Do Married Gay Men Care About Infidelity?

Swinging

Urban lore says gay men, committed or not, get as much sex as they want from multiple partners. Is it true?

Back when I was a little boy in rural Illinois, the ideas of “swinging” and “wife-swapping” were exotic concepts from society’s fringe. Free-loving hippies, infidels and over-sexed degenerates were the only ones that had sex outside of their marriages. Marriage was meant to be monogamous, and no sane person would give their spouse permission to indulge in frivolous sex with someone else.

By the time I was in high school in the early 1980’s, I knew I was gay, but I had no gay role models. There was no rule book on how to go out into the world and be an openly gay man. I was faced with trying to adapt the straight sexual values I had growing up. I just used the heterosexual rule book and changed the pronouns.

Either Don had cheated on Peter, or the two men had an agreement that they could have no-strings sex on the side.

After college I moved to the big, bad city and spent many years trying to build my own queer marriage and family manifesto. I learned to create my own rules. Since the gays weren’t allowed to get married or adopt children, it seemed natural for us to live our lives with no sexual accountability. One might say it was expected of us.

Back in the days, when I used to go to gay bathhouses for sex, my straight friend, Mark, was jealous.

“Man, I wish a bunch of women and men could get together in a building and just have all the sex they wanted like you gay guys can.”

I used to think to myself, “Yeah, and I wish I could get married and raise a family like you straight people can.”

♦◊♦

The end of the 1990’s introduced America to two entities that would change everything: home computers and Will and Grace. Of course, gay people and the internet were around before Y2K, but the popularity of these two things changed the dynamic of how gay people had sex. The popular television show gave us pride and mainstream visibility. It showed the straight world that homosexuality wasn’t so scary after all.

The World Wide Web made no-strings sex accessible without going to a seedy club. Finding a sex partner became as pedestrian as ordering a pizza. Hooking up via the Internet could be very hard to resist, even for the most seasoned couples. It seemed everyone was “doing it” more efficiently.

My friend, Walt, made a statement in 2001 that really surprised me. He said that his friend Kyle (whom I didn’t know) got a quick blow job from our friend, Don—a guy I had assumed to be sexually monogamous with his long-term partner, Peter. I always considered Don and Peter a gay super-couple: handsome, educated, financially comfortable and very much in love. It suddenly dawned on me that maybe Don and Peter were not monogamous. Either Don had cheated on Peter, or the two men had an agreement that they could have no-strings sex on the side.

I started wondering more about my other partnered gay friends and their commitments.

◊♦◊

Eric and Paul lived together, and I knew they had their own, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on sex outside the relationship. They both had no-strings sex with other men on regular basis. It was all okay, as long as the experience wasn’t important enough to mention. The only rule was no kissing on the mouth.

John and Robert didn’t have any rules about sex. The adorable twenty-something guys did whatever they wanted with other men and shared all the gory, sexy details with each other. I got the impression they liked the idea that their partner was hot enough to be sexually desirable by other attractive men. I could tell they loved each other and were good partners, but they thought it was a waste to be monogamous while they were still young and looked so sexy. They had lots of sex and carried condoms in their backpacks everywhere they went. It didn’t seem to hurt their relationship after five years.

My friend Pat was not quite forty years old and his partner, Matt, was thirteen years younger. They had very different sex drives: Matt was always horny and Pat was a twice-a-week kind of guy. I have a vivid memory of drinking a cocktail in a club with Pat and watching Matt make out and fondle another hot, young guy in his twenties. Pat didn’t seem to mind.

“It’s okay if he has fun every once in a while. It’s just sex and we still love each other. As soon as it’s ‘forbidden’ it’ll be a big problem,” Pat said casually. “He’ll probably get a blow-job in the car outside, and that’ll hold him over until I’m ready to fuck his brains out this weekend.”

My friends Randy and Jason take their sexual freedom to a whole new level. They added a third Latin lover to their household named Rolando. All three men were over thirty-five years old and lived happily together in a triad relationship that I’m scared to ask too many questions about.

♦◊♦

Although these examples fit the stereotype that homosexuals are over-sexual, there are still many gay people who have sex lives that would be considered low-key and more traditional. I have several friends who maintain their old-fashioned monogamous relationships with ease. Matt and Scot have been sexually exclusive for over twenty years, adhering to the vows they spoke at their commitment ceremony in 1993. They live in Los Angeles, and are very focused on their careers in the entertainment industry.

JR and Troy have worn gold wedding bands ever since I met them in 1994, but they skipped a formal wedding. They appear to have escaped all internet temptation as far as I can tell. (I would never ask them about their sex life). They have the house with the picket fence and are raising a son they plan to adopt.

I love that my coupled friends have all addressed their needs. The question now is whether or not the blooming of same-sex marriage in America will change how heterosexual married couples set their sexual boundaries. Are the gays going to give the institution of marriage a make-over?

One could argue that it is a slippery moral slope. But is it? Aren’t all the homophobes just assigning gay people the blame for what the swingers and wife-swappers have been doing for years?

Gay or straight, there is a big difference between cheating and swinging, and homosexuals didn’t invent infidelity. Remember: until recently, we were not allowed to be legally married anywhere in the United States. Our president might be in favor of same-sex marriage, but a sizable portion of the country still hasn’t caught up.

 

Photo by brainware3000

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About Dennis Milam Bensie

Dennis Milam Bensie grew up in Robinson, Illinois where his interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. Bensie’s first book, Shorn: Toys to Men was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award, sponsored by the American Library Association. It was also a pick in the International gay magazine The Advocate as “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011″. The author’s short stories have been published by Bay Laurel, Everyday Fiction, and This Zine Will Change Your Life and his essays have been seen in The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. One Gay American is his second book with Coffeetown Press, which was chosen as a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards. He was a presenter at the 2013 Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans and at the Montana Gay Pride Festival. Dennis lives in Seattle with his three dogs.

Comments

  1. My husband and I also saw a huge change in expectations for gay men, from when we were kids until now, and it’s affected what we expected from ourselves. Ideally, I hope that opening up standards will mean that someday, straight people who want bath house sex can have it, too, as well as gay families can marry and have children. It took us a while to work up to believing in marriage for ourselves. We’re polyamorous, but not because we have uncontainable sex drives. We both believe that multiple relationships make us more faceted, better fed, versions of what we’re capable of.

  2. OirishM says:

    Ok, I guess I can’t phrase this in a tactful way, but here goes.

    This is the second article I’ve read recently that talks about non-monogamous relationships where the advice basically boils down to “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

    To me that makes it sound like there are still underlying issues with the thought of each other being with someone else. If you have to effectively be in denial about what’s happening, isn’t that a problem?

    • I don’t advocate a DADT policy of sex outside the relationship. I present it in the article as an observation of my friends Eric and Paul; it appeared to work for them on some level. The interesting thing is they started this “rule’ back in the early 2000 when we still had DADT in the USA military.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    Once again another big problem with the article title, and I know that’s probably not the author’s fault.

    “Infidelity” means that someone is breaking the rules or breaking a promise. It’s only cheating or infidelity if someone is going against what he/she agreed to. If spouses agree to an open marriage or agree that other partners are a possibility, then it is not infidelity. You could say it’s not exclusive or say that it’s not monogamous, but that’s not automatically the same thing as infidelity. I can’t say someone is cheating unless I know what vows he took.

    My radical hypothesis: gay men are no more or less likely to be naturally monogamous than anyone else. Gay men, however, have been able to look at monogamous marriage from the outside and have been forced to confront society’s assumptions about sex a lot more than straight men have. Maybe, just maybe, gay men have a better perspective on what monogamy is really like as a possibility. They didn’t have as much pressure to pretend about how wonderful and natural monogamy is. Perhaps non-monogamous gay men are simply what straight men would be like if our society had a more realistic view about monogamy…..

    • I agree with you that “gay men are no more or less likely to be naturally monogamous” than are heterosexuals. But – and in my experience it’s a big but – if you are already, for whatever reason, placed in a situation where you’re outside social norms, and maybe even where what you’re doing is considered perverted, you’re maybe more likely to let go also of other social norms. In other words, if society is telling you “you can’t have a normal relationship ever with a same sex partner”, the pressure to conform with respect to monogamy (and other things) is a lot less pronounced.

  4. I hope I redeem myself near the end when I say “cheating and swinging” are two very different things. Absolutely no disrespect to my editor, but I originally titled the article “Is That Extra Marital Blow Job Worth Getting A Divorce Over?” Probably too much, huh?

  5. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    I’m a het who likes being married. During most of my current marriage I’ve been faithful, but it always has a sort of strained quality to it because I believe that I’m poly in the same sense gay people are gay. I use DADT, having tried open polyamory in marriage #1– but I don’t like the way the outside relationships take center stage in the primary relationship. I’m getting a little old for hi-jinks, having just had my 68th birthday. Most of my outside liaisons have been with women I’ve known for years before anything happens. I don’t like the bathhouse idea for me because I like having a relationship too. This arrangement is most workable with women friends I don’t see all that often.

  6. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    James Salter’s books often reveal the world from a het “secretly-poly” point of view for those of us who point in this direction. He had a nice interview on NPR this afternoon. If you want something morally uplifting, Salter is probably not where to go…but he describes a fifties and sixties that is deeper than, say, Madmen.

  7. David May says:

    What we learned in the 1980w while teaching gay men to play safely was that men would not change the sort of sex they had had before, but could usually be persuaded to be safer. So men who liked quickies continued to have quickies; those that preferred serial monogamy continued to be so; and the men (like me) that celebrated sex at every opportunity learned to do it in a way that would, we hoped, prevent the spread of the virus.
    Similarly, gay couples find their own way, often changing their arrangement over the years to suit their changing needs. I know monogamous and non-monogamous couples and see now relationship between their sexual arrangements and the longevity of their relationships. What I observe as problematic is rigidity. Couples that can’t morph their agreed arrangements to meet their changing needs inevitably break up.
    It is foolish to say that all men are or are not monogamous by nature. Different men have different needs. All men, and indeed not even all gay men, can be painted with the same brush. Gay couples may have the advantage of both being men and so might more easily find a common ground than straight couples would (or so one would guess.)

  8. My take on this is that, no matter your sexual orientation, there’s a lot of power in defining your own relationship. It’s just so much more satisfactory to sit down to sit down with your partner (or partners) and talk over exactly what kind of relationship *you* want, and then go do it, even if it’s unlike what everyone else is doing, I’d pick that approach every day over going one-stop shopping at the local church. The one-size-fits-all model of relationships was never attractive.

    Happily, this change has been going on for years. “Relationship”, “marriage”, and “family” come in so many versions now, and same-sex marriage is just another push in that direction.

    I’m not saying people should not be doing “traditional” relationships (whatever that means). By all means do that if that’s what you want. But I think it’s better for everyone if you chose how you want to do it – even if you want the traditional model.

    • If we can get past shame and be honest with our significant others about our wants, then this would be great. I prefer a monogamous, committed relationship — or as the author commented above, a “cookie-cutter relationship.” That is for me – what I’ve always wanted, and I’ve sought others with similar ideals about it. And that has worked wonderfully for me.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] and sex lives get lost in the hypersexualized and glamorized gay culture. That we even have to ask if gay men care about infidelity suggests our misunderstanding of gay men as a whole. But as couples, do we then acquiesce to the [...]

  2. […] of gay men and their relationships, it appears that much is written about wandering eyes or open relationships. It would make it seem that non-monogamy is the norm. But more attention is given to these open […]

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