Understanding what marks an abusive man may be the key to improving men’s and women’s sexual health, according to a new study published in The Journal of Sex Research.

Abusive relationships, formally described as intimate partner violence (IPV) or domestic violence, are a problem for both men and women — though prior studies have found that IPV has a more harmful impact on women. Heterosexual sex also happens to be the primary driver of HIV transmission for women, and at the same time, young men don’t have enough resources to learn how to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). So researchers wondered: Could there be a chance all these factors play into each other and predict a woman’s sexual health?

Researchers divided 334 young men they recruited through Facebook and Craigslist ads into one of five groups. Each group was based on three items reflecting the presence or absence of controlling, physically abusive, or sexually coercive behavior. For the purpose of this study, controlling behavior was described as the behaviors that “may, at times, exist outside of the use of physical or sexual tactics to intentionally establish dominance and power over a partner.” Then, each man completed a survey on sexual scripts, risky sexual behavior, and violence-related behavior.

Given that there is “limited literature” pertaining to the rate of IPV and risky sexual behavior among men in the United States, the sample researchers used purposefully consisted of heterosexual men. The sample equally represented five racial and ethnic groups.

The survey answers revealed 68 percent of respondents had directed some type of abusive or controlling behavior toward their partner. Additionally, 23 percent of men reported no abuse, 19.5 percent reported controlling behavior only, and almost 20.1 percent reported physically abusive behavior but no sexual coercion.

As for men’s sexual health, 17 percent of those who reported using both physically abusive and sexually coercive behaviors also reported riskier behavior, such as non-monogamous endorsement, sexual sensation seeking, a higher number of lifetime female sexual partners, and infrequent condom use. Even men who had only been one or the other, either physically abusive or sexually coercive, reported a greater likelihood of STDs and offering gifts in exchange for sexual services. Not exactly surprising, but “interesting and dismaying,” said lead study author Erin Casey.

“The vast majority of this group had agreed to be monogamous, but nearly half of the men were not... yet only about a quarter of them were consistently using condoms with their primary partner,” she told Medical Daily in an email. “This group’s rate of non-monogamy and paying for sexual services was higher than that of non-abusive men's, and their rate of condom use with their main partner was lower.”

However, Casey was surprised by just how many men reported that they had used controlling behavior with their most recent romantic partner. This includes telling their partner who they can spend time with, or pressuring them to skip work or school.

“Over half of the young men reported this kind of behavior, either alone, or in conjunction with physically and sexually abusive behavior,” she said. “We're not sure if this is a function of age — maybe younger people are more likely to engage in controlling behavior with their partners, but perhaps grow out of it — or if this behavior is more normative in this particular cohort of millennial young men.”

Researchers conceded there were other study limitations, such as their sample characteristics and “some measurement issues.” In which case, future research isn’t only warranted, but it would benefit from including more variables like how often men get tested for HIV and other STDs.

Casey herself has a second paper currently in the press that looks at predictors of abusive behavior, with more of a focus on understanding how men develop sexually abusive behavior.

Source: Casey EA, et al. Patterns of Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Risk Behavior among Young Heterosexually Active Men. The Journal of Sex Research. 2015.