A psychologist shares the relationship wisdom he's learned from gay men.
Conventional wisdom dictates that men are so sexual that they can't possibly be faithful, and the stereotypical gay man has sex with bathhouses full of dudes every night. So what could we possibly learn from gay men about monogamy? A lot, according to Joe Kort, author of Psychology Today's Gay's Anatomy blog.
It makes a certain amount of sense: If men have more trouble with monogamy than women then a gay male relationship has twice the probability of having faithfulness issues. But since men do marry and stay together for life, maybe we can learn something from them about how they manage the urge to stray.
Kort cites a stat that 75% of gay male couples have successful open relationships (this comes from David Nimmons' book, The Soul Beneath the Skin). Open relationships are notoriously difficult, but if three-quarters of gay male couples are doing it, and doing it successfully, they must have something to teach us.
Kort lists 10 things gay couples can teach other couples about sexual monogamy vs non-monogamy.
1. & 2. Responsible monogamy vs responsible non-monogamy. In both cases the partners should talk openly about desires and expectations and agree on rules of conduct. In a monogamous partnership the rules are "usually sexual and emotional intimacy with each other, and no one else." A non-monogamous relationship can take many forms. Each person "agrees to open the relationship in ways satisfactory to both," and "working [the agreement] out is imperative."
3. & 4. Don't assume monogamy. Being married, or "in a relationship" is not a guarantee of fidelity. People have different definitions of cheating, so partners should mutually define the rules and stick to the agreement. Infidelity occurs when one partner violates the contract.
5. Be safe! Gay men in particular are very careful about safe sex. Assume that everyone is HIV positive, and protect as such.
6. Have no-strings-attached sex. If you do have sex outside the relationship you might try sex without emotional attachment. Kort says many gay men do this successfuylly. This is a tricky situation, though, because some people aren't able to have sex without developing feelings. If you agree on NSA nookie make sure you know how you react to sex. Also know that even when people try not to bond with their sex partner, it sometimes happens anyway.
7. Wait five years. Kort says that in his experience five years is the most successful time to open a relationship.
8., 9. & 10. Keep an open dialogue so you can address changes and problems. Relationships are dynamic, and in order to negotiate jealousy, cheating, and expectations you have to talk and listen effectively. Kort recommends Harville Hendrix's "intentional dialogue," where one person speaks, making sure to talk only about his feelings and not assume anything about the other person. Then and the other person repeats back what they heard.
Sounds like gay men can teach us a lot about relationships. If you don't already have one, maybe you should start looking for a gay best friend...