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The Downside of "Friends With Benefits"

April 20, 2010

STD experts say they are increasingly concerned about "sexual involvement in nonromantic contexts," a trend also known as "hooking up" or "friends with benefits." Their particular worry is that many such relationships involve concurrency, or being sexually involved with several partners during the same time frame.

"We're concerned that concurrency is speeding up the transmission of [STDs]," said Tony Paik, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Iowa. "There are important implications here for public health," he said.

In a study he recently published, Paik found that 17 percent of men and 5 percent of women reported having had more than one sex partner at a time. In addition, 17 percent of women and 8 percent of men said they had been exclusive but their partner had not.

"It seems more acceptable now to have nonromantic sexual encounters," said Peggy Giordano. A professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University, Giordano has studied the sex lives of 1,300 young people in Lucas County, Ohio, since 2001. "When there's no romance, there's no basis for demanding fidelity from the other person."

The risk involved comes not just from the number of partners but also from a level of trust that goes with having sex with a friend -- making condoms seem unnecessary. "If you've known a person for a while, you don't have that vigilance," Giordano said. "You're probably not going to ask them to go and get tested for STDs."

This exaggerated sense of trust can be amplified further when one returns to a former sex partner. "We're finding that 'sex with the ex' is a very common experience. It's seemingly safe, since they used to be your girlfriend or boyfriend," Giordano said. "But of course you don't know what they've done since you broke up."

Paik's study, "The Contexts of Sexual Involvement and Concurrent Sexual Partnerships," was published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health (2010; doi:10.1363/4203310).

Back to other news for April 2010

Adapted from:
04.15.2010; Elizabeth Cohen

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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