Humans have an inherent desire to be close to other people, to connect and build relationships. That is because healthy relationships, whether romantic, friendships or familial, can help make life healthier. Being in a relationship gives one a level of social support. Social support is a very important part of being a human. A positive relationship can be shared between any two people who support, encourage and help each other practically as well as emotionally. For these reasons romantic relationships with a partner can be very soothing with health benefits.
Some people however carry this notion beyond having just one romantic partner and engage in having multiple partners. This practice is more prevalent among younger people for many reasons. A study among young people reported that majority of young people felt that that there was nothing wrong with having multiple partners as long as people are getting what they want out of the relationships. For example, young women having multiple sexual partner-ships for financial reasons could regard the behaviour positively as it allowed them to satisfy their material needs, while young men having multiple sexual partners might gain status and a sense of belonging, and as a result they too could regard the partnerships positively. People also have multiple partners due to the need to fulfil emotional, physical or sexual needs not being met by a current partner and an unwillingness to discontinue a relationship in favor of a new one.
What are the benefits of having multiple partners?
Having multiple sexual partners can either be with or without the consent of the other partner. If the other partner consents, it is called consensual non-monogamy while if the other partner is not aware or non-consenting, it is called nonconsensual non-monogamy or simply put, cheating. A survey estimated that non-consensual non-monogamy or cheating occurs in <25% of committed relationships in the USA, while about 3-7% of people in relationships were estimated to be in consenting non-monogamy where multiple sexual partners is allowed.
Data from General Social Survey also estimate that about 20% of men and 13% of women reported that they’ve had sex with someone other than their spouse while married.
The perceived benefits of having multiple sexual partners include:
- More sexual satisfaction as varied sexual preferences can be explored and appreciated without putting too much pressure on a partner.
- More clearly defined relationships, avoiding ambiguity as the purpose of specific relationships is known
- More financial protection in some cases
- More peer and societal acceptance.
Disadvantages of multiple sexual partners
Despite the perceived advantages, multiple sexual partners have been identified as a major health risk behavior as it is associated with several disadvantages like.
- Increased likelihood of transmission of HIV/AIDS. Individuals with multiple sexual partners have been proven to be at the greatest risk of HIV/AIDS transmission.
- Increased chances of having a Sexually transmitted infection (STI) like Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Trichomoniasis, herpes, etc
- More likelihood of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies with attendant abortions.
- Higher risk of some cancers like Cervical cancer from Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection. Epidemiological studies have reported that having multiple sexual partners even without HPV infection is an independent risk factor for developing cervical cancer.
- More mental health issues. A study among adolescents have shown that the prevalence of sadness, suicide ideation, suicide plans and suicide attempts increased with the number of sexual partners across all racial/ethnic groups, while another study associated having multiple partners to substance use disorder. Later in life, especially among women. These maybe compensatory mechanisms or fall outs of dealing with guilt of betrayal of a partner.
How to tell if a woman has multiple partners
Even though earlier studies have established that men more than women are more likely to have multiple partners, recent changes in the society have ushered in a wave of sexual awakening for women who have come to embrace their sexuality and sexual preferences more. This has led to an increasing number of sexually aware and liberated women who are no longer on the receiving end of romantic relationships and can have as many partners as they choose. While there is no litmus test to know if a woman has multiple partners or not, there are some signs that may suggest that a woman has multiple sexual partners like.
- Asking. This old fashioned way is the easiest way to know if a woman has multiple partners. A simple, honest conversation in a non-judgmental atmosphere can easily answer this question.
- Sexual experience. A woman who has multiple partners sometimes is more likely to engage in more adventurous sexual behaviors and preferences.
- Recurrent STIs. These maybe a tell-tale sign that a woman has multiple sexual partners. It is however more specific to unprotected sex as multiple sexual partners do not automatically equate to unprotected sexual intercourse. Recurrence of STIs could be a sign that a woman has multiple sexual partners as they can easily get re-infected by another partner after being treated.
- Substance abuse. There is a relationship between substance abuse and sexual risky behaviors like multiple sexual partners. While people with multiple sexual partners are more likely to engage in drug and alcohol abuse; engaging in drug and alcohol abuse also makes a person more likely to have multiple sexual partners.
If you are confused if a woman has multiple sexual partners, simply asking would be a good idea and if you want to have multiple partners or already have despite the benefits, it would be a good idea to weigh the pros and cons properly and take appropriate preventive measures like the use of condoms to avoid untoward health consequences.