There is a stigma about people in non-monogamy being “dirtier” than those who are in monogamous relationships. The “dirt” I am referring to, is the perception that this community has a higher prevalence of STI’s. I use the word perception, because that is what non-monogamous people are often up against, rather than facts, science, or anything else. And as a result this is one of the major barriers that people experience when “opening up” both internally and externally. So, let us talk about the risks of contracting a sexual infection in non-monogamy both internally, externally, and more.
In monogamy, many sexual assumptions made. One of the major ones is that an agreement of monogamy will go hand in hand with removing some or all of the STI transmission barriers. In essence, the aim (for most), is to become fluid bonded and say goodbye to those pesky condoms and dental dams forever. Until the couple’s bond ends (death, divorce, infidelity) there is no reason to ever have the safe sex talk again. It is like unlocking a monogamous achievement.
Of course, non-monogamy is for most, opening a can of worms that many are not prepared for. It almost feels like you have to give that achievement back when you decide to have sex with more than your spouse. And yes, with that, you are re-inviting risk into your relationship. While this can be an incredibly scary topic to have, non-monogamous people do have it, and have it regularly. They practice safe sex in most cases, because they are not just protecting themselves, now, they have a responsibility to protect their partner too. This is a key element that I think many over look when shaming people in non-monogamy for practicing higher risk sexual activity, and I think it bears repeating. When I was single, I took more risks with my own sexual health, than I ever would dream of doing in my ethical non-monogamous relationship. And no, that is not an easy thing to admit. Also, I am not in the minority with that line of thinking.
So, I would argue, that non-monogamous people are more aware of internal risks than monogamous people are. We actively seek out information on STI’s, condoms, lube, and anything to enhance our sexual health and well being. And I would be amiss not to mention the high rate of infidelity out there, which puts the monogamous couples at an equal if not a higher level of exposure than those in a non-monogamous relationship. If for no other reason, than using that condom you had from before you were married (which has most definitely expired and will very likely break)is not a great idea, but risking buying new ones is just one more way to get caught. Let’s move on though to the external perception of risks.
External Perception of Risks
When I engaged in my first open relationship, there was no shortage of people asking me, if I was worried about catching something, or if I was scared of all the added risks. And, this was something that was repeated again when we went to our first swing club, and again when we talked with our friends about hooking up with a couple. My monogamous friends held steadfast to this belief that I was putting myself at too much sexual risk with each and every date that I went on. The strange thing was, that I never experienced that backlash when I was single, and sleeping with a bunch of guys. So somehow, there was this skewed belief that I was potentially dirtier, being a part of the small non-monogamous community than I was when I was dating, and doing so from a much larger pool of people.
Think on that for a moment: The swinger, polyamorous, open relationship, etc. spectrum is infinitesimally smaller than that of the general dating pool, and we most often complain that it is so difficult to find other people who are sexually compatible. And yet, in this teeny tiny grouping of people, we are at more risk than those who are just single and sleeping around?
Barriers to Entry
I am not here to convince you that non-monogamy is the right path for your relationship. But, if your fear of sexually transmitted infections is the only reason that you do not explore non-monogamy then it may be time to re-consider. There is no way I can tell you that non-monogamy is safe. There are risks, and talking about safe sex is key to ensuring it stays that way. But, the fear that stops so many people from exploring all that non-monogamy has to offer, should not rest with simply being STI risk averse.
While the CDC, and Planned Parenthood do not have any specific categories for the sexual risks involved with exploring non-monogamy, I am very happy to report that the studies are beginning to appear. And yes, they do support the idea that people outside of monogamy are far more educated about sexual protection and prevention than those inside. See Source : A Comparison of Sexual Health History and Practices among Monogamous and Consensually Nonmonogamous Sexual Partners by JJ Lehmiller. This is just one of what I hope to be many studies that aim to de-stigmatize the CN (consentually non-monogamous).
When I was single, dating, or even just in a long term monogamous relationship, STI testing was not a priority for me. Now, being non-monogamous I use condoms and birth control 100% of the time. I am educated in the sexual health of myself, and those around me. Being non-monogamous has increased my awareness and vigilance to keep not only myself safe, but also my partner. And slowly the studies are being done to support this behaviour. While there will always be risks when engaging in sexual activity, being non-monogamous does not actually increase them. That is a perception that we, as ambassadors of the community have to be vigilant about dispelling. And we do that by practicing safe sex, getting tested regularly, and by choosing to have the safe sex conversations with all of our partners. And, if or when, something happens, you can deal with it, with open communication, quick treatment (wherever possible), and by working out a plan to mitigate risks in future, thereby protecting the sexual health of all parties involved. We all have a role to play in ending the stigma that non-monogamous people are dirty.