I’m a queer sex writer in a monogamous relationship.
Surprised? Most people are.
Recently, at a friend’s book launch, a fellow sex writer inquired about my boyfriend. After telling him we were exclusive, I was met with an all too familiar grimace: Repulsion mixed with skepticism and pity.
The event was inside a sex club and I was surrounded by a mostly open, poly, queer crew. Upon overhearing our conversation, another monogamist came to my defense, saying she, too, was in a monogamous relationship and having good sex—lots of it.
The fact that she felt compelled to defend me—and did so by announcing the frequency and quality of sex she’s having—reflects how the queer community regards monogamy as trite and boring. How could I, a queer man, follow such a heteronormative relationship model? And how could a sex writer limit his sexual experiences to one man? These outside reactions make me uncomfortable and uncertain.
I’m a neurotic person, and I always think I’m doing the wrong thing. So when I’m faced with judgment or resistance, my insecurities are amplified. I am 100% in love with my partner whom I am monogamous with, but when you’re told something so many times, you start to question yourself.
David, 33, has been in a long-distance monogamous relationship for three years and has had similar experiences to mine. “It’s funny, people tend to assume we’re open, for no other reason than ‘everyone is,’ and when I correct them, I get an almost defensive vibe back like, ‘Oh, well, that will change,’” he tells me. “I feel like people think that those in a monogamous relationship feel some sort of superiority to those who aren’t, so that’s why they get defensive, but that’s not always the case.”
When I came out three years ago, nearly every queer friend of mine was in an open relationship, and from what I witnessed, they were all incredibly happy. Only one couple was monogamous, and they had recently moved from a larger city to escape its temptations. I’ve since moved to said city.
“I don’t know any monogamous relationship that lasts longer than a year and aren’t cheating,” a gay man in my building recently told me. “That’s just my experience across all the gay relationships I know.”
This opinion is grossly generic and not true.
Josh and Matt have been in a monogamous relationship for nine years. The two met when they were 18 and have only dated each other. While they admit there’s been temptation to stray (they’ve had sit-down conversations about opening their relationship), both feel that acting on those feelings would change the love they have for each other, and neither are willing to sacrifice that.
“We both agree that we like some things kept between us and keep that sacred,” Josh says. “Folks that I know who have opened their relationships start to lose that. It inevitably winds up being the downfall of their relationship. Matt is my number one, and I happily conduct my life and relationship where that will always be the case. We have been through too much together to risk that.”
David has experienced these same temptations, but says they vanish as soon as he climaxes. “I realize, Okay, that was just a fantasy and not something I’d actually want,” he says. “I like to be completely dedicated to my partner—sexually and emotionally—and feel that he is, too. Sure, you can see someone and think they’re hot, or even wonder what it’d be like—but I have a boyfriend, so I just—don’t.”
A friend of David’s recently complained that ever since he and his partner opened their relationship and started having threesomes, it’s all his boyfriend wants now. “It scares me that once you have a threesome, that sort of becomes the ultimate sexual experience between you two,” he says.
“My boyfriend and I have experienced pressure to open our relationship on a weekly basis,” Kenny, a 25-year-old gay man in a two-year monogamous relationship, explains. “Even going to events like Pride are stressful because we will either be approached, judged, or approached and judged by non-monogamous couples.”
Kenny, like many queer men in monogamous relationships, is comfortable living in a smaller city where he and his partner “feel safe” and don’t experience pressure from others as frequently.
Others, like George, 43, and Tim, 45, who’ve been together for 26 years, have never once felt pressured. “We’re both old-school marrying types, I guess,” George says. “After we met we just knew there was no one else for us, and there’s never been any temptation or consideration otherwise.”
Josh and Matt don’t judge people in open relationships, and are cognizant of how they can be beneficial.“On an emotional level, it is incredible to meet new people and have social interactions outside of what your typical relationship is. It challenges you to communicate properly and handle things maturely,” Josh says. “On a physical level, you get different experiences with different people. At the end of the day, I personally practice monogamy, but I really don’t believe in it. Any reason is valid, there are just more layers to peel back depending on where you look.”
Jaymi, a 25-year-old monogamist, has a more cavalier attitude: “I think there so many open relationships in the gay world because they just want to fuck around. Period. Most of the open relationships I’ve witnessed were based on fucking whoever they want and don’t really seem to care about building a genuine connection.”
Jaymi’s perspective is not a rare one. Many shame those who pursue open or non-monogamous relationships, labeling these individuals “slutty” and their relationships “meaningless” and evidence that they don’t love or are not committed to their partner.
But just like their assumptions of us, our assumptions of them aren’t necessarily true.
Somewhere in our history, an invisible line was drawn dividing monogamous and non-monogamous mindsets. As Jaymi puts it, “I feel like, in the ‘gay world,’ there is a war between monogamous and open relationships.”
Psychotherapist, Daniel Olavarria, LCSW, believes this divide is the result of the historical lack of acceptance for queer communities, which made it difficult to maintain monogamous relationships.
“Being forced to hide led generations of queer people to not have monogamy as an option,” Olavarria says. “This creates a multi-faceted counterculture that relies on alternative ways of living to allow queer communities to prosper despite being rejected by their greater community.”
This rejection led queer people to seek alternatives to experience a sense of intimacy, like discreet sex and love affairs with multiple partners. Now, as our community has become more socially accepted, we’re better able to participate in traditional relationship models.
“This results in some friction, as the community has a reckoning around who we are and what parts of our culture are rooted in our authentic personal desires versus us trying to mold ourselves to be accepted by the greater society,” Olavarria says.
Each relationship has a natural desire to have their choices validated because it gives them the sense that they are making the “right” decision. “The inherent flaw in this is that we’re socialized to believe that in order for one person to be right, someone else has to be wrong and we see this play out in the conversations that people have about how to structure their relationships in terms of monogamy or non-monogamy,” Olavarria explains.
Queer communities know what it is like to try to be something they are not in order to appease other people. Understandably, then, there can be a resistance to the idea of “falling in line” with monogamous relationships because, for many, it feels like an extension of them being asked to lie about their sexuality in order to conform to the world around them. On the other hand, some people may choose monogamous relationships simply because that’s what one feels they are “supposed” to do.
Olavarria acknowledges that we’re all susceptible to the need to be validated in the choices we make, and says both monogamy and non-monogamy are both legitimate relationship structures that can lead to healthy connections, assuming that the more important component of honest, ongoing communication and collaboration between partners is taking place.
“The way that someone structures their relationships is such a deeply personal decision that can evolve over the course of their lives,” Olavarria says. “When it really comes down to it, clear, honest, and collaborative communication is the winning formula for successful relationships, regardless of how those relationships are structured.”
The truth? None of us know what the fuck we’re doing in our relationships. Let’s simply opt to be happy that we live in a culture that affords us the opportunity and privilege to explore what feels right, and understand that choosing one relationship structure doesn’t give us the authority to denigrate others.