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Monogamy is the practice of having a sexual relationship or marriage with only one person at a time. In general, it means committing to one person emotionally, romantically, and sexually. Monogamy is the most common relationship style in North America.

Being monogamous can mean different things to different people. Some people may be open to their partner forming a close emotional bond with someone else as long as the relationship does not become sexual. Other people may want to include their partner in all social activities but not want their partner to develop close emotional relationships with other people.

Today in North America, it is common and generally socially acceptable for a person to form multiple, monogamous relationships over their lifetime. This is sometimes referred to as "serial monogamy".

Some people find it difficult to practice monogamy. This may be due to differences in sexual or emotional desires and needs. Other individuals find it quite easy to practice monogamy. Every person is different in what they want and need in a relationship.

Health considerations

While people in monogamous relationships may not be sexually active with anyone other than their partner, there are still some important health considerations.

Sexual health

Sexual health is a key part of a person’s health and well-being. Talking with a partner about sexual and emotional needs before and throughout a relationship can help improve each person's sexual health.

STIs and testing

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can still be passed between partners in a monogamous relationship. For example, one partner (or both partners) may have had human papillomavirus (HPV) or herpes simplex virus (HSV) before starting the relationship. These viruses can stay dormant in the body for a long time, and may be passed to another person at any point in the relationship. A person can have one or more of these viruses and not know it until their partner shows symptoms.

Sexuality and relationships can also be complicated, and talking about sex can be difficult for some people. Sometimes a person (or both people) in a monogamous relationship may have sex with someone outside of their relationship (often called “cheating”). When this happens, it is possible for the person to get an STI and pass it to their partner.

Regular Pap testing is recommended for anyone with a cervix, regardless of their relationship status. This means that a person with a cervix who is in a monogamous relationship should have regular Pap testing, even if they have not been having sex. 

STI testing is recommended:

  • Between each relationship (monogamous or otherwise).
  • Once a year as part of your annual health check-up, since regular STI testing is an excellent way to take care of your sexual health.
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