The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Best Protection Against STIs

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

An estimated 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections occur in the United States every year, disproportionately among African-Americans. One would think, therefore, that the public-health establishment would have a vested interest in promoting life-long monogamy and the confinement of sexual relations to marriage. Why? Because every public-health expert worth his credentials knows that the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS as well as newly discovered infections unknown of years ago, increases dramatically as the number of one’s intimate lovers increases.

A study by public-health researchers at the University of North Carolina confirms this well-established inverse relationship between wedlock and risky sexual behavior, finding that more than 95 percent of currently married Americans report being monogamous in the previous 12 months, a statistic that leaves cohabitants (87 percent), the formerly married (49 percent), and the never married (43 percent) behind.

Under the direction of epidemiologist Eboni Taylor, the North Carolina researchers examined data from the 2002 wave of the National Survey of Family Growth, using a sample of 10,479 respondents who were 18 to 44 years of age and reported ever having had sexual intercourse. Similar to their clear penchant for monogamy, currently married Americans were also less likely to report engaging in a concurrent sexual partnership; being under the influence of drugs or alcohol during sexual relations; and having a promiscuous (or non-monogamous) sexual partner. All these findings held true for all racial and ethnic groups. So even though African-Americans in general were 1.7 times more likely than whites to report two or more sexual partners in the previous year, the Odds Ratio dropped to 1.2 times in regression models that accounted for marital status. This marriage effect was similar for most of the other associations among African-Americans with risky sexual behaviors.

These findings confirm that the retreat from marriage in the United States since the 1970s has a lot to do with dramatic, tragic, and costly rise in sexually transmitted diseases, especially among African-Americans, who have suffered the most from the pull-back from matrimony. But if the public-health establishment were to pattern a campaign against sexual promiscuity after its successful campaign against cigarette smoking, that might lead to a healthier future for all Americans. 

(Eboni M. Taylor, Adaora A. Admiora, and Victor J. Schonenbach, “Marital Status and Sexually Transmitted Infections Among African Americans,” Journal of Family Issues 31.9 [September 2010]: 1147–65.)