If you were to ask 10 strangers the #1 way to prevent a sexually transmitted infection, what do you think they might answer? Very likely one of their answers will be “monogamy.” And they wouldn’t, strictly speaking, be wrong. The fewer numbers of people you have sexual contact with, the less likely it is you’ll have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease. This concept gets drilled into high schoolers lucky enough to have a sexual education class: Be abstinent. If you’re not abstinent, at least be monogamous.
But monogamy isn’t for everyone. Some chafe at the practice, strongly preferring to share their love and sexuality with more than one individual. Monogamy is not for them. Instead of relying on monogamy to protect them from disease, they use barriers such as condoms and test themselves and their partners for disease. And they communicate.
Here’s a question though: Does the use of barriers protect as well as monogamy does? I’ve felt it probably does, but haven’t seen any data to say one way or another.
And then this study was published!
This week’s study polled monogamous and (consensual) non-monogamous people and asked them about their sex life, their use of barriers, their STI testing, and so on. They recruited around 550 participants, 70% female, 63% monogamous, 77% heterosexual.
What did they find?
Among the nonmonogamous participants, 72% had sex with a partner other than their primary partner. 37% reported that their primary did not know about this sexual encounter.
Among the monogamous participants, 24% had sex with a partner other than their primary partner. 75% reported that their primary did not know about this sexual encounter.
In other words: both monogamous and nonmonogamous participants, as groups, had sexual encounters with people other than their primary partner. Nonmonogamous people were more likely to have that sex and to tell their partners about it. When monogamous people had sex outside their partnership they were far less likely to tell their partner.
And what about safe sex? Both monogamous and nonmonogamous participants were equally likely to use barriers with their primary partner. However, nonmonogamous participants used barriers with others more often than monogamous participants.
When it came to STIs, there was no difference in actual diagnoses of STIs. But nonmonogamous people were more likely to get tested.
Now — let’s translate all that.
What this ultimately means is that people who practice consensual nonmonogamy are no more likely to get a sexually transmitted infection than are monogamous people. This is very likely because nonmonogamous people use barriers/condoms with other partners and get tested more often.
As the paper stated: “Persons who have made monogamy agreements often break them, and when they do, they are less likely to take safety precautions, get tested for STIs, and disclose those extradyadic encounters to their partners than persons who agree to some form of negotiated nonmonogamy.” Absolutely.
Monogamy is one way to try to prevent the spread of STIs…and it is equally as effective as clear communication and relationship negotiation with the use of barriers and STI testing in non-monogamous relationships.
The study was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, and its abstract is publicly available.