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When it comes to romantic relationships, many teenagers feel intimacy is just as important as passion and physical attraction. Commitment also plays a crucial role in their relationships. These are the conclusions of researchers of the Center of research on Children, Adolescents and the Media (CcaM) based on the most recent study that is set to be published this week in The International Journal of Behavioral Development.

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Love and relationships

Teenagers’ experience of sexuality has been the subject of numerous studies. However, little to no research has addressed the way in which they experience love and relationships. UvA researchers Sindy Sumter, Patti Valkenburg and Jochen Peter interviewed 1,765 Dutch teenagers in the 12-to-17 age group to take stock of their views on love and relationships. Most teenagers have their first experiences with love and relationships between the ages of 12 and 15. Approximately half of the 12 and 13-year-olds and two thirds of the 14 to 17-year-olds who participated in the CcaM study had been in or were currently in a relationship. 

Does passion diminish with age?

The researchers assessed views on love and relationships from a lifespan perspective. To this end, a total of 1,026 adults between the ages of 18 and 88 were also included in the survey. Some 90% of the surveyed adults were currently or had been in a romantic relationship. The various adult age groups did not differ significantly in terms of the extent to which they valued commitment and intimacy in a relationship. The 18-to-29 age group placed more emphasis on passion than any other age group. However, the degree of passion experienced by older adult age groups was only slightly lower.

Men from Mars versus women from Venus?

Men and women – in both the adolescent and adult age groups – tended to perceive love and relationships about the same way. Boys and men did tend to place greater emphasis on passion than girls and women, but the two sexes were almost identical in terms of the degree to which they value commitment and intimacy – the ability to share feelings with their partner. 

Research method

The study involved a survey of over 2,700 teenagers and adults, conducted amongst a representative sample of the Dutch population by means of online questionnaires. The researchers based their model and questionnaires on the cognitive triangular theory of love developed by American psychologist Robert Sternberg. In this model, love is represented as three interrelated components: passion, intimacy and commitment.

Publication details

Sindy R. Sumter, Patti M. Valkenburg & Jochen Peter: ‘Perceptions of love across the lifespan: Differences in passion, intimacy, and commitment, in: International Journal of Behavioral Development, 37, 418-428. (5 September 2013).