“Your Cheatin” Heart”: Monogamy Pledges As Flawed STD Prevention


Posted on January 21st, 2011 by Katherine Franke

As the Mississippi Legislature debates this week whether to impose mandatory sex education in public schools (Mississippi has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country), new research reinforces the importance of sex education as a public health measure.  A new study released by the Journal of Sex Research entitled One Love: Explicit Monogamy Agreements among Heterosexual Young Adult Couples at Increased Risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections, by Jocelyn T. Warren, S. Marie Harvey, and Christopher R. Agnew, questions the assumption common among young people that if you are in a committed relationship and pledge monogamy to one another you need not use condoms to prevent disease transmission.  (Monogamy and fidelity, in addition to abstinence, are often touted as effective means of preventing the acquisition of sexually transmitted infections.)

The study analyzed data from 434 young heterosexual couples, ages 18-25, and found that:

– A significant percentage of individuals in sexual relationships appear to misjudge their partners’ risk behaviors and, as a consequence, their own vulnerability to infection;

– 33 % of the couples studied had different understandings as to whether they had agreed to be monogamous;

– 55% of the couples disagreed about whether the male partner had maintained the monogamy agreement (slightly fewer couples disagreed about whether the female partner had maintained the agreement);

– monogamy agreements may have more to do with increasing intimacy and relationship bonding than with disease prevention;

– Hispanic couples and those with children were less than half as likely to have made an explicit monogamy agreement as non-Hispanic couples and those without children.

The study thus reinforced and enriched earlier work that showed that a monogamy agreement is not itself protective against HIV and, without monogamous behavior, may actually increase the risk of HIV or other STIs by providing a false sense of security.

This is important work.  Here’s the abstract for the paper:

HIV prevention strategies among couples include condom use, mutual monogamy, and HIV testing. Research suggests that condom use is more likely with new or casual partners, and tends to decline as relationships become steady over time. Little is known, however, about explicit mutual monogamy agreements and HIV testing within heterosexual couples. This study used data from 434 young heterosexual couples at increased risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to assess (a) couple concordance on perceptions of a monogamy agreement, sustained monogamy, and HIV testing; and (b) the associations of relationship and demographic factors with monogamy agreement, sustained monogamy, and HIV testing. Results indicated only slight to fair agreement within couples on measures of monogamy agreement and sustained monogamy. Overall, 227 couples (52%) concurred that they had an explicit agreement to be monogamous; of those, 162 (71%) had sustained the agreement. Couples with greater health protective communication and commitment were more likely to have a monogamy agreement. Couples of Latino and Hispanic ethnicity and those with children were less likely to have a monogamy agreement. Only commitment was related to sustained monogamy. Having children, greater health protective communication, and perceived vulnerability to HIV and STIs were associated with HIV testing within the couple.

The article is available here.

57 comments

  1. I did not know that! Thank U!

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  5. Monogamy is essential for reduce risks in relationships.

  6. great message! Congratulations.

  7. Congratulations!

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