That simple title will have caught your attention either because a) you are a monogamist who dismisses the idea completely, or b) you are all for freedom of choice. Let me tell you that both opinions are right for those who hold them. What I want to do here is to shed some light on a topic which is overshadowed by both dogma and stigma. If we genuinely want to clear away divisions and prejudices in our society then we must include our attitudes towards monogamy too.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about ‘cheating’ which could be regarded as non-consensual. I am talking about sharing. Likewise I am not talking about polyamory either, although it does overlap and it does suffer the same prejudices.
As a writer I often get challenged by readers who cannot accept any kind of relationship other than a fully monogamous one. As an opinion related to your own life that is perfectly valid. When it becomes a prejudice imposed on others, even fictional characters, it is not valid and is discrimination.
Let’s start with some facts, however distasteful some may find them. Surveys have shown 40-50% of gay male couples agreeing that sex outside the relationship was permissible. For both lesbian and heterosexual couples that figure drops to less than 5%. Recent studies into the relationship status of gay male couples suggest that not only is the scepticism of the monogamous world unjustified, but that non-monogamous couples can actually be closer than the more faithful pairs. Interviews have led to the conclusion that non-monogamous couples are no less satisfied and that communication is better because they’ve already had to negotiate many specific details of how their relationships will function. Essentially these couples have usually negotiated a set of rules which help to preserve their relationship and at the heart of these are openness and honesty.
The simplest analysis of this behaviour speaks of avoiding the cheating and the resentment caused where individuals are unable to pursue their sexual urges. The reality may be more complex than this. Sex and love in the heterosexual world are based on the biological imperative to reproduce. With that need no longer so imperative, it should come as no surprise that some might find more recreational outlets for their needs. Love and sex are not the same thing although they are very much intertwined. Love is clearly about much more than sex and it needs to have mutual respect, intimacy, friendship and care for each other included.
Naturally the idea that a partner may want to go outside the relationship for sex can lead to emotional insecurity. Where the love is deep, there may be a desire to be all things to our significant other. Admitting to ourselves that this may not be enough can be a hard concept to accept. We need and want to be close and yet we may accept the need for some freedom and autonomy. Thus the whole thing becomes a continuous balancing act.
Despite all the positive research findings, there still exists a deeply ingrained stigma towards non-monogamous couples. Gay men have always been seen to engage in this consensual behaviour and are heavily stigmatized for it. Gay and straight people alike, assume that a consensually open relationship is somehow less valid than a monogamous one. To those in a happy and settled non-monogamous bond, that makes no sense and can be seen as offensive.
Nobody is going to say that all is easy or without its challenges. Non-monogamous unions depend on complete honesty and a set of rules. Not everyone can adhere to rules but any deviation can lead to mistrust and jealousy. I have already stated that love and sex are different, but sex is still an emotional experience and even in the most casual of transactions attachments can be formed.
Some psychotherapists believe that the ability of a gay man to live in an open relationship may rest in his early experiences with intimacy. The often solitary struggle to come to terms with one’s homosexual identity may be linked to shame and rejection or even feelings of emotional abandonment. It may be that if our early experiences have been compromised we then find it difficult to let our defences down when another adult gets too close. Freedom gives us a way of keeping some distance.
In my humble experience this may be true in some cases, but certainly not in all. If gay male couples appear to be leading the trend for sexually progressive relationships we should not be surprised we’ve grown up being excluded from traditional norms and expectations of sexual behaviour. Is it any wonder then that we’ve had to create our own norms and set new trends along the way?