This was the question that I got asked the most when I solicited, and it comes up a lot when talking to monogamous folks. I put most of this down to internalized sex-negativity, honestly. Concurrent partners aren’t a greater risk than successive partners, and whether sex is protected or unprotected is a much greater risk factor, and all of my sex is protected. Another important risk factor is the infection status of partners, and whether that’s known, and all of my partners get regular testing.
In fact, Carrie and I have all of two hard-and-fast rules for getting together with new people:
- Always use a condom
- Ask about STI health and testing
These two, very basic, rules are also in play in most of the other poly/open relationships whose rulesets I’m aware of. Frankly, a monogamous person who doesn’t check with partners and isn’t strict about protection is at a much greater risk of infection than I am. When I was single, I was at greater risk, because I would have a similar number of partners in a year but wouldn’t check with them about their testing regimens (I still always used protection). I would be at theoretically lower risk in a monogamous relationship only provided that it was a multi-year relationship. I have approximately the third-lowest risk profile possible, only slightly above long term strict monogamy, which is slightly above, you know, virgin.
As I said, I think much of the hemming and hawwing about STD risk these days comes down to internalized sex negativity. STDs come in two flavors, risk-wise (in the US, at least); there are your HPVs and Herpes simplexes, which if you’re at all sexually active you’ve almost certainly been exposed to regardless of your number of partners, and then there are STIs that show up in less than 1% of the population. Aside from people who have unprotected sex with strangers–and if you do that, fucking quit it, because you’re raising the risk for all of us–STI risk is either essentially universal or wildly overblown. Some studies show that the number of partners is almost irrelevant, and that rather it’s the number of unprotected sex acts that governs STI risk, although the marginal risk per partner is not well studied.
If you’re having sex, be it monogamously or not, you should be using protection and checking with your partners about their health. Aside from abstinence or long term monogamy, those are the only ways to reduce your risk.