Human beings suddenly become purely monogamous - what happens to STDs?

Alright, people, listen up. I’ve got a Mind Control Gun that can throw a net around the entire planet (perhaps in 40 minutes, if I can find that lazy bastard, Puck) with which I’m going to enslave the entire human race.

I’m going to use this MCG to force everyone to be monogamous for their entire lives for at least, say, five or six generations. You get to have sex with one person, and one person only. I’d have liked this to happen voluntarily in this context, but as that’s sort of unlikely, I had to use the gun, which is much more realistic, of course.

What would happen to common STDs in this scenario? I know some can be transmitted from mother to child, or by other means (like blood transfusions), so I presume they would continue to exist, but are there any that would die out? Become far less prevalent? Mutate into other forms?

I suppose this is really informed speculation, so if this needs to be punted over into IMHO, feel free, mods.

Of course most STDs can be eliminated with antibiotics, so if they were no longer spreading as fast or faster than they were treated, they would die out. Herpes cannot be eradicated, but with C-sections or other steps it can generally be prevented from spreading from mother to child, so it would probably die out as well. Similarly with HIV and hepatitis B or C. Some things such as Trichomonas can occasionally be contracted from the environment, so these might still appear in people but less frequently than presently.

What if one person in a couple dies? The remaining person no longer gets to have sex or can s/he hook up with someone new if it can be determined s/he is STD free?

IIRC, genital herpes can also be a manifestation of the oral (cold sore) variety; and that when times became less inhibited around the 60’s, there was an explosion of herpes cases due to this.

If so, then you need another ray to prevent the transmission of oral herpes.

I think we need to consider exactly what your monogamy ray defines as ‘sex’. Not all STDs require actual physical intercourse to transmit. HPV and herpes can be spread by skin contact, so those still can persist, unless your monogamy ray prevents any physical contact between non-married people. Blood-born diseases such as AIDS and viral hepatitis are also spread by contaminated needle use, so you might need another ray to stop illegal intravenous drug use.

I LOL’d.

I’m not a doctor or an infectious disease specialist, obviously, but it seems to me that there are almost too many diseases that can be transmitted through sex to make a practical list of all those diseases’ chances of survival in the situation you described. I think a fair few could be completely eliminated, but as others have mentioned above, many of the diseases we happen to call STDs can actually be transmitted a number of different ways.

I have to confess I’m not really concerned with the social politics and fairness of the scheme. I suppose in the event of being STD free, serial monogamy is permissible, though it would be interesting to see if that changes anything.

Fair point. Let’s say I’m disallowing anything beyond handshakes for non-married people. Yes, I’m cruel and nasty. I used to kick puppies when I was a child (not really). I’m actually interested in whether the diseases would survive and be transmitted by other means, so my MCG will not be extended to cover drug use and transfusions and the like.

Also a fair point. For the purposes of argument, let’s limit ourselves to this list:

Hepatitis B

And maybe a couple more if there are glaring omissions. Which diseases do you have in mind that can be sexually transmitted but wouldn’t generally be called STDs?

Could you fight my ignorance here? Why can’t herpes be eradicated? is that because it’s a viral disease? I realise there’s no current cure, but that doesn’t preclude a future cure, does it?

That definition of monogamous is kind of ludicrous.

As opposed to the rest of the scenario? It’s not real you know, just a hypothetical question the OP is pondering in order to learn more about the spread of certain diseases.

Could not more virulent strains of these diseases evolve that might survive on, for example, your hands for a few hours and become communicable via a handshake?

Depends. Do toilet seats still exist?

I’m sure people said to Schrodinger: “Come off it, man. You’ll never get the cat into the box!”. It’s a thought experiment, son. A thought experiment. Roll with it.


I hope this is a whoosh, because otherwise it means I’m ignorant of things I shouldn’t be ignorant of, but I cannot see how banning toilet seats would make any difference.

Herpes stays forever but it is not easily transmitted. Even without treatment, from man to woman, the chances are 8% annually and that’s no condoms, no antivirals. Woman to man, with condoms and anti-virals, it’s 1% annually (so that’s about one in ten thousand sex acts; two in ten thousand sex acts without condoms). From mother to child, well let’s just say that around 20 - 25% of pregnant women tested in several studies were positive for HSV II (genital herpes), which affects between 18 and 30% of women from 30+. It’s not easily transmitted to the child at all, even in vaginal births, because anti-virals suppress it.

I imagine if everyone just wore a condom correctly, you could eliminate the spread of herpes very quickly, even without total monogamy. With serial monogamy, and every new partner tested for STDs and treated, it should die out quickly.

Genital warts, we have a vaccine for that is very effective.

Everything else is treatable save AIDS.

However, monogamy only works if BOTH partners are monogamous. If one is a cheater, it doesn’t matter. I only say this because I don’t want it to sound like I think monogamy is the answer. The real answers are regular STD screens and condoms, because since we do not have a monogamy gun, most of us are left only controlling our own actions.

I think it was a joke about the “Mom always told me that I could catch nasty diseases from public toilet seats” school of virology.

Ahh… yes. I have had a female friend explain the concept of “hovering” to me; presumably that comes from the same school of thought. I wouldn’t, of course, want to sit in a puddle of someone else’s pee, no matter how many times I was told it was sterile and couldn’t infect me with anything.

My own, on the other hand…

I’d love to know if there are any epidemiological studies of disease transmission via toilet seats, but I’m not about to search for that from here. However, we digress.

As I understand actual real toilet-seat viral transmission, you have rush in and plunk your wet and juicy bits onto a wet sport where someone else has just plunked their wet and juicy bits, before the residue has had a chance to cool off and dry up a bit. This was in an article in response to a question about this sort of transmission from some medical expert many years a go.

Considering that in normal, properly seated toilet use females do not touch the toilet seat with that vulenrable area (ISTM), transmission rates would be basically zero. Guys, unless they have open sores, are even less likely to have the requisite contact with vulnerable flesh.

The suggestion is that viruses like AIDs make it into the body from micro-tears in the soft tissue of the sexual organs that come from vigorous friction. This is why women are allegedly about 10 times more likey to contract AIDS than men, and circumcised men much less likely than uncircumcised. It’s the relative surface area of soft tissue and how long that area stays moist and warm.

“The Japanese have inveneted a heated toilet seat. Who needs that? You can get the same effect from any public toilet in New York City… When I go to use a toilet, I want that seat to be icy cold…”-Jay Leno

My guess would be the diseases would mutate. As others have said, there are enough other methods for these diseases to spread that just enforcing monogamous sex wouldn’t be enough. There’s skin to skin contact (you mentioned handshakes, but if the person had just finished scratching their private areas before meeting you, wouldn’t there still be a risk?), toilet seats (assuming no one is cleaning the damn things), contaminated needles (likes someone else suggested).

I guess, in the long run, the only thing that would happen to sexually transmitted diseases is that they’d stop being sexually transmitted. They might not be as prevalent (I have yet to catch an STD from a toilet or a handshake), but they’d probably be around in smaller amounts.

Again, all of this is just a guess (and an uniformed one, at that) on my part.


Here’s a SDSAB report on the issue: