STUDY: Cheaters More Likely To Get STDs Than Couples In Open Relationships

People in open relationships are less likely to get an STD than those in monogamous couples who just step out on their partners, according to a study published in current issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

A survey from the University of Michigan’s psychology department found that of  1,647 respondents, 801 had sex with someone other than their primary partner. For 493 subjects, it was part of a “negotiated non-monogamous relationship”, while 308 admitted that they had just been unfaithful.

Researchers found that condom use was less frequent for vaginal (27% lower) and anal sex (35% lower) in encounters where one of the participants was creepin’ around. The data also revealed that drug and alcohol use was 64% higher during these hook-ups. (No shock there).

The study’s author, Terri D. Conley, says couples might want to rethink blanket monogamy as a safety measure:

Monogamy can be an effective method for preventing the spread of STIs, but only if couples test negative for STIs at the start of the relationship and remain faithful while they are together. If people do not find monogamy appealing or feasible, they clearly need to think about the risk this poses to their partner and consider whether an open relationship would suit their needs better, and better protect their relationship partners.

Why would someone in a closed relationship engage in more risky behavior? One commenter had an interesting theory:

The men in “monogamous” relationships who try to cheat on their wives and girlfriends with me often exhibit faulty and outdated thinking—having a Madonna/Whore view of women, for instance, or justifying why cheating doesn’t hurt their wives.

And they often have the same logic failure when it comes to STIs, dividing people into assumed “clean” (six-figure income, works out at the gym) and “dirty” (low-income, uneducated) categories, which makes them feel safe not using condoms with the first group.

What’s your take on this study, Queerty readers: Is it applicable to gays and lesbians or is our dynamic different?



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  • The Real Mike in Asheville

    When my hubby and I met 26+ years ago, at age 26, it was at a bar where I was one of the many regulars on the hunt for one night/weekend stands. Turns out my hubby was too. But, he was/is special and I also wanted to enjoy being in a relationship.

    My previous relationship was with a guy who freaked out with jealousy when one caught or was caught just cruising another cutie; hubby’s previous boyfriend was a happy slut with double-standards (yes I cheat but that doesn’t mean you can cheat). We decided very early on that neither of us was finished enjoying very active sex lives with other men and that neither of us could fulfill all the other’s lusts/needs/desires — for one thing, we both loved the feeling of the weight of a bear of a guy on top. Well, I’m a medium frame and my hubby is an extra large guy who had 50 pounds of muscle over me. I always got to have the big guy and he never. Same thing in reverse on dick size.

    Our solution was a one super easy rule: be honest — no fake flat tires needing fixing, no I missed the BART train, no “that must be some mayo from lunch, no lies. Indeed, we typically made sharing the details as part of the fun. And as a bonus, we still have lots of fun see who can spot the cuties first.

    So, after 26 1/2 years and each of us having enjoyed the company of several hundred other men (and lots of shared fun with others) neither of us picked up an STD in our years together (we each had before we met and I was/am HIV+).

  • adam

    the queer forum on craig’slist hashes this fight out at least once a week. . .

    i’m in a 21-year open relationship, about the first five of which were spent negotiating where the boundaries were, what respect and etiquette meant, with whom one could be open and how, etc. but if, for five years, it meant negotiation back and forth, for 21 years, it’s meant honesty, and it’s worked so far.

    the guys on craig’slist never buy the argument, but if your partner knows you’re with someone else and has given you his blessing–and if you’ve given him the same blessing in return–it’s not, by definition, cheating.


  • easy like sunday morning

    This is complete and utter BS. STD’s DO NOT discriminate between those in open relationships and cheaters. Sorry, that’s just fact!

  • Jack

    @easy like sunday morning: I am opposed to open relationships for myself (I’m not really concerned with what other people do, but I won’t even hook up with a guy if I know he’s in an open relationship), so I understand your wanting to debunk this article… but I think the article is saying that cheaters often have sex in a less-planned fashion, which means condoms may not be available at the moment and their lust takes over… whereas someone in an open relationship does not have to “seize the moment” because they can stray anytime and they can plan more carefully to have safer sex. The article isn’t saying open relationships are for everyone, but it is possibly advocating open relationships for people who can’t be monogamous–in order to decrease STI transmission.

  • Baba Booey

    Open relationships are not relationships. It’s called being promiscuous. A rose by any other name is still a rose…

  • mc

    I think you have to do a separate study on gay couples to see if it applies. Condom use is less in straight couples as it is & the concern is more about contraception than STDs most of the time. So if they’re cheating their main concern sometimes is if the woman is on the pill or using contraception herself.

    While it’s true anyone can get AIDS or any other STDs it’s just something straight men think less about & so they tend to be more careless when they stray. Also the study doesn’t reveal how many of these men are cheating with prostitutes –probably a far higher percentage as women tend to be less impulsive about sex–which would lead to higher STDs.

    I think condom use is drilled in Gay men’s heads as something to use as STD prevention so even in impulsive cheating situations you have more of a 50/50 chance that one of the men involved would be carrying a condom or asking about or doing something to be safer. Many women, on the other hand, wouldn’t be thinking this way.

    Straight couples have enough of a different dynamic that you’d probably need to replicate this study with gay men to come to any conclusion.

  • SFHarry

    @Baba Booey: Boo Baba Booey, you are the type person who says “same sex marriages are not real marriages.”

  • Matt

    @easy like sunday morning: If you’re not capable of reading and interpreting the results of a psychological study you should probably refrain from commenting. In no way did the study claim that STDs somehow infect cheaters more easily than those in open relationships, it showed that the behavior of the cheaters was riskier and set them up for higher rates of STD infection.

  • Matt

    @SFHarry: No you see the opposition to gay marriage is based on nothing other than ancient religious books and outdated social mores while the opposition to open relationships is based on…

  • Hyhybt

    It seems simpler to me. I’d think that it’s far easier for people in open relationships to be prepared for their outside activities, not only because keeping supplies around isn’t risking getting caught, but also because it’s easier, if you’re cheating, at least to feel like it just sort of happened, no matter how often.

  • Atlanta Joe

    I have no statistics to back up this approach… but I do raise as a question whether open relationship folks might not be “more selective”in their choice of desserts, whereas the “cheaters” might be more prone to take whatever’s available simply because.. it is..

  • UsualPlayers

    I don’t understand the point of this study. That honesty is of more value in terms of health? Thanks. Water is wet. The real question for me is whether multiple partners leads to more STDs than a single partner. If the answer to that is yes, then the thing that society from a health stand point should be pushing is negotiated choices, but clear on what those choices mean. Monogamous being better than open relationships being better than cheating would provide better insight rather than telling people in open relationships that “at least you are better than the worst off”

  • B

    No. 3 · easy like sunday morning wrote, “This is complete and utter BS. STD’s DO NOT discriminate between those in open relationships and cheaters. Sorry, that’s just fact!”

    It is probably not BS – what it means is that people in “open relationships” may be more likely to use a condom or that their population of sex partners (other than their regular partner) are less likely to have an STD than those of the cheaters.

    It makes sense – the partners the “cheaters” get may be ones who tend to hand out in sex clubs and do it as much as possible with anyone showing signs of not being completely comatose. The cheaters may be more likely to go to sex clubs as well – if only to save time, which makes an excuse for not being home easier to formulate as one has to explain away less time.

  • Hyhybt

    @UsualPlayers: Well, theoretically at least, you’re right. Something else to consider, though, is that because monogamy is safest (and/or morally correct, depending on the values of the people in question) there is naturally going to be an inclination to promise monogamy when you cannot or will not deliver on it, and then to pretend you are being monogamous rather than renegotiating your relationship.

  • Tim

    I agree with easy like Sunday morning. I know men who were in open relationships who got infected with STDs.

  • Dre

    Real Mike, what’s your point? You both have had STDs in the past and you’re HIV+.

  • ThatoneguyJon

    @Baba Booey: So its promiscuity regardless if both parties show consent? By that logic, barbeques are outdoor house fires.

  • The Real Mike in Asheville

    @Baba Booey: Moron, if a rose is a rose by any other name, well, dipshit, a relationship is a relationship by any other name too. I’ll stack my 26 1/2 years of love and commitment, inclusive of building a business together, and losing it, being sick and caring for one another, losing our house but keeping our home, burying one parent and caring for the others, sharing what we have with those less fortunate, loving and teaching our many many nieces and nephews both of blood and heart, and we even survived flying bullets that destroyed our office.

    Sex is but one, one very very important, aspect of a relationship — you, dipshit, have no understanding what a relationship is. Too bad for you, Mr. Nose-stuck-in-the-air, because when you do have a real relationship, you are able to share so much, including sharing the opportunity of sharing your sexual life outside your relationship that build an iron strong relationship.

    If you simply don’t get it, that does not mean it isn’t real. So, STFU.

  • The Real Mike in Asheville

    @Dre: BEFORE our relationship, he had caught an STD and BEFORE our relationship I got gonorrhea and HIV. Note, the BEFOREs. I also wrote that we have been together for 26 1/2 years, met back in 1986. For each of us, catching STDs was BEFORE the awareness of HIV and safe-sex.

    Thus, Dre, my point was backing up the article: guys in open relationships have a lower occurrence of catching STDs than guys is closed/monogamous. No hiding and sneaking, the honesty and care to not harm your partner, per the study, means better protecting eachother from STDs.

  • Hyhybt

    @The Real Mike in Asheville: You are unusually blessed, both to have had a successful relationship that long and to have caught HIV in that timeframe and survived so long. Of course, you know this already, but congratulations all the same.

  • oh lordy

    I’m a believer in monogamous relationships, but if people can make open relationships really work, more power to them. There’s no need for it to be all one way.

  • B has some more information about it – apparently the “sexually unfaithful partners were 27%-35% less likely to use a condom,” (but it didn’t say less likely than what). But, “There was a silver lining (sort of). Couples who agreed to an open relationship were more likely to practice safe sex with all their partners.”

  • The Real Mike in Asheville

    @Hyhybt: Thanks, I appreciate your comments.

    The HIV part has been an extraordinary roller-coaster ride of such agonizing lows and exhilarating highs. The lows include years of watching friends die (my first was actually my cousin, 10 years older, and the object of my cousin crush — so sexy with just the right amount of swish) and knowing my time was coming soon; and waiting and waiting while more and more died. My declining health going from 165 down to 118 pounds and knowing then the time was very soon. Then the new drugs and life. Great, of course, except for the huge doses of survivor’s guilt. And the side effects, yuck.

    On the relationship side, I say with great confidence that an open relationship works — but I also know that for many monogamous relationships work too. To each, his own; I do not judge the validity of another’s monogamous relationship — what works for another is their business.


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