When a friend of mine mentioned to his doctor that he was in a non-monogamous relationship, the doctor immediately warned him about his “high risk behavior.” But without a lot more detail, there’s really no reason for the doctor to make that judgement. This characterization of non-monogamy as inherently higher risk is based on a series of flawed assumptions.
Non-monogamy doesn’t always include sex. A person with multiple romantic partners isn’t necessarily having sex with any or all of them. There are a variety of reasons a relationship, whether it’s monogamous or non-monogamous, might not involve sexual activity.
Non-monogamy doesn’t always include a lot of people. A non-monogamous person could date or have sex with new people every week, but a non-monogamous relationship could also be a closed triad, three people who are only romantically or sexually involved with each other.
Monogamy and non-monogamy aren’t the only options. But that’s usually what’s being compared when someone says that non-monogamy is high risk. People, of course, might also be single. And a single person could be celibate (which is usually lower risk than monogamy) or could have frequent casual sex (which can be higher risk than non-monogamy).
Monogamous relationships aren’t always life-long. Many people in monogamous relationship have previously been in other relationships or had casual sex. A monogamous person could easily have more partners over the course of time than a non-monogamous person. Sexual health risk isn’t just based on what you and your partners are doing right now, it’s also based on your histories.
Monogamous relationships aren’t risk-free. People in monogamous relationships cheat, and “unfaithful individuals are less likely to practice safer sex than openly nonmonogamous individuals.”
Sexual health risk isn’t just about the number of people you have sex with. It’s also about which specific people you have sex with and what safer sex practices you use. And non-monogamous people generally practice safer sex than monogamous people.
Drawing a line between monogamy as an acceptable amount of risk and non-monogamy as “high risk” is biased and arbitrary. It’s also just not helpful. We shouldn’t be telling people to have a certain kind of relationship, we should be providing honest information about risks and letting people make informed choices for themselves.