In South Africa and the broader region of sub-Saharan Africa, non-monogamy, in the form of concurrent partnerships, is linked to the risk of HIV/AIDS. For this reason, the prevention policy framework and scholarly mindset which advocates for the reduction of all forms of concurrent sexual partnerships as a potential behavioral prevention strategy regarding HIV/AIDS, is well established in the region. This happens even in the presence of empirical challenges. Indeed, the idea of some forms of concurrency (and also other forms of multiple partnering) driving HIV infection is disputed, and the question remains whether all forms of concurrent relationships pose the same risk to HIV infection. Some research points to a lack of substantial evidence, inconsistent definition, and difficulty in measuring concurrent partnerships, as factors which show that not all forms of concurrency are related to risk of HIV infection. Indeed, the latter consideration points to the need to distinguish between concurrency that carries the risk of HIV and others which do not pose the same risk.
In the foregoing debates, although not vigorously investigated, but an insight that otherwise emerges, is that in sexual relationships ‒ including those of monogamous ordering ‒ aspects, such as high levels of communication, trust and honesty, are some of the protective factors against HIV. For example, when one partner (in a commitment relationship) engages in extra-dyadic sex beyond the scope of his/her primary partnering without the knowledge and consent of his/her partner, the outcomes are often deleterious. In the context of HIV, lack of safer sex practices is one of the most immediate dangers associated with the preceding behavior, along with the violation of trust of one’s partner, among many other things. In this vein, this study argues that the practice of polyamory (a relationship where someone has sexual and/or romantic partnerships with multiple people simultaneously) which embraces the validity of multiple love, is a potential form of concurrency which might have low risk of HIV. The domain of this partnering is rich in philosophies that are particularly helpful in eradicating many of the risk factors linked to this devastating virus. These include, but are not limited to, pro-gender equality norms, re-working patriarchial systems, promotion of sexual rules and agreements, and providing psychosocial support to those who are involved in polyamorous relationships.
A conceptual framework derived from the three inter-related theories of social cognitive theory, constructivism and the meaning-making model, was used to investigate the group of relations between polyamorous relationships, safer sex practices and HIV. A non-random sampling method was used to select individuals who were in polyamorist relationships in three provinces in South Africa: Gauteng, Cape Town and Northern Cape. In-depth individual interviews were conducted in order to collect data from seven participants. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was employed as the data analysis method. The findings of this study revealed that many of the participants who were involved in polyamorous relationships were concerned about their health and well-being. Therefore, in most of these relationships, the participants required of their secondary partners to disclose their HIV status and test for STDs. Furthermore, in all of the participants’ polyamorous relationships there were sexual rules and agreements that were set up in order to limit exposure to HIV. Furthermore, high level of communication strategies were employed to improve honesty and trust among all of the partners involved. The coping strategies that were adopted by all of these participants in order to deal with familial and societal rejection of their involvement in concurrency included forming psychosocial support networks. These finding show that there is a need to re-concepualize the partner reduction policy in order to accommodate the perspectives and needs of people who are involved in concurrent partnerships.