Friendly or Romantic?  Sexual or Nonsexual? Monogamous or not? 

Sexual relationships work best when everybody is clear about what they want.

Many people confuse love, commitment, and sex, or assume the three always go hand-in-hand. There are many ways to express love, and you don’t need to have sex with someone to show them you love them. Having sex with someone also does not necessarily mean you are in love with them.

Sexual relationships work best when everybody is clear about what they want. If you don’t tell your partner what you want, you might find you expect different things. One of you might be looking for a fling, and the other a marriage!

Having sex in a committed relationship can make people feel closer and more loving. Having sex in non-committed relationship can also be lots of fun and can make people feel like better friends. Whether you have a one night fling or a fifty-year marriage, it is very important that you like, respect and trust your partner and that you feel liked, respected and trusted by them, as well.

When entering into a new relationship and throughout the course of a relationship (since our expectations often change over time!), talk about whether you want a relationship that is:

  • Committed or non-committed? Do you want a commitment such as marriage, long-term dating, raising children, sharing finances, and/or sharing a home, or do you want a less committed dating relationship?
  • Friendly or Romantic? Do you want a relationship that is based on friendship, or do you prefer a romantic, emotionally intimate relationship?
  • Sexual or non-sexual? Do you expect that you will want to have sex with this person? If you do, are there some sexual activities you want to do and others you do not?
  • Monogamous or non-monogamous? Do you want your relationship to be only with that person, so that you each have sex only with each other, or not, so that you and your partner have sex with other people?

Remember to explore each of those questions separately. All combinations are possible!

Common Relationship Structures


  • Asexual or non-sexual: Asexual people do not generally have sexual feelings, and/or they choose not to have sex. People who identify as asexual may want emotional relationships, including long-term committed, loving, non-sexual partnerships. Others do have sexual feelings but do not want or do not feel ready for sexual activity with another person, so they are completely or selectively abstinent.
  • Lifetime mutual monogamy: In these relationships, each person has only one sexual partner in a lifetime. Both partners only have sex with each other.
  • Mutual serial monogamy: This is a common relationship structure among many adults. When someone is serially monogamous, they may have sexual contact with more than one person over a lifetime, but they only maintain one long-term sexual partnership at a time, in which both partners are monogamous (have sex only with each other).
  • Mutual fidelity: Mutual fidelity is similar to mutual monogamy except that there may be more than two people involved in this kind of relationship. Groups or families of three, four or more may have sexual relationships with one another but not have sex with anyone outside the group.
  • Sexually non-monogamous relationships: Sexually non-monogamous relationships include consensual/honest non-monogamy such as “casual dating,” swinging, polyamory, and open relationships, as well as non-consensual/dishonest non-monogamy, also known as cheating. There are a wide variety of sexually non-monogamous relationship structures that people may choose, in which one or more members of a couple or group have sex with others.

Though at first glance it may seem like a sexually non-monogamous person is at a higher risk of STI infection than a serially monogamous one, remember that relationship structure is only one risk factor for STIs. Other things that increase the chance of getting an STI are a high number of lifetime sexual partners, irregular STI testing and treatment, sharing needles for IV drug use, having sex with strangers or sex workers, and incorrect and/or irregular use of sexual barriers. A sexually non-monogamous person who correctly and regularly uses sexual barriers such as condoms may be less likely to get an STI than a mutually serially monogamous person who does not use barriers or has a partner of unknown STI status.

Your Safer Sex Toolbox

Learn about how to make sex safer for you and your partners and prevent STIs.

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