Previous studies have shown what people really think if you’re in an open relationship (where people consensually agree to have multiple other sexual partners) — that you are a cesspool of diseases! Whereas, if you were in a monogamous relationship, its a good way to stay sexually healthy. Now, new studies show that those stereotypes are not true. In this edition of Sex Science News, where I tell you about a new sex study that just got published, I will be discussing the likelihood of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) between people in non-monogamous relationships compared to those in monogamous relationships.
This study was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, by Justin Lehmiller PhD., and surveyed a sample of about 550 people from various online websites (including Facebook, Reddit, and Craigslist–the volunteer, not the casual encounters section!) who were either in monogamous and non-monogamous relationships. As you might expect, people who were in openly non-monogamous relationships had more sex partners over their lives (average of 6.4) than monogamous people (average of 4). However, contrary to stereotypes, these additional sexual partners did not translate into more diseases for the openly monogamous. In fact, the two groups had almost identical rates of STIs: 20% of people in each group had had at least one STI over their lifetime.
The study also asked about each individual STI (including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, hepatitis, trichomoniasis, HPV, and HIV), and the rates among the mono and non-mono people were virtually identical.
So the question is, well, why?
Non-monogamous people are having sex with more people, yet they are not having more diseases. The answer lies in additional data that this study got:
- First, within the supposedly “monogamous” group, 25% were not actually monogamous: They had cheated on their partners.
- Two, the monogamous people were less likely to have gotten tested for STIs than non-monogamous folks (69% vs. 78%).
- Three,the supposedly monogamous people were less likely to use condoms if they were having sex with other people.
- Finally, past studies have found that when cheaters use condoms, they are more likely to use them inappropriately and make more condom errors, compared to openly non-monogamous folks.
It seems that our fears of nonmonogamy is as unwarranted as our idealization of monogamy. When people think of monogamy, they imagine perfect monogamy, with testing clean before having unprotected sex and no cheating. And if this is how monogamy worked, it would indeed lead to fewer diseases than open relationships. In reality, however, monogamy is done very imperfectly, and responsible non-monogamy may be safer (or at least just as safe), as real-life, imperfect monogamy.