It’s a stereotype that gay men like having a lot of sex. Sorry, perhaps I could be more specific. It’s a stereotype that gay men like having a lot of random no-strings attached sex with hordes of anonymous men whom they could more easily pick out from a police line-up by cock size and shape than facial recognition.
I’m aware this isn’t true, and I’m sure most of you are as well (those of you who don’t read the Daily Fail, anyway). Recently it’s been reported that homosexuals are not the sexually voracious ghouls they’re portrayed as in ‘Queer As Folk’, for example, and 98% have had 20 or fewer partners. Civil partnerships are on the rise and gay marriage is currently looking like it’s going to be a reality in the next twenty years AT MOST. Attitude magazine runs a monthly feature celebrating couples who’ve managed to make it past the first three weeks. Obviously, this is fantastic. It should give hope to any boy who dreams of finding his prince, any woman who hopes to meet her perfect girl, and any parent who worries themselves to sleep that their gay son or daughter will live their life alone. Nowadays, a homosexual isn’t guaranteed eternal singledom any more than a heterosexual is assured of marriage and 2.4 kids.
We can all accept that as true, yes? Hopefully so, because what I’m about to say requires that preface, otherwise I’ll be backtracking later to try and reassure you I’m aware of how many of you feel.
I honestly believe an open relationship can work.
This isn’t me telling you that open relationships are the only way to go, or that all open relationships will or can work, or that if you’re not capable of having an open relationship then you’re a miserable and sexually-repressed human being. None of that is true at all. I simply believe that two people can very easily be in love and not have to be monogamous.
Open relationships have taken a bit of a bashing in the last twenty years, I think. As a subculture, gay people have turned against them somewhat and preferred to pursue monogamy instead. Explanations for this might be emotional – an individual desire to find ‘The One’ rather than ‘The Many’ or a fear of the man you’ve already found meeting someone he prefers – or practical – your partner and yourself not sleeping around reduces your chances of catching an STD, for example – but whatever the explanations are, these are all valid reasons not to want an open relationship. If they’re yours, that’s fine. I would never tell any gay man or woman their personal beliefs about relationships were wrong, and if I were going to, I certainly wouldn’t commit it to writing without massive amounts of evidence proving me right.
In my opinion, though, an open relationship doesn’t have to mean you’re going to end up alone, riddled with disease and sobbing into your wedding dress (‘never used, worn once’). Contraception has made it possible to almost eliminate the risk from sex and, whether you’re sleeping with every Tom, Dick and Harry or if you’ve been life-partnered for twenty years, taking the appropriate precautions is the least you should do. An open relationship is no different to any monogamous relationship of under six months AT LEAST – regardless of how much you trust your partner, you can’t know everything about them so quickly. You especially can’t know whether or not they popped down the local sauna last weekend and came back with a souvenir. You could start following them everywhere but, let’s face it, we all live far too busy lives to be constantly stalking our boyfriends.
I would go so far as to say that, hypothetically, you’re LESS likely to catch something serious in an open relationship, although this is entirely personal opinion rather than proven fact and also assumes that protection is being used. A person in an open relationship would expect to put on a condom before sleeping with their boyfriend regardless, whereas a person who believed themselves to be in a monogamous relationship would perhaps be suspicious and upset if their partner was still rubbering up two years in or, even more obviously, started using a condom again after a few years of unprotected sex. It could suggest they were either sleeping around themselves or that they didn’t trust the other partner, neither of which is an appealing thought to be weighing on your mind when you’re getting down to it. From another more cynical perspective as well, if you were aware that your partner knew you were sleeping with other people, putting a johnny on would pass without comment. If you’re sleeping with other people and your partner didn’t know, you’d probably be tempted to risk giving them something rather than them inferring you’d been unfaithful through your insistence on a condom.
Of course, this scenario does rely heavily on the premise that protection is being used religiously by couples in open relationships, which unfortunately isn’t the case, but the number of friends of mine who decided to stop using protection with their boyfriends ’because they were in love’ and subsequently got VD for Valentine’s Day is large enough to confirm that many monogamous relationships aren’t as monogamous as they seem.
The doom and gloom stuff isn’t the only reason I believe in open relationships, though. It’s the 21st century. Humanity hasn’t been this sexually liberated since the first organised religion decided the fun stuff we’d been doing for millennia wasn’t cool in the eyes of the god we created. We’re encouraged to talk about what turns us on, to experiment with partners, to push our boundaries and try new things on the off-chance that it’ll give us one hell of a sexual rush. Swinging with your neighbours is passé in suburbia nowadays; you’d get more of a backlash for not recycling your Guardian than announcing your significant other enjoyed ‘light spanking and pony-play’ to a dinner party.
I believe it’s very rare to meet someone into exactly the same things as you are, and downright impossible for them to match your moods. There will be some days you will want the full works – sling, handcuffs, ball-gag, twenty German businessmen masturbating furiously in a ring around you whilst a six foot eight Nigerian transsexual inserts both fists – and there will be some days when you want to wake up and have sleepy hung-over morning sex where neither one of you cares what the other’s hair looks like because you adore each other. An open relationship allows you to have both; to explore every inch of your sexual psyche, no matter how sordid, whilst also being able to go home after a bitch of a weekday, make two cups of tea and complain about your job to someone who isn’t necessarily expecting you to put on a collar and cover them in hot wax. You’ve fulfilled any primal urges you’ve had and you’re still giving your love to someone who reciprocates.
A problem with open relationships that is often cited is the jealousy; knowing your partner is sleeping with other people can be a difficult thing to cope with. Firstly though, jealousy is by no means exclusive to an open relationship – many monogamous couples experience it and subsequently deal with it. Secondly, said jealousy can be mitigated somewhat. After all, there’s a difference between being aware that your partner sleeps with other people and knowing exactly what he did last night with your best friend, your best friend’s boyfriend and a rent-boy. Keeping the details vague and the sexual partners either distant or discreet can save a lot of heartache in the long run.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly when it come to jealousy, is the difference between physical and emotional cheating and how serious each one is, an issue I’m currently hashing out with two friends of mine. To clarify, physical cheating is having sex with someone else regardless of feelings associated, and emotional cheating is having feelings for someone else regardless of physical action. My friends maintain emotional cheating is the lesser of the two evils – after all, it’s harmless, seeing as it’s not being acted upon. Also, one can resist physical urges but not emotional desire – it’s much more difficult to not think someone is attractive and want to be around them than it is to not suck them off.
I believe emotional cheating is worse; indulging your horn and then going back home to your partner is much more forgivable, in my opinion, than not doing anything and then going back home to think of someone else whilst having sex with your partner. Physical cheating is simple, a quick bish-bash-bosh and back to normality, whilst emotional cheating is pervasive, slow and sneaky; it convinces you you’re not doing anything wrong until you look at your partner and realise you think about someone else more than you ever do them any longer. I believe that, in an open relationship, by indulging your physical urge, you remove most of the power your emotional desire could hold over you.
This isn’t, unfortunately, to say that people in open relationships don’t meet people they like better outside their partner. Once again though – not exclusive to open relationships! Monogamous couples break up after one party falls in love with someone else as well (usually after a bit of emotional cheating, by the way) and at the end of the day it’s usually because the feelings were stronger and the prospects were better. It’s natural and right to trade up; if you weigh up both options and find one beats the other, which do you choose?
Ironically, after all that, I do not consider myself to be an open relationship type. I personally think I’d get jealous and would end up asking questions I didn’t want to hear the answers to. Still, I can understand the appeal of this kind of relationship and, probably more importantly, can understand why people try and succeed having them.