I recently came across an interesting study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine that tackled an extremely common misconception that I encountered whilst writing and researching the book.

I have commented earlier in this blog and also in the book that there are only two planes (or dimensions if you prefer) of human sexuality – natural and normal – and as a result there are really only two types of sexual relationship – fenced and unfenced.

Fenced meaning relationships based on the notion of mutual sexual ownership – like conventional boyfriend / girlfriend or husband / wife pairings – and unfenced meaning not based on the notion of mutual sexual ownership.


There are several misconceptions about unfenced relationships that I encountered when writing and researching the book with the two principal ones being:

  • Unfenced means that you are having sex with lots of people in a promiscuous way
  • That being unfenced is dangerous and you are prone to catch or spread STIs

As for the first of these two points, being unfenced just means that you don’t base your relationships on the notion of sexual ownership, that’s all – nothing more. Your number of current sexual partners could be 0, 1 or many.

As for the notion of unfenced as relationships as promiscuous, well I covered the notion of promiscuity and my opinion of it in this post.  Suffice to say that promiscuity, by definition, means that you are lacking a quality control filter and that is certainly not in any way shape or form connected with a lifestyle choice like choosing unfenced relationships.

Moving on to the second point, the research by the Journal of Sexual Medicine revealed something very interesting but also something that makes a lot of sense which is basically that establishing a fenced relationship is not the safe haven from STIs that people would have you believe compared to the alternative choice of unfenced relationships.

So what are the numbers?

1,647 – The number of people surveyed

49% – The percentage of the surveyed who had sex with someone other than their current regular partner

51% – The percentage that did not

Now focusing just on the 49%, we find that 38% of those (308 people) were in a mutually agreed fenced relationship at the time and cheated on a partner whereas 62% (493 people) were in an unfenced relationship at the time and did not cheat.

Now this is where the survey gets interesting.  Comparing the false-fenced (cheaters) to the unfenced the survey found the following:

27% – The decrease in condom use during vaginal sex for cheaters compared to the unfenced

35% – The decrease in condom use during anal sex for cheaters compared to the unfenced

Why is this? Well the main claim the survey seems to make is the based on the following:

64% – the percentage increase of drug and alcohol use for those who cheat during a fenced relationship compared to those who hook-up with someone else whilst in an unfenced relationship

Quote-Open[1] Our research suggests that people who are unfaithful to their monogamous romantic partners pose a greater risk for STIs than those who actively negotiate non-monogamy in their relationship.

Monogamy can be an effective method for preventing the spread of STIs, but only if couples test negative for STIs at the start of the relationship and remain faithful while they are together.

If people do not find monogamy appealing or feasible, they clearly need to think about the risk this poses to their partner and consider whether an open relationship would suit their needs better, and better protect their relationship partners. – Dr Terri Conley, researcher

Well, although Dr.Conley is still looking through the Sex 2.0 lens by using terms like monogamy and non-monogamy the conclusion is quite clear.

Fenced relationships are not the safe sex practice that people would have you believe and the promotion of fenced relationships as “clean” and “safe” and unfenced relationships as “dirty” or “risky” is just one more of the myriad forms of relationship duress that society never seems to tire of using.