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26 January 2011
Monogamy a mystery to young couples
by George Atkinson

A new study from Oregon State University of more than 400 young heterosexual couples aged between 18 and 25 found that in 40 percent of couples only one partner says the couple agreed to be sexually exclusive. Worryingly, the other partner said there was no agreement. The researchers, Jocelyn Warren and Marie Harvey, say their study shows that many couples are misjudging their partners' sexual risk behaviors.

"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 noted. "Miscommunication and misunderstandings about sexual exclusivity appear to be common."

The results, appearing in the Journal of Sex Research, are troubling as previous research has shown that condom use tends to decline as relationships become more intimate and steady over time.

The new study highlights that some couples may not be communicating effectively on the terms of their relationship. 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. Interestingly, married couples were no more likely to have an explicit monogamy agreement in place than other couples.

"Couples have a hard time talking about these sorts of issues, and I would imagine for young people it's even more difficult," said Harvey. "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."

Harvey recommends that those who work with young people in clinical and community settings ask what kind of protection they are using. "And if they answer that their partner is monogamous, they may want to think about advising that young person to use protection," she concluded.

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Source: Oregon State University

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