Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

January 21, 2011

Communication Catastrophe in Mainstream Monogamy

Science Daily, USA Today, and elsewhere

If you don't think relationship culture in America is screwed up, here's some news. Among young couples who had discussed whether they would be sexually exclusive with each other, 40 percent had an opposite understanding from their partner about whether or not they had agreed to be exclusive.

That's just short of the 50 percent you would expect if each person's guess at what they'd agreed was totally random — a coin-flip independent of anything that they'd actually, like, communicated. And also, as if there weren't even a cultural standard that you could guess at with better than random success. [However, note the skewed sample of the survey as pointed out by commenter #5 below.]

Come on people, talk! This isn't a poly issue — but poly-community culture sure has a lot to teach the world about honest, fearless, accurate, verified communication between lovers. A lot of us don't always get it right either — but Jesus, at least we know we ought to.

If you think sex education in America is screwed up, don't get me started about love education.

In Science Daily:

Young Couples Can't Agree on Whether They Have Agreed to Be Monogamous

While monogamy is often touted as a way to protect against disease, young couples who say they have discussed monogamy can't seem to agree on what they decided. And a significant percentage of those couples who at least agreed that they would be monogamous, weren't.

A new study1 of 434 young heterosexual couples ages 18–25 found that, in 40 percent of couples, only one partner says the couple agreed to be sexually exclusive. The other partner said there was no agreement.

Public health researchers Jocelyn Warren and Marie Harvey of Oregon State University looked at data from the PARTNERS Project, a Center for Disease Control-funded study conducted by Harvey.... The results are in a forthcoming article1 published online in the Journal of Sex Research.

"Other studies have looked at perceptions related to monogamy, but this is really the first one that explores the discussions that heterosexual couples are — or aren't — having about monogamy," Warren said. "Miscommunication and misunderstandings about sexual exclusivity appear to be common."

And note the following:

Even among those who agreed they had an explicit agreement to be monogamous, almost 30 percent had broken the agreement, with at least one partner having had sex outside the relationship.

Harvey, a leading researcher in the field of sexual and reproductive health, said this study adds to a growing body of research on safer sex communication.

"Couples have a hard time talking about these sorts of issues, and I would imagine for young people it's even more difficult," she said. "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 couples surveyed included both married and non-married couples. Interestingly, couples with children were less likely to have a monogamy agreement in place. Married couples were no more likely to have an explicit monogamy agreement in place than other couples....

Read the whole article (Jan. 18, 2011).

See how the news was covered in USA Today (Jan. 22, 2011), Time magazine's website (Feb. 1, 2011), and elsewhere.

P.S.: If you'd like some ideas on tuning up your communication skills — always a good idea for anybody — here's some suggested reading:

Communication can be tougher than you think, by Franklin Veaux (aka tacit)
Recommended books courtesy Anita Wagner.
Recommended books courtesy Cascade Cook and Zhahai Stewart.

Other recommendations?


1. Here's the abstract of the research report:

One Love: Explicit Monogamy Agreements among Heterosexual Young Adult Couples at Increased Risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections

Jocelyn T. Warren; S. Marie Harvey; Christopher R. Agnew


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 reference:
Journal of Sex Research, 2010; : 1 DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2010.541952




Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting question: does "fluid bonding" (no barebacking outside the family) work any better for poly people?

January 21, 2011 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: julianmorrison - I think it depends on whether or not the poly people are fulfilling the promise of "no fluid bonding." In our family, it works very well. But that's because we spend a lot of time communicating, and we didn't let screw ups at the very beginning destroy the relationship. Because they were screw ups, they were confessed immediately upon happening, and they were dealt with as the mistakes that they are.

If the poly people with the agreement are NOT communicating, are still willing to be cheaters and betrayers of the trust given them, then they basically are no better (and no worse) than the same kind of people discussed above (monogamous or not).

A cheater is a cheater, and a liar is a liar. It doesn't matter what they practice - they just are what they are.

January 21, 2011 1:53 PM  
Blogger TheGoddessMaria said...

I think that some people feel the need to "keep their options open". Others, in turn, feel afraid to set real boundaries/rules/limits on what they accept as reasonable behavior for the threat of "if you don't like it, I'll just leave and find someone who does accept me for who I am." The "who I am" part gets the person who desires monogamy thinking THEY are the ones with a flaw of some sort. If you really like the idea of monogamy, you need to communicate that EARLY ON in the relationship, and be clear that you mean sexual monogamy. If the other person leaves, so be it! They were not right for you. And I am as non-monogamous as it comes.

It works the other way, too - you CAN be clear about boundaries and still have other people ignore your needs. I had a monogamy-minded person try to be "poly" for a while with my husband, and she tried to convince him what a terrible person I was because I had sex with other men than him. (WTF?! she said this after having SEX WITH HIM!) Luckily, he didn't bite, and she was banished from our island. She *knew* what she was getting into and decided to be an idiot about the whole monogamy thing anyway. So... clearly communicate, but if you have an inkling that the person you are pursuing (or is pursuing you) is of the opposite frame of mind, stay friends.

January 21, 2011 3:36 PM  
Blogger Anita Wagner said...

I have to wonder whether when it came to the married couples either spouse assumed marriage license = monogamy. That would seem to me to account at least to a point for the potential for misunderstanding as to whether there indeed was or was not a commitment to monogamy by both, depending on the wording of the marriage vows, of course.

January 23, 2011 1:57 PM  
Anonymous Jenni said...

Some of the blogs on this article (like Dollars and Sex) have noted that it wasn't exactly a representative sample. They were women who had come to an LA STI clinic, had condomless sex in the last three months, and had at least one other "risky behavior" (IV drug use, sex with multiple men, or a partner who they believed was having sex with multiple people).

So if one of the criteria for being in the study in the first place is cheating or believing your partner did, then of course there's going to be a high percentage of reported cheating and a low percentage of agreed-on monogamy.

Your general point still stands, though.

January 27, 2011 10:50 AM  

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