Assortativity and Mixing by Sexual Behaviors and Sociodemographic Characteristics in Young Adult Heterosexual Dating Partnerships

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BackgroundAssortative sexual mixing, the tendency for individuals to choose partners with similar characteristics to themselves, may be an important contributor to the unequal distribution of sexually transmitted infections in populations. We analyzed the tendency for assortative mixing on demographic and sexual behaviors characteristics in newly formed young adults dating partnerships.MethodsWomen aged 18 to 24 years and their male sexual partners of no more than 6 months were recruited during 2005 to 2010 at universities in Montreal, Canada. New dating partners were also prospectively recruited during the 2-year follow-up. We used Spearman and Newman coefficients to examine correlations between partners' demographic characteristics and sexual behaviors, and multivariable logistic modeling to determine which characteristics were assortative.ResultsParticipants in 502 recruited partnerships were assortative on age (Spearman P = 0.60), smoking behavior (P = 0.43), ethnicity (Newman coefficient=0.39), lifetime number of sexual partners (P = 0.36), sex partner acquisition rates (P = 0.22), gap length between partnerships (P = 0.20), and on whether they had concurrent partners (P = 0.33). Partners were assortative on number of lifetime partners, sexual partner acquisition rates, concurrency, and gap length between partnerships even after adjustment for demographic characteristics. Reported condom use was correlated between initial and subsequently recruited partners (P = 0.35). There was little correlation between the frequencies of vaginal/oral/digital/anal sex between subsequent partnerships.ConclusionsDating partnerships were substantially assortative on various sexual behaviors as well as demographic characteristics. Though not a representative population sample, our recruitment of relatively new partnerships reduces survivor bias inherent to cross-sectional surveys where stable long-term partnerships are more likely to be sampled.

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