BY Dr. Jallen Rix
February 17 2010 10:29 PM ET
Two major studies out of San Francisco are taking a look at open relationships among gay, male couples like never before. The first study (to be released this month by San Francisco State University) looks at 556 male couples, half of whom had mutually agreed to outside sexual experiences, over the course of three years. The second (Lowen and Spears, 2009), focused exclusively on long-term (together for eight years or more) gay male couples who maintained consensual open relationships, of which 75% felt their outside sex had no negative impact on their primary connection.
It seems the debate about the validity of alternative relationships rages more strongly among gay men. This is partially a result of our community being more “out of the closet” regarding our sexuality and partially because some view open relationships as a threat to our ability to gain equal marriage rights.
Understanding open relationships has been a personal journey for me. As I was growing up in a conservative Southern Baptist home, although my parents exemplified monogamy (and still do after 56 years), not everything about it made sense to me. Although it seemed obviously unrealistic that one person could ever meet all of another person’s needs, when it came to sex there was absolutely no wiggle room. Furthermore, as my education advanced into sexology, I saw all kinds of relationships and sexual configurations defying the odds and working as successfully as any monogamous model.
These days I am most comfortable in an open relationship. This is where most monoga-maniacs will stop listening and stigmatize me as a “sex addict" who is “unable to commit.” What’s missing from this stereotyping is a major component found in these studies: There are very specific things about that these open relationships that are monogamous — safe sex, emotional primacy ... really, anything that's been negotiated in advance. Indeed, monogamy often comes down to a matter of degrees, even in mutually exclusive relationships. Where one couple draws the line of innocent flirting is not where another couple would draw the line. I like that an open relationship allows freedom to design a long-term connection precisely the way it works best for those involved.
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