Friends with benefits — or consequences?

BY MORGAN OLSEN | APRIL 05, 2010 7:30 AM

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Your “friend with benefits” could cost you.

Casual partners are likely to have more than one sexual partner at once, a University of Iowa study found. That results in a greater risk of sexually transmitted infections.

UI sociology Assistant Professor Anthony Paik, whose most recent research was based in the Chicago area, found 25 percent of respondents became sexually involved while dating a partner casually and 20 percent did so with friends or acquaintances.

Ann Laros, the interim medical director of UI Student Health Service, said Paik’s particular study may be difficult to translate to the UI campus.

Laros said UI students more likely face problems with “serial monogamy,” or having one partner at a time but moving to a new monogamous relationship in the course of a week or month.

“Having more than one partner at a time and having partners with multiple partners puts you at greater risk,” she said. “It’s pretty common that students on a college campus will have more than one sexual partner per year.”

UI students agreed.

“[Casual sexual relationships] are accepted on campus — I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but they’re common,” said UI senior Laura Henkle.

UI sophomore Kelly Maginnis said she believes the serial-dating issue has become more prevalent.

“Our generation is much more free with sex,” she said. “Society is becoming more accepting of women having numerous partners and casual relationships, which can be a good and bad thing.”

In his study, Paik said having more than one sexual partner or being non-monogamous is a “critical factor in the spread of STDs.”

Laros said chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease found on the UI campus, and sexually active students are at the greatest risk for contracting human papilloma virus.

Last year, 51 female UI students and 34 male students tested positive for chlamydia. Those numbers are down from 2007, when 68 female and 51 male patients were diagnosed.

“I think people are aware of the risk of STDs, but I don’t think they think about emotional consequences as much,” Henkle said.

Laros said risky behavior may also be a result of low self-esteem.

“We have to look at why people are making these decisions,” she said about students with numerous partners. “It says something about their self-value and esteem.”

UI students said they believe some couples in “friends-with-benefits” relationships aren’t happy emotionally.

“Personally, I don’t see myself being happy in a relationship like that, and I don’t see people I know happy in that kind of relationship, either,” said UI sophomore Julie Gagnon. “I don’t shun it, but I think everyone has the right to be happy.”

Paik concludes holding off on sex isn’t as popular as it used to be and having non-romantic relationships are more common now than ever. However, he doesn’t suggest returning to traditional dating.

Instead, he said, he hopes his research can provide information on the likelihood that a partner has been nonmonogamous and promote knowledge on the benefits and consequences of relationships.

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