Communication ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 7-15-2020


Even with over three decades of research on and promotion of safer sex, the rates of sexually transmitted infections continue to rise in the United States (CDC, 2017). Although communication about risk and protective factors is key to the promotion of safer sex behaviors, the meaning and impact of such communication is contingent upon culturally grounded understandings of safer sex among individuals of diverse sexual subcultures. This dissertation focuses on individuals who self-identified as polyamorous, a style of non-monogamy, and their understandings and experiences with safer sex. Drawing on the application of the AIDS Risk Reduction Model and narrative inquiry methodology, this research explored sexual risk profiles; safer sex experience narratives; the importance of safer sex communication; and the relationship between safer sex communication and relationship negotiation among polyamorous partners. Based on a survey and thematic analysis of in-depth interviews with 13 polyamorous individuals, the research shows: 1) low rates of self-reported actual and perceived risk among participants; 2) narrative emphasis on the complexities involved in safer sex decisions; 3) the importance of using safer sex communication strategies to increase safer sex practices; and 4) the significance of relationship negotiation as a particular communication strategy used to sustain relationships and engage in safer sex conversations. The analysis of findings suggests implications for health communication research and intervention. There is an apparent need to look beyond biological factors to include psychosocial and emotional factors in safer sex decisions. Also, the consideration of relational challenges to safer sex behaviors (e.g. phase of the relationship, relationship dynamics, among others) are key to the understanding of contextual factors that ultimately influence individual behavior and decisions about safer sex.




Safer Sex, Polyamory, Communication

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Communication and Journalism

First Committee Member (Chair)

Christina Perry

Second Committee Member

Ilia Rodríguez

Third Committee Member

Kathy Isaacson

Fourth Committee Member

Yangsun Hong