A new study from Oregon State University had some starting conclusions: in 40 percent of the heterosexual couples aged 18-25, both married and unmarried, who participated in the study, only one partner said the couple had agreed to be sexually exclusive, while the other maintained that they had no monogamous arrangement.
And even among the couples who had explicitly agreed to be monogamous, about 30 percent said that at least one partner had had sex outside of the relationship.
The most interesting part of the study, though, that this trend seemed to have no connection with the couple’s marital status, or even whether they had children. In fact, couples with children were less likely to have a monogamy agreement in place. This is disturbing, given that previous studies have shown that condom use tends to decline as a relationship progresses.
Jocelyn Warren, one of the researchers, explained that couples tended to become monogamous “generally for emotional reasons, to show love and trust in a relationship” (although there are many other reasons for couples to choose non-monogamy, and it’s entirely possible for non-monogamous couples to show love and trust in ways other than sexual fidelity). But one of the main worries from this study is that couples, by not explicitly saying what they want (or breaking explicit agreements) are putting themselves at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.
“Couples have a hard time talking about these sorts of issues, and I would imagine for young people it’s even more difficult,” explained Marie Harvey, another lead researcher. “Monogamy comes up quite a bit as a way to protect against sexually transmitted diseases. But you can see that agreement on whether one is monogamous or not is fraught with issues.”
The most important element, of course, is open communication in a relationship. And given the state of sex education in this country, it’s completely understandable that young couples do not always grasp the need for explicit agreements, or the importance of using protection in non-monogamous relationships.
It’s also interesting when read alongside findings from another study, which showed that couples who delayed sex were more likely to have good communication, sexual quality, relationship satisfaction and perceived stability. Of course, it’s hard to judge all of these results because, as a recent study showed, some young people don’t seem to understand what abstinence means. But it all raises questions about how we can promote open communication about sexual choices, and the right ways to emphasize responsible decision-making, so that if couples end up in non-monogamous relationships, they know how to make their relationship healthy and stable.
Photo from Flickr.
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