Saturday, September 17, 2011

On Gay Men and Monogamy...Again

I have a lot of respect for relationship columnist Dan Savage:  I appreciate how tell-it-like-it-is he is, I respect and agree with much of the straightforward advice he provides, and I applaud his (and his partner, Terry's) It Gets Better Program, to support teenagers at risk of committing suicide as a result of bullying at school.  But on one point we disagree.

Dan Savage
In a Vancouver Sun article titled "Is monogamy making us miserable," by John Preston and appearing in today's edition, Savage is quoted as saying, '"My partner's fidelity to me is as important as anyone who's in a monogamous relationship with someone else; we just don't define sexual exclusivity as the be-all and end-all of commitment.  In other words, we're faithful to each other, but sometimes we have sex with other people. However, that in no way violates our commitment to each other."'

Further, Savage suggests that "heterosexuals...should learn to behave more like homosexuals--and gay males in particular.  What this means is that they should re-examine their ideas about fidelity."  In other words, he believes gay men have figured out what works best in relationships, where monogamy is concerned, and straight couples should consider following the example set by them.  Based on previous posts I've written on this subject, you already know his advice doesn't sit well with me and my partner, Chris.  

According to the article, "...Dan Savage's many critics point out, it's absurd to suggest that heterosexual couples should behave more like homosexuals."  Andrew Marshall, in How Can I Ever Trust You Again?: From Infidelity to Recovery in Seven Steps, confirms this.  In his experience, '...infidelity doesn't necessarily work for gay couples, either.  "What tends to happen is that they have a don't ask/don't tell policy, but someone invariably ends up getting jealous.  Or else they have sex with everyone apart from each other and drift into a sibling relationship."'

(All quotes are from page B7 in the aforementioned article.)  


  1. I'm a 19 year old gay man and I completely disagree with Savage. That's awesome that him and his partner are very open minded and comfortable in terms of their non monogamous relationship and their lack of intimate and sexual fidelity, however, I feel very strongly that this sort of "relationship" is entirely based on the parties involved. I don't think it's fair for him to make such an outlandish generalization in regards to homosexuals and their (according to Savage) non monogamous behavior. Once again, I am a 19 year old gay man and monogamy is the only way for me.

  2. Kevin, I'm so proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself.

    It heartens me to hear from a young gay man like you, who recognizes that a non-monogamous relationship wouldn't work for him. That he expects more from his relationship and the partner he chooses.

    I'm not sure you've read other posts on my blog, particularly on the subject of monogamy as it relates to gay men, but my partner and I, who have been together now for just over twenty years, have been monogamous throughout. We would never even think about cheating on each other, let alone do it. It's just the way we are, and we strongly believe it's the only way to go.

    As I've suggested elsewhere, anyone who wants to play the field should forget about being in a committed relationship until he (or she) is prepared to settle down, including having sex with just one person (his or her partner). Otherwise, as far as I'm concerned, there's no point being in a relationship.

    I'm thrilled to hear from you, Kevin. I have no doubt you may feel some pressure at some time to be non-monogamous, but I sincerely hope you hold your ground and don't give in on something that's obviously important to you.

    All the very best, and thanks for taking the time to read what I wrote and to respond. I appreciate it.

  3. Hey,

    I just wanted to share with you this Article which underlines my view on the high percentage of divorce today in the western world, namely that it is because people are in a changing process in becoming more honest, gaining abilities needed to choose and upheld relationships. Because we are all learning one step is to be truthful and divorce if it s not working but in the end we all will be able to form more beautiful relationships because the "knowledge of society" or how you wanna call it, improves and so does the knowledge of the future Generation.

    The Article is:

  4. Hi, Anonymous.
    Thanks for bringing this article to my attention. I remember reading it some time ago, I believe in the local newspaper.
    It's heartening to know monogamy is on the rise, in general but especially for gay men.
    It's unfortunate the risk of contracting HIV, or some other form of STD, may have been the catalyst, but, if that's what it took to encourage gay men to clean up their act and favor true love over casual promiscuity, then so be it.
    I appreciate your interest in what I have to say and in taking the time to leave a comment.
    Thanks again.

  5. I co-lead an LGBT group at the high school I teach at. I've worked with/counselled LGBT youth for quite a few years now, and the overriding issue they talk about, especially the young gay men, is the fear of not being able to have a monogamous relationship. Of course there are fears of coming out, coming to terms with one's sexual orientation, and dealing with parents. But in particular, once young men acknowledge their orientation, there is the fear of never finding someone who will love them exclusively. It is a real fear because of the many stereotypes of the promiscuous gay life-style. Like you, I am a firm believer in monogamy in romantic relationships--gay, straight, lesbian etc. I deeply believe it is part of the human condition to partner off and desire sexual exclusivity. It is mentally, physically and spiritually the most healthy way to live.
    In doing research to quell some of these fears, I would speak extensively with one of my colleague who did his MA in gender studies at UofT in Toronto. One thing he made very clear is that Dan Savage is not an academic; he's not respected in gender studies journals, sexual health journals, or human sexuality research. He is a populist writer. Although his straightforward talk is somewhat refreshing, ultimately, he's a man with a mouth piece. Therefore, it is important to locate Mr. Savage in the category of "opinion" writers, and nothing more.
    The biggest challenge gay men faced for years was the inability to adopt or create a family of their own. Lesbian families understandably could hang on to the children they were having, gay men could not. It is a fascinating statistic that as soon as gay men could legally adopt and create their own families, as well as these families becoming "main stream" in terms of acceptance, all of a sudden rates of monogamy amongst gay relationships had a 32% jump increase.
    There are other issues at play rather than this tired old notion that men have this innate need to play the field. This is a myth, and is not supported in any sort of respected sexual health journal. The last thing I will say, is that monogamy is very much alive and well in the gay community and there is a great deal of facts, data etc. that support this.
    I greatly appreciate your blog and your life example.

  6. Wow! What a wonderful comment, AJ (I'll address you with that "name," because that's how you signed your email to me).
    I can't tell you how thrilled I am that you took the time to write in such detail. I don't know that I have much to add, since I plan to respond to your email as well.
    Suffice it to say, I agree with everything you've written here, and, despite the concerns young gay men have that they will never find someone to love them exclusively, please reassure them that is not necessarily the case at all. I have my partner, Chris, and I know of many other gay male couples who have been together for a very long time and, to my knowledge, are monogamous. It's just that you don't hear about them. They live their lives quietly and don't draw attention to themselves like the more visible segments of the gay community do (unfortunately, the ones that also perpetuate the negative stereotypes).
    Monogamy is out there, it's definitely possible, and I pray that gives the gay male youth you work with hope.
    Thanks for your interest in my blog. I sincerely appreciate it.

    1. Thank you very much for your e-mail. The last thing I will say is that self-esteem is consistently what we work on with the youth in our group. Not only for issues of monogamy obviously, but also for issues of suicide prevention. The personal link you’ve made between self-worth and the ability to maintain long term monogamous relationships is the consensus amongst mental health and sexual health practitioners worldwide. Of course there’ll always be populist writers, or peripheral academics who want to make a name for themselves by writing weird books on tantric sex practices “for the office”, or envision a Brave New World society of humans sexuality (no one belongs to anyone, everyone belongs to everyone). However, for the most part these writings have little weight.
      At the same time, it would not be safe to ignore the bandwagon that is mainstream media, and the strongly Conservative agenda to demonize homosexuality and gay relationships in general.
      I would love to read some of your own research on the issue of monogamy, gay sexuality and the human condition.

      Take care for now, and thanks again.


    2. Good to hear from you again, AJ.

      On the subject of research I've done on the issue of monogamy, gay sexuality, and the human condition, if you're referring to academic research, well, I confess I've done none of that.

      What I've had to go on instead–to arrive at the conclusions I have, resulting in the writing I've done here–is personal experience. This includes not only taking a good, hard look at my own life, and why I've gone through some of the things I have, but also observing a good many gay men over the years.

      So many times, I found myself shaking my head, wondering why they behaved the way they did, why they kept doing some pretty stupid things, why they made certain choices. And the only thing I could conclude was, they were no different from me (or I was no different from them); the only difference was, I made different (better?) choices.

      The insight was that I understood, from understanding myself better as a gay man, why they made some of the choices they did. I understood their motivations, their very real need to be validated and loved and made to feel they aren't wrong or evil or immoral, after all. In that respect, gay men are no different from anyone else. But what is different is how they ended up in that place, and I know all too well what that looks like.

      So, no academic breakthroughs here–just years of being me and trying to understand what it means to be gay in our culture.

      Thanks so much for your interest in my blog and for your comment. And good luck with your gay and lesbian youth group. My prayer is that their experience of being gay is much better than mine was (but my fear, from hearing from so many gay youth through my blog over the years, is that, all too often, this is not the case).

  7. Growing up as a young gay guy trying to reconcile my orientation with my values, and find hope for love beyond the stereotypes projected by an imbecile like Dan Savage, I've come to believe that he's done more to thwart the progress of rights of gay and lesbian people then many evangelical pastors.

    Dan Savage is an idiot. For anyone who has the courage to hold on to the hope of finding love, monogamy is key.

    1. You are not the first young gay guy I've heard from who places a high value on monogamy. I can't tell you how happy, and relieved, that makes me feel.

      I think many people have the impression gay men let all their values and morals go out the window because they're gay, but, of course, that isn't at all the case. Fortunately, there are plenty of young men, like you, who feel strongly about such things, including monogamy. The challenge is to continue feeling that way when you continuously come up against those who don't feel the same, while you search for companionship, commitment, and love.

      My best advice? Don't give up. And never settle. Monogamy has worked for me since day one, and I know it can work for you too. I love my partner, Chris, more than ever, and we've been monogamous for twenty-one years. I would never disrespect him, or what we share, by cheating on him, whether he knew it or not. Because, in my eyes, that's what having sex with someone outside of our relationship is–cheating–whether he knows about it or not.

      Thank you for continuing to restore my faith in the young gay man of today. You are the generation that will prove the promiscuous stereotype wrong.

      And thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I sincerely appreciate it.

  8. I've tried open relationships, and while on some level they appeared to work for me, in that I was glad to know that I wasn't 'holding someone back', in the end I realized that I was selling out. My current boyfriend and I are monogamous, and it's been a year. At 43, I found myself realizing that while I am attracted to other guys, I don't have a need to act on that attraction. It's not worth it. It wasn't so much worth it anymore after a while anyhow whether I was single or in an open relationship. I think ORs work for many people, and I respect that for them, I really do. I just feel that "insecurity and jealousy" aren't the only reasons that some guys want a physical commitment (as Savage attests). For me, I guess it's 'settling down', but that's kind of a boring way to put it. I simply want to share my life with my boyfriend, and that includes my body for sure. I don't have a desire to share my life emotionally or romantically with anyone else, and that has extended itself to mean physicality too. Thanks for defending monogamy. So few gay men are defending it these days, we get branded with the insecure and jealous labels so often. Having your cake and eating it too? Well, maybe some of us don't need to be eating so much cake!

    1. Wow! What a great comment, Simon. Your honesty is refreshing, and I appreciate your revealing specific aspects about your past experience and relationship.

      I've written a number of posts about monogamy and gay men, the gist always the same: I don't approve of open relationships, for anyone (although I realize I can't tell other people how to live their lives).

      What I can't wrap my head around is how one can say one's totally devoted to another human being–loves that person with his heart and soul, wants to spend his life with him, grow old together, etc.–yet has sex with other men. How can that make the one he's supposed to love feel anything but used and inadequate? How can that not marginalize the love that's supposed to be there, that special connection between two human beings? I don't get it. I just don't.

      I read somewhere that it's unrealistic for anyone, gay or straight, to think that one person can be everything to another person throughout an entire lifetime together. That may be so, but I don't think that's at all an excuse to seek more exciting physical pleasure with other people. That's life. So you're not sexually fulfilled with one person all the time. So what? Work with that person. Try to make both of your sex lives more fulfilling. That's the person you love. Show that person you love him in every way you can, including being exclusive. You owe that to each other, don't you? Isn't that called a relationship? It is to me. But I know I'm old-fashioned that way.

      Thanks for your comment.

    2. Well, the prevailing philosophy of The Ethical Slut is that love is infinite among polyamorous people the same way it is between parents and kids. If you have three kids, do you love them each less than if you had had four kids? That's how it works for these people. They extend that concept into romance, and some merely extend it into physical sex. The other philosophy is that two people opening up their relationship can bring certain people closer together, by sharing the acting out of fantasy play involving others... Assuming that all parties are on board with it. Again, I'm not promoting it, given I feel that this doesn't work for me. It's an unpopular belief system here in SF, and I'm certainly in the minority here, but I did lots of playing around in my 30s, and it got old and boring, just like sex with the same person can get boring. But I agree with you, I think sharing yourself only with your partner is important... Even if what you have to offer isn't the eye candy that appears and disappears like plastic bags in the wind.

    3. Thanks for the explanation, Simon, and helping me understand. Doesn't mean I've changed my position, only that I think I get what's going on inside the mind of someone who's in an OR and has sex with people outside of it.

      On the subject of how having sex with the same person can get boring, I guess my response would be–like it was in my previous comment–so what? Relationships are not just about sex. I get fed up with the hyper-sexuality characteristic of gay men in general. So our heads don't blow off our bodies every time we have conjugal sex? Too bad, so sad. Work on it together, then. And, if that doesn't work, think about everything else you have with that person. In the end, sex is only but a very small part of it.

      Life isn't just about sex, but try to tell that to some young male, gay or straight? He wouldn't get it, for sure. Give him time. He will. I hope.