When she was still in grad school, social psychologist Terri Conley, Ph.D., collected some data indicating that single people practice safer sex than those in relationships. Her methodology wasn’t perfect, and the sample was small. There was every reason to forget it. Conley couldn’t stop thinking about it.
What would be the problem with relationships, she wondered, such that people with partners were at higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases? It occurred to her that it might have something to do with the monogamy agreement — the implicit understanding, often undiscussed, that the partners in a two-person couple will only have sex with each other. She designed a study comparing safe sex practice among consensually non-monogamous people to that between people who claimed to be monogamous but were cheating. She found "a whole host of better outcomes” among the people in open relationships — more effective and frequent condom use and lower likelihood of an encounter taking place under the influence of drugs or alcohol. She submitted the paper for publication in the late aughts.
“It was like I shot the reviewers’ dog,” Conley recalls. Their responses ranged from “this paper is irresponsible” to "Oh, this must be a master's thesis” — in other words, amateur.
Suspecting that the stigma surrounding open relationships was at work, Conley took a different tack. She had been positioning the paper as a study of a sexual minority group that turned out to have safer sex than people in traditional relationships. Now, "I took exactly the same table — I did not change one data point — [and] I changed the framing to say, ‘Oh my gosh, people who commit infidelity are the worst. They're even worse than this other group [consensually non-monogamous people] that you thought was so awful.’” The paper was accepted.
It was the first of many times Conley would encounter outsized resistance to the work that has made her one of the most influential sexuality researchers of her era.
Read the full article at Bustle.