While monogamy is often taken for granted when people decide to marry, many young couples who say they have discussed monogamy can't seem to agree on what they decided. And a significant percentage of couples who at least agreed that they would be monogamous weren't.
A new study of 434 young heterosexual couples ages 18 to 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 researchers said this study showed that many couples are misjudging their partners' risk behaviors. The results are in a forthcoming article 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," said Warren. "Miscommunication and misunderstandings about sexual exclusivity appear to be common."
"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.
The couples surveyed included both married and unmarried couples. The researchers found it interesting that couples with children were less likely to have a monogamy agreement in place, and married couples were no more likely to have an explicit monogamy agreement in place than other couples.
Only commitment was related to sustained monogamy. Relationship commitment was assessed using an accepted measurement scale where participants rated themselves from one to five (five being highest) on questions such as, "You view your relationship as permanent." With every unit increase in the commitment scale, the odds that the couple had a sustained monogamy agreement increased almost threefold.
"Relationship variables appear to be related to monogamy," said Harvey. "But factors such as marriage and children did not increase the likelihood that the couple had agreed to monogamy."