Young Women's Sexual Behavior and Contraceptive Use Amidst Conflicting Desires and Morals

Michelle Eilers , University of Texas at Austin
Abigail Weitzman, University of Michigan

In the transition to adulthood, most young adults experience competing beliefs and desires, yet sociologists rarely examine the cognitive dissonance that ensues. This article integrates life course and cognitive social decision-making theories to examine cognitive dissonance about premarital sex and its behavioral implications among women aged 18 to 22. Analyzing a weekly panel of unmarried young women, we show that cognitive dissonance about premarital sex is common and often intensifies over time. By recognizing cognitive dissonance as theoretically meaningful, we shed light on how it not only affects sex and contraceptive use. When young women disapprove of premarital sex, they are less likely to have sex and to use contraception, in part because they possess lower desire for sex. However, as desire increases, disapproving beliefs toward premarital sex lose their grip over behavior. Conceptualizing and modeling cognitive dissonance reveal much about how young adults experience and maneuver socially contentious decisions.

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 Presented in Session 108. Influence of Religiosity, Morality, and Other Social Norms on Contraceptive Use Among Teenagers