Whether it's causal relationships for recreational sex, or more significant emotional commitments to an individual, developing the skills to negotiate how to meet someone is key to good sexual health and social and mental wellbeing.
Here we discuss the four main types of sexual relationships and how they can affect your sexual health.
Monogamous relationships are where you and your partner have an exclusive, intimate, sexual and emotional relationship with each other only.
You and your partner may have made the decision to test for HIV and other STIs. Knowing your own status and knowing your partner's status allows you to negotiate what kind of sex you have and what else you might need to consider, including use of condoms or knowledge of viral load. Being monogamous is about more than sexual health though, it’s about finding someone you trust and are happy to make a commitment to.
Long term monogamous relationships can take whatever form a couple wish, with some men choosing to marry while other couples are happy living together or choosing to have a civil partnership instead of marriage. There is no right or wrong way if each partner is happy with the relationship.
An open relationship is where you have a primary partner, but you, your partner, or both of you have sex with other men or women outside of this (it can also include threesomes or group sex). You could live with your primary partner or have been together for a long time. As long as both people in the relationship are comfortable and happy with having an open relationship there is no reason why it would be unhealthy.
Open relationships normally involve a degree of discussion and negotiation about the “rules” of having sex with other people.
You may come to an agreement with your partner about the type of sex that will happen outside of the primary relationship. For example, you may decide no anal sex with others, or condoms must always be used for anal sex.
Alternatively, you may not have discussed and agreed with your partner what the rules are. You or both of you may have sex with others without each others knowledge or agreement. Communicating and being honest with each other can be a big part of having a healthy relationship.
Sex with your friends
Some men use the term “fuck buddy” to describe having sex with friends. This type of relationship is defined as having sex with someone you don’t consider to be your boyfriend or partner but with someone you are happy to have a looser relationship with where sex is a central part of it.
You might have sex with friends at times when you don’t have a partner or boyfriend or sometimes it can be in addition to an existing relationship.
Sex with friends might require a degree of negotiation to make sure both of you are happy. For example have you both tested for STIs? Do you agree on use of condoms or not? Do you have other sexual partners that you have different agreements with?
Overlapping sexual partners
Overlapping sexual partners is where you have sexual relationships with more than one person over the same period of time. You may already be in an open relationship, or be having sex with friends. Or, you may have ended one relationship as another begins, or you may simply be single and have more than one sexual partner at any one time. This is sometimes referred to as concurrent partners.
You may also be using social media apps and websites as a way to find, arrange, meet and maintain contact with sexual partners.
Overlapping sexual relationships are only an HIV or STI risk if one or more of the partners is living with HIV or has an STI and has condomless anal sex with a partner. Even then the chances of HIV transmission are minimised if that person has an undetectable viral load or if they wear a condom.
If you are unsure how to talk to a partner about the type of relationship or sex that you want, have a look at our negotiating skills page. Remember, next time you visit an SRP clinic you can ask any questions you have about sexual health and relationships. There is also the SRP Choices team who can help you build up the skills and confidence to make positive choices about sex and relationships.
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