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.