Most couples who think they're only having sex with each other live under a false sense of security when it comes to contracting STDs. I certainly fall into this category, as my fiancé and I have been in a committed relationship for eight years. It's easy to separate yourself from all your single friends who are dodging HPV right and left when you've been jumping into bed with the same person for almost a decade.
However, according to a new, somewhat depressing study, all us supposedly monogamous couples might be in for a rude awakening in terms of STD exposure. The basic conclusion of said study, which was recently published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, is that monogamous couples may be no safer from STDs than couples in open relationships.
This study, which was conducted at Ball State University, looked at 556 people who were over 18 and in either a monogamous relationship, or an open relationship. The group was 77.9 percent heterosexual, 14.4 percent bisexual, 4.4 percent homosexual, and 4 percent wrote in a unique relationship identity.
The participants were asked a series of questions about their sexual practices in their relationships, including condom use, how often they were tested for STDs and if they had partners outside their primary relationship. If the answer was "yes" to that last question, the participant was asked whether or not their primary partner was aware of these other sexual partners.
With regard to the open relationship participants, what they found wasn't terribly surprising. They found that 72.4 percent admitted to being sexually involved with someone other than their primary partner, but only 36.7 percent said their partner had no knowledge of said sexual involvement.
However, the monogamous relationship results were disturbing by comparison. While only 24.4 percent reported having extra-relationship involvements, 75 percent reported that their primary partner had no idea about it. What's more is this group was much less likely to wear condoms, not only with their primary partner, but with their other sexual partners as well. This makes sense, because they probably got used to that "trusting" behavior with their significant other, and thus did not think to do anything different with someone else.
Meanwhile, the people in open relationships claimed to use condoms much more frequently, especially with their extra relationship partners, and had STD testing done much more often. It just goes to show that if everyone is aware that there's more than one sexual relationship going on, everyone will be that much more careful to stay sexually safe.
According to this study, as well as previous studies on the subject, one in four people in a supposedly monogamous relationship is cheating on their partner. As Justin Lehmiller, director of the Social Psychology Graduate Program and leader of the study, states in his paper, "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 non-monogamy."
So despite the fact that couples in open relationships might be having sex with more people than those in monogamous relationships, the risk for contracting an STD is about the same in both. This comes down to there being a false sense of trust in closed relationships. Because you're supposed to be faithful in a monogamous relationship, if you break that rule, it's that much harder to be honest about the indiscretion with your partner.
This just goes to show that we shouldn't be so judgmental of less traditional relationships, because odds are, they're just as responsible, if not more so, than we are.
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