MONOGAMISM CHART P23 XLRG | ADVOCATE.COMFor the most part gay couples have had to figure out how to create these relationships for themselves. Ben and Gary began to open their relationship within the first year, at Ben’s request. “I rejected it,” recalls Gary. “I took it personally. Do you not think I’m an adequate lover? I felt like it was a slippery slope into who knows what.” But when they passed a hot guy on the street one night, it led to a conversation in which Ben convinced Gary to welcome an anonymous third into their bed. “So it started with us together, only,” says Gary. “The rule was it’s OK to play as long as we’re both there. Then that changed to as long as it’s respectful and it’s safe and as quickly as you can tell the other, tell me how hot it was so that we end up in bed together and we have sex.” That was stage 2. “Stage 3 is ‘OK, I don’t have to tell you every time, but I also will not lie about it.’ ” And that’s where they are today, having sex with a third together on occasion, having sex with partners independently, and sharing hot talk about the experiences. “What keeps a good temperature and pulse on this is we still have a great sex life and we keep it fun,” Gary says. “If not, this would be harder.”

The Couples Study suggests that consensual nonmonogamy can have a stabilizing effect on relationships. Dave, 35, and Maya, 33, a (mostly) straight couple, can attest to that. Married with a child in Los Angeles, they have a somewhat open relationship. She describes herself as “bi-comfortable,” while he is straight, and the few outside experiences they’ve had have been sharing lap dances at strip clubs and once hiring a stripper to join them for a three-way in their hotel room in Las Vegas. “Having an open relationship, even when we don’t act on it frequently, has been great for us and for our sex life,” says Dave. “It makes us feel more secure with each other, and we don’t fear cheating. Also, it’s improved the sex just because it’s exciting to think about having sex with other people.”

All of this flies in the face of the kind of marriage we’ve been told is right and traditional, but Justin A. Sitron, an assistant professor of human sexuality at Widener University, says that such views stem from “a paradigm that is really more fantasy than it was ever reality.”

Sitron says, “The 1950s family, with a mother, a father, and 2.2 kids was very much a representation in popular culture, but it wasn’t necessarily representative of real life. There was still divorce, nonmonogamy—consensual and non-.” In other words, the one man, one woman (or one man, one man) forever ideal may not be the most realistic or attainable model for everyone, and a little leeway can go a long way.