Background: Romantic relationships for young adult males are often described in terms of sexual risk behavior and outcomes of sexually transmitted infection (STI), abuse, and unplanned pregnancy. Conceptualization of romantic relationship solely based on sexual risk behavior fails to appreciate the life history perspective from which such behavior and outcomes may occur.
Objectives: This study explored the meaning of being in a romantic relationship for young adult males who have been romantic partners to African- and Mexican-American female adolescents with a history of STI, unplanned pregnancy, or abuse.
Methods: A qualitative, phenomenologic approach was used. Participants completed two semi-structured interviews each. Interviews were conducted with six Mexican American and two African American young adult males 19 to 26 years of age using a life history perspective.
Results: Participants described how relationship norms were established by interactions with and observations of individuals within their familial and social networks. Immediate and extended family, caregivers, past and present romantic partners, teachers, healthcare providers and peers influenced participants’ beliefs about and actions within romantic relationships throughout their lives. Participants learned that extra partners, friendships, and financial security were the means to maintain balance in the main relationship.
Conclusions: Participants struggled to maintain romantic relationships with main partners. The inabilities to be financial secure, the presence of jealousy and conflict, and the desire to fulfill education and career goals led to relationship instability. Sexual risk behavior such as lack of condom use and sexual concurrency was explained as the means to offset relationship instability, to maintain status among peers, to maintain relationships with main girlfriends, and to maintain emotional and physical satisfaction.
Implications for Programs, Policy, and/or Research: Complete clinical assessments and research regarding sexual risk behavior include, in addition to a focus on risk, an evaluation of romantic relationship norms that guide behavior in young adult males’ relationships.