set. Nor is it surprising that “dating violence” has emerged in the lexicon not only of empirical studies but also bills before state legislatures. Feminists may mischaracterize the nature of domestic violence and overstate its prevalence, yet empirical studies (and crime statistics) consistently reveal insights that generally aren’t trumpeted on the pages of the New York Times, like the fact that the vast majority of cases of domestic and intimate violence do not occur in intact marriages or in married-parent families and are far more likely to occur between same-sex lovers than between men and women.

Likewise, a study of physical violence in teen dating by sociologists at Bowling Green University identifies sexual intimacy as a key aspect of teen romances that involve four reported behaviors: “throwing something at”; “pushed, shoved, or grabbed”; “slapped in the face or head”; and “hit”. Using data from the Toledo Adolescent Relationship Study, the researchers focus on 956 seventh, ninth, and eleventh graders who were enrolled in seven public school districts during the year 2000 in Lucas County, Ohio—and who reported they were currently dating or had dated in the previous year. Contrary to feminist expectations, a higher percentage of girls (19 percent) than boys (15 percent) reported being the perpetrator of at least one of these forms of violence.

As might be expected, all of the dynamics of dating relationships that the researchers classify as “problematic” were found to be significant predictors (at the p<.001 level) of violence perpetration in both bivariate and multivariate statistical models, including verbal conflict, jealously, and cheating. In other words, the more a teen reported these dynamics in a dating relationship, the more likely they were to report violence perpetration. The Bowling Green team did not include sexual intercourse with a dating partner among the problematic features—choosing instead to group this element of dating relationships with the category “patterns of interaction and influence”—but perhaps they should have, as the oldest respondents were no more than 17 years of age. Indeed, sex among dating teens not only correlated with greater odds of violence perpetration (p<.001 in both models, including the one controlled for demographic and other variables also associated with dating violence) but also yielded the strongest association in the bivariate model (and the second strongest association in the multivariate model) among the relationship features the researchers measured.

These findings do not mean that every teen romance in which a couple goes “all the way” will turn violent. But the study does make the case that teen dating violence does not occur apart from a relationship that involves illicit sexual relations. Parents and youth workers concerned about the dating scene ought to therefore think about how a recovery of the discipline of chastity (or the confinement of sexual relations to the marriage bed) might contribute to healthier and safer relationships among teenage boys and girls.

(Peggy C. Giordano et al., “The Characteristics of Romantic Relationships Associated with Teen Dating Violence,” Social Science Research 39.6 [November 2010]: 863–74.)