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Arrangements versus Agreements: Evaluating Two Approaches to Measuring Male Couples’ Rules and Understandings Around Sex with Outside Sex Partners

Abstract

One- to two-thirds of new HIV infections among sexual minority men occur within the context of main partnerships. This has led to increasing attention to the rules and boundaries male couples form around sex with outside partners as a mechanism to manage HIV risk. These rules and boundaries have generally been operationalized either as a sexual agreement—the decisions couples make together about their sexual boundaries with outside partners—or a sexual arrangement—how couples handle sex outside the relationship, which may or may not involve an implicit or explicit consensus between partners. The goal of the current study was to examine the correspondence of these two approaches to the operationalization of rules and boundaries. Additionally, the study tested whether agreements and arrangements were differentially associated with dyadic communication and sexual behavior with casual partners. Results indicated a high level of correspondence between assessment methods. Similarly, patterns of sexual behaviors with casual partners were consistent across both sexual agreements and sexual arrangements. In contrast, patterns of communication varied as a function of assessment type. Specifically, constructive, avoidant, and sexual communication varied across sexual agreement types, whereas sexual arrangement types only differed with respect to constructive communication. These findings suggest that there is substantial overlap between arrangements and agreements. Findings particularly related to associations with sexual behavior may largely generalize across these methods of operationalization. In contrast, survey-reported sexual agreements were a more sensitive correlate of dyadic communication.

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Acknowledgements

Collection of these data was supported by a National Institute on Drug Abuse Grant (R34 DA036419; PI Starks). The analyses of these data were supported by a National Institute on Drug Abuse Grant (R34 DA043422; PI Starks). The authors acknowledge the contributions of the We Test Project Team, particularly Jeffrey Parsons, Patrick Sullivan, Robert Stephenson, Nahuel Smith Becerra, Mark Pawson, Andrew Cortopassi, Chris Hietikko, and Scott Jones. We also thank Rich Jenkins for his support of the project as well as PRIDE Research Consortium staff, recruiters, interns and our participants who volunteered their time.

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Correspondence to Tyrel J. Starks.

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Dellucci, T.V., Carmichael, C. & Starks, T.J. Arrangements versus Agreements: Evaluating Two Approaches to Measuring Male Couples’ Rules and Understandings Around Sex with Outside Sex Partners. Arch Sex Behav 50, 1689–1700 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01621-w

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Keywords

  • Sexual agreements
  • Sexual arrangements
  • Gay male couples
  • Dyadic communication
  • Relationship functioning
  • Sexual orientation