Monogamy Is Not Quite So Simple A Concept

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Today the New York Times is reporting that about 50% of gay couples are happily “open”:

New research at San Francisco State University reveals just how common open relationships are among gay men and lesbians in the Bay Area. The Gay Couples Study has followed 556 male couples for three years — about 50 percent of those surveyed have sex outside their relationships, with the knowledge and approval of their partners.

That consent is key. “With straight people, it’s called affairs or cheating,” said Colleen Hoff, the study’s principal investigator, “but with gay people it does not have such negative connotations.”

The study also found open gay couples just as happy in their relationships as pairs in sexually exclusive unions, Dr. Hoff said. A different study, published in 1985, concluded that open gay relationships actually lasted longer.

A lot of bloggers have reported this story, pointing out that this isn’t news to the gay community.

Yes and no. Yes, the gay community does not value strict monogamy/sexual exclusivity in the same way as most heterosexuals. But no, that does not define the entire gay community.

This issue really has me torn in a weird sort of way, and I want to just share my thoughts in case they mean anything to anybody else.

I have complete respect for folks in open relationships. They make it work. They have a greater sense of trust than a lot of relationships and they’re probably a lot more open (as in less secretive) with each other. I don’t think there is anything less worthwhile about those relationships or the commitment that holds them together. I think it all makes perfect sense, and I’m glad this study is validating for them. Maybe some heterosexuals can (and should) learn something from it.

At the same time, I just want to point out that there’s still that other 50%. I’m a member of it. Maybe I’ll change my mind down the road, but I can’t right now imagine sharing my committed lover with someone else. I like the idea that there is something special we’d share together that no one else has access to. I think an exclusive sexual connection is incredibly symbolic of an exclusive emotional connection. At this point in my life, I value “closed” monogamy.

And that’s probably why I’m single.

As great as it is that many members of the gay community have found satisfaction in open relationships, it just reminds us how tough it is out there for those of us “old-fashioned” folks. What concerns me most is that people often box themselves in. Just as I leave room for the possibility that I might be open to an open relationship someday, I hope too that those who are open might be open to an exclusively monogamous relationship.

I think the gay community needs to be just as supportive and respectful of exclusive monogamy as it is of the open variety. At the end of the day, sexual health is still a major concern for our community. Emotional health is important, but HIV is still a serious threat. We can’t lose sight of that.

Plus, the emotional health of monogamatics like me shouldn’t be forsaken because of hegemonic values of sexual openness. (Yes, I made up “monogamatics” to make fun of myself.)

In many ways, these values are the result of a history of disrespect for same-sex partnerships. I hope as we continue to make progress with marriage equality, the community maintains a balance of appreciation for all varieties of monogamy. We’re all looking for someone to walk hand-in-hand through life with, and when you find that person, it shouldn’t have to come with a disclaimer about what he can do with his other hand.

Let me hear from you all! Are there other closed-monogamy folks who share my concerns? Are there open-monogamy folks who are completely dismissive of closed monogamy? What motivates you to feel one way or the other? As our relationship rights are being debated an open national stage, I think we all need to be ready to talk about these issues openly as we move forward.

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There are 6 Comments to "Monogamy Is Not Quite So Simple A Concept"

  • Anastasia says:

    I don’t know anything about sociology, but I wonder if gay couples are more accepting of open relationships because they had to define relationships for themselves. Heterosexual couples have this whole ancient societal baggage that tells us what is right or wrong, but heterosexuals have forcibly excluded homosexual couples from marriage. So in a way, it could be the very discrimination itself that caused the shift from what is seen as a relationship norm.
    Do you think that accepting gay marriage will cause a decline in open relationships, or that people who want open relationships will be less likely to get married? I don’t know how that works – like you, I’m firmly in the committed category. I’m too selfish to share when it comes to my partner!

  • ZackFord says:

    Well, it sounds like some of those couples in the study were actually married, so I don’t know if expanded marriage would change things.

    I think you’re absolutely right about the impact of the historical context.

  • Jim says:

    The author of this NYT article shows how ignorant and I’m sure some would say prejudiced they are of the concept of open relationships.  Polyamory isn’t just a concept that homosexuals participate in but is something that all humans of all sexualities participate in.  It’s only an ‘affair or cheating’ when the other partner is not aware or open to the concept – also applicable to people of all sexualities.

  • Buffy says:

    My wife and I are also in the “other 50%”.    We’re very much into the monogamy thing and couldn’t imagine participating in any of that “open relationship” stuff.
    I rather wonder about the gender breakdown of their survey (I might have missed it given that I read the article rather quickly).

  • Rich says:

    Why hope that nonmonogamists are open to monogamy? (Mind you, I’m not using “open monogamy” (a contradiction) or “closed monogamy” (a redundancy)–“monogamy” and “nonmonogamy” convey the intended meaning just fine as is.) Substitute “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” and you will see that your hope that nonmonogamists “be open” to monogamy, and you’ll see how that betrays your claim to have complete respect for those relationships. And I have no idea what the statement about a “disclaimer” means; both kinds of relationships come with rules about what people can and cannot do with their bodies in the relationship. As for “hegemony,” 50% means half, meaning half of gay couples are monogamous (less than heteros, for sure) but just as many as are nonmonogamous, by definition, so no need to feel oppressed. There are as many who feel like you as those who don’t. So just do what you want to do and let others do the same. Good luck!

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