Is monogamy or committed relationship status a marker for low sexual risk among men in substance abuse treatment? Clinical and methodological considerations

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2011 Sep;37(5):294-300. doi: 10.3109/00952990.2011.596874.


Background: HIV prevention interventions often promote monogamy to reduce sexual risk. However, there is little consensus about how to define monogamy.

Objective: To determine the extent to which recent monogamy and/or being in a committed relationship serve as markers for low sexual risk among men in substance abuse treatment.

Methods: Participants were 360 men enrolled in the National Institute on Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network "Real Men Are Safe" protocol who completed all assessments (baseline, 3 months, and 6 months). Self-reported behaviors included number of sexual partners, type of relationships, frequency of vaginal/anal intercourse, and percentage of condom use.

Results: The rate of self-reported monogamy in the prior 90 days was stable across assessments (54.2%, 53.1%, 58.3%). However, at each assessment 7.5-10% of monogamous men identified their partner as a casual partner, and only 123 (34.2%) reported being monogamous at every assessment. Of these, 20 (5.6%) reported being monogamous with different partners across assessments. Men with both committed relationship and casual partners reported more condom use with their committed relationship partners than men with only a committed relationship partner.

Conclusion: Clinicians and researchers should consider individual relationship context and behavior and avoid assuming that recent monogamy or being in a committed relationship denotes low risk.

Scientific significance: This study provides evidence that, in male drug users, monogamy does not necessarily reflect low sexual risk. Rather, "monogamous" men actually encompass various combinations of partner types and levels of risk behavior that are unstable, even over brief time periods. Clinicians and researchers must take these variations into account.

Trial registration: NCT00084175.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (U.S.)
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • United States

Associated data