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J Adolesc Health. 2011 Jun;48(6):604-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.09.005. Epub 2011 Feb 18.

Discordance between adolescent real and ideal sex partners and association with sexually transmitted infection risk behaviors.

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Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21224, USA.



Epidemic levels of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among urban youth have drawn attention to the potential role of sex partner selection in creating risk for STIs. The objectives of this study were to describe the ideal preferences and real selection of sex partners, to evaluate sex partner ideal versus real discordance using quantitative methods, and to determine the association between discordance and STI risk behaviors.


Data are obtained from an urban, household sample of 429 individuals aged 15-24 years. Trait clusters were developed for participants' ratings of their real and ideal sex partners and tested for reliability. Discordance between the ratings of real and ideal partners was measured. Logistic regression was used to assess associations between sex partner discordance and STI risk behaviors.


Ratings of the real sex partners were often lower than participants' ideal sex partner ratings. A total of 33% of male adolescents and young men and 66% of female adolescents and young women were discordant on at least one trait cluster. Male adolescents and young men who were discordant on the emotional support they expected of their partner were more likely to report more than two sex partners in the past 90 days (odds ratio = 2.13, 95% confidence interval: 1.06-4.26) and perceived partner concurrency (odds ratio = 3.85, 95% confidence interval: 1.53-9.72). For female adolescents and young women, discordance on fidelity or emotional support significantly increased the odds of all risk behaviors.


Male and female adolescents with discordant real and ideal sex partner ratings were more likely to report STI-related risk behaviors. Further steps should involve identification of factors associated with ideal versus real sex partner discordance, such as features of the social context.

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