If you’re in need of a good excuse to date your best friend’s ex, boy are you in luck. Just a fan of sloppy seconds? Well, today is your day, too.
According to research published in late January from Northeastern University’s Network Science Institute, it turns out that there’s a correlation between sleeping with your pals’ former lovers and not getting sexually transmitted infections. Well, at least among Dutch high schoolers.
Social network theories dictate that the spread of STIs is more about how social groups are formed, rather than the sheer number of people one individual might have sexual interactions with. In the simplest terms, the size of one’s social network — regardless of exactly how many people within it they fuck — is more important than the interactions themselves.
To test this hypothesis, researchers polled 2,000 high school students in the Netherlands twice about their dating habits between 2014 and 2015. Most students reported an average of one or two relationships over the course of that time. Despite these small figures, the networks among the students were such that each person was “connected” to a third of the overall student population. That is, someone they’d slept with had slept with another person, who’d slept with another person, in a pattern that connected 33 percent of the school population to any one individual.
They also found that the students involved were 75 percent less likely to date someone if that individual had dated a friend of theirs previously. But if they did date someone their friend had dated, they were actually reducing that overall web interconnecting the student population by not adding a new person to it.
Imagine, then, that one person at a school developed an STI. The bigger the social web they’re in, the more likely that STI would be to spread among a larger group of people. Conversely, having a smaller social network decreases the possible pool of people to receive an STI from, and therefore, the odds of contracting one.
All of that sounds convoluted, and frankly, it is. Even as the study explains, most statistics do assert that there’s a correlation between the number of people one is intimate with and the risks of developing an STI. As study author Cassie McMillan told Northeastern’s press department, though, the research on networks is more designed to help explore means of prevention on an institutional level, rather than serve as safe-sex advice for individuals. The study didn’t even directly track the STI rates of these specific students, so we can’t know for sure whether this is all true. Really, it’s just a theory.
But hey, maybe it’s a good piece of persuasion to keep in your back pocket next time you need to talk yourself into thinking sleeping with your bestie’s ex is okay.