ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Couples sharing their beds in consensually open relationships practice safer sex at higher rates than cheaters, a new University of Michigan study indicated.
U-M researchers examined safe sex strategies in relationships and sexual encounters, looking to address the health ramifications of unfaithful partners and other high-risk, non-monogamous lifestyles.
"The study demonstrates that sexually unfaithful individuals engage in more risky sexual behaviors with their primary partners than individuals who have open relationships," said Terri Conley, the study's author and U-M assistant professor of psychology.
About 1,640 people completed the initial anonymous online questionnaire, but half were excluded because they indicated they had sexual relationships with only one person.
The remaining 801 respondents had sex with someone other than their primary partner. About 493 indicated they had negotiated with their partners to have an open relationship, while nearly 308 said they cheated during a monogamous relationship.
Research showed that individuals in open relationships were more likely to use condoms and sterilized sex toys, or discuss their sexual history than cheaters. When asked about vaginal sex with condoms, 66 percent of individuals in open relationships used the contraceptive compared with 47.5 percent of cheaters.
"Sexually unfaithful individuals are placing their primary sexual partner at risk for contracting STIs by employing fewer safe sex strategies," the researchers said.
The study also found that cheaters who also were more likely to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol than individuals in open relationships – 33 percent compared with 21 percent, respectively.
Monogamy, Conley noted, is effective for preventing the spread of STIs. "This method is only effective when both partners test negative for STIs and remain sexually faithful throughout the relationship," she said.
The study appeared in the June issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.