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CONTEXT: Women’s relationship context likely influences both their ability and their motivation to use contraceptives. No recent studies, however, have examined associations between women’s relationship characteristics and use of different methods.

METHODS: Data were collected in a longitudinal study of 839 low-income women at risk of unintended pregnancy who visited public family planning and postpartum clinics and maternity wards in two Southeastern cities. Simulated probabilities calculated from multivariate analyses assessed associations between a wide range of relationship characteristics and the use of no method, condoms, withdrawal, female methods or dual methods.

RESULTS: Women who had had a child with their partner had an increased likelihood of contraceptive nonuse and use of withdrawal, and a decreased likelihood of using any female method. Respondents who were in a relationship for a relatively long time had an elevated likelihood of nonuse and use of female methods, but a lowered likelihood of condom use. Furthermore, married or cohabiting women were less likely than others to use dual methods. Respondents who had good communication with their partner had an elevated likelihood of using condoms. In addition, women who expected to receive a lot of emotional support from their partner if they became pregnant were more likely than others to report any condom use or dual method use, and less likely to report contraceptive nonuse.

CONCLUSIONS: When counseling family planning clients, providers should consider women in the context of their relationships. Future research exploring factors associated with contraceptive method use should examine variables related to the establishment, quality and expectations of their relationships.