Many gay couples I see wonder about monogamy or opening up their relationship. It can be a confusing time. Many gay couples try to grapple with what it might mean for them.
Some want to be monogamous for various reasons. One of the main reasons I hear is fear that their partner might fall in love with someone else. Many feel insecure with opening up their relationship. For some, monogamy feels really right. And for others, they ‘fall into’ monogamy because they believe it is the ‘gold standard’ of relationships, yet don’t feel so good within it.
One question that many people don’t ask themselves enough is: ‘Why am I choosing monogamy?’
Indeed, it is a choice, not a given to be in a relationship. And monogamy is one out of many other ways you can have relationships: it is not the best way, it is not the ‘gold standard’.
Monogamy is defined by the couple. It means different things for each couple. It is important to openly discuss what monogamy means to you. Is watching pornography an act of infidelity in your monogamous relationship? Is masturbating to a fantasy that doesn’t include your boyfriend cheating? Is sexting without the intention to meet in person straying?
We can see the pros of monogamy: it is a place where we can feel safe, secure and provides us with a solid base. It can be a place where we can foster a sense of certainty of what will happen next. With so many affairs being reported, it’s important to wonder what can be the cons: when there is much love and security, the sexual energy can disappear. People can fall into parent/child dynamics (also called care-taking roles) or best friends dynamics. Monogamy can feel restricting, especially if the boundaries of the couple are not properly discussed and mutually agreed.
Monogamy can be a choice that people make subconsciously due to heteronormativity, which is prevalent in the world that we live in. Heteronormativity is the assumption that what is heterosexual is the norm and anything deviating from it is ‘different’, ‘other’, ‘strange’ or ‘off’.
If we think about it, how often do you see happy gay couples together? Of course, there is more visibility now, but not that much still. We see pictures of gay men in clubs, being sexual, but not in usual living room settings, having a cup of tea with their husband or their two boyfriends. For some people it can be hard to form an image of what they want out of their relationship because there aren’t many models. If monogamy is the ‘default’ position for you, it might be worth questioning yourself.
What are the pros and cons of open relationships?
The cons are that opening up a relationship can be a way of avoiding the uncomfortable and difficult conversations with your partner if there are sexual problems. It might appear easier to avoid and open the relationship. However, doing so means that the couple also avoids to think clearly about the implications.
An open relationship is often misunderstood as ‘the opposite’ to monogamy: if monogamy is perceived as too restrictive with rules, people think that an open relationship offers more freedom with less rules – ‘anything goes’. This is not the case.
Open relationships have just as many and important rules as monogamy, but different ones. It is important to discuss what they are so that everybody involved is clear. Some people have rules of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’. Some prefer to know all the details. Some want the sexual partners outside of the primary relationship to be only a one-off with no emotional connections. Some have a rule of no sex with others in their home. For some, it is only permitted to have sex with others when out of town. Some only play together with a third or a fourth and never separately. And so on and so forth.
The other aspect of this topic is internalised homo-negativity. Some people don’t want to do what ‘other gays do’ because they harbour subconscious homo-negativity: to distance themselves from being gay, which they perceive as overly sexual, they may prefer the conservative marriage. It is another way to be heteronormative.
When thinking about your relationship, don’t fall into the binary thinking of ‘monogamy or open relationship’. There are many other ways. The term ‘monogamish’ coined by Dan Savage means to be monogamous most of the time with a little consensual non-monogamy on the side that is clearly agreed upon. For some, it is a great way to enhance their relationship and loosen up the strict monogamy rules.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you think about the relationship that you want:
1. Do you want to have sex with others?
2. Do you want your partner to stay faithful to you?
3. What is your greatest fear about consensual non-monogamy?
4. What are the benefits of monogamy?
5. What are the benefits of consensual non-monogamy?
6. What are the messages that you picked up from childhood and along the way on your adult life about what constitutes a ‘good and healthy’ relationship?
7. Can some of those messages be challenged? Or do you agree strongly with them all?
8. Do you want to be monogamous because you don’t want your boyfriend to have sex with others? Or you don’t want to have sex with others?
9. Do you tend to want an open relationship when there is a conflict with your boyfriend? Or do you want an open relationship when things are good with your boyfriend?
10. What are the commitments to yourself? What would make you happy?
For the couples who consciously choose to be monogamous, it doesn’t mean that they are not allowed to have sexual fantasies about others. Playing with sexual fantasies can enhance a monogamous relationship. Monogamy is a very valid way for gay people to be in relationships, it’s not always because they follow heteronormativity.
Whatever you do with your relationship(s) is not wrong or right. All relationship statuses are just as valid. But it is important to be fully conscious over the choices that you make. Making subconscious choices now is the very thing that can make you terribly unhappy in your relationship years later.