Adventures in Dating

A savvy guide to courtship and communication.

Valentine's Day Gift: How About Honest Sexual Communication?

Research documents deception in sexual history disclosures

As Valentine’s Day quickly approaches, individuals often contemplate their relationships. One might think about what gift to get their romantic partner; still, others may reflect on the stage of their relationship and think about taking it to the “next level.” Anecdotal experiences suggest that this holiday is a common time for individuals to elevate their relationships both physically and psychologically.

Elevating one’s relationship physically is not a bad thing: research long documents the benefits of affectionate communication. Such affection allows individuals to alleviate stress and highly affectionate communicators report being satisfied with and committed to partners (for a review, look up Floyd). Essentially, there are a myriad of benefits associated with affectionate communication…but when can this be problematic?

In this day and age if individuals choose to engage in sexual intimacy then they also need to discuss their sexual histories. This, importantly, involves discussing how recently one was tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Classroom discussions with my students about this topic have long revealed that discussing sexual histories is an uncomfortable subject for romantic partners. Thus, when one actually has this conversation he/she simply feels relief after the conversation is complete. But, have you ever wondered if this conversation was honest?

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Although it may seem curious to question the honesty of your romantic partners, research documents that we lie the most to the people that we are closest to. This finding is logical: we also spend the most time with these people and have the largest number of interactions with them. People often take comfort, though, in thinking that they know when their romantic partners are deceptive. Despite this comfort, research shows that we are no better than chance at detecting deception. Moreover, the closer we are to someone the more likely we are to assume that he/she is honest (termed a “truth bias”).

Lucchetti’s work documents that deception does not stop at the point of sexual conversations. In her study, 24% of her participants reported that they had distorted their sexual past. Likewise, about 1/3 of her participants indicated that they avoided telling a sexual partner about their sexual history.

Such statistics are not surprising to those who research deception, but they may also be driven by knowledge regarding safe sex. Consider that 42% of her participants did not know that disclosing your sexual history is a safe-sex behavior and 37% responded that disclosing your sexual history is not a requirement before engaging in sexual activity. Despite this, 99% of her participants reported they knew what was considered “safe sex.”  

All hope is not lost though as there is one optimistic finding: participants who did identify sexual history disclosure as a safe-sex practice also reported they were less likely to deceive sexual partners.

As I have often said, the more we learn about relationships the more paranoid we can become. Despite the alarming statistics outlined here, realize that knowledge is key.

With the above in mind, if you choose to become sexually active with your partner, take the appropriate steps. If you feel that you aren’t ready to have an open conversation about sexual histories, then you may also want to re-evaluate your decision to become physically intimate. Regardless of your choice, remember: safety first.

[For questions or resources regarding sexual safety, visit: http://www.itsyoursexlife.com/gyt/]

Follow me on Twitter @therealdrsean for relationship commentary/links, complaints about mass transit, and support for WVU Athletics. Continue to follow this blog for future entries about deception, online dating, using affection to lie, workplace romance, and other issues that make obtaining and retaining a mate oh so interesting.    

Sean M. Horan, Ph.D. is a faculty member at Texas State University who researches the communication that occurs in dating relationships.

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