Shared social and emotional activities within adolescent romantic and non-romantic sexual relationships

Lela Rankin Williams, Stephen T. Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Typically, "non-romantic" sexual relationships are assumed to be casual; however, the emotional and social distinctions between romantic and non-romantic contexts are not well understood, particularly in adolescence. Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) was used to compare shared emotional (e.g.; telling partner that they love her/him) and social (e.g.; going out in a group) activities within romantic and non-romantic sexual relationships. Adolescents who reported exclusively romantic sexual relationships (n = 1,891) shared more emotional, but not social, activities with their partners than adolescents who were in non-romantic sexual relationships (n = 315; small effect size, r =.07-.13), akin to adolescents who experienced both relationship types (n = 519; small-to-medium effect size, r =.18-.38). Girls shared more emotional and social activities with their partners than boys when in romantic relationships (small effect size, r =.06-.10); there were no significant gender differences within non-romantic sexual relationships. Findings suggest that gendered scripts remain for sexual relationships that are romantic but not for those that are non-romantic. Notably, for the majority of adolescents, non-romantic relationships still held many emotional and social dimensions typical of romantic relationships and differences between relationship types were small. Although non-romantic relationships were less intimate than romantic sexual relationships, there was remarkable heterogeneity within this relationship type. Caution is advised when working with adolescents engaged in "casual" sexual relationships. Understanding the complexity of adolescent sexual relationships is critical for the advancement of effective sex education programming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)649-658
Number of pages10
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Casual sex
  • Friends with benefits
  • Gender

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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