Many same-sex couples I see wonder about monogamy or opening up their relationship. It can be confusing trying to grapple with what it might mean for them.
For some couples, monogamy feels just right. And it doesn’t fit with others. Monogamy is often seen as ‘the best way to be’ or the ‘gold standard’ of relationships. Given that many affairs and betrayals are being reported, one must wonder: is monogamy the ‘gold standard’?
Some couples want monogamy but they don’t feel good within it. They battle with boundaries which they find too narrow. If you think monogamy is the best way to be and you don’t feel good about it, you could develop shame and think ‘it’s my problem’, ‘I’m the bad one’ rather than thinking: ‘let’s review our monogamy boundaries’.
What Monogamy really means?
Entering in a monogamous relationship is an important and big decision. Some couples seem to ‘fall into’ monogamy without giving much thoughts. It is important to be very conscious about why and how you choose monogamy. It is also you and your partner’s responsibility to define all the boundaries of your monogamous relationship, not society, not your friend, not anybody else.
Monogamy is different from one couple to the next. How does monogamy work for you? Is watching pornography an act of infidelity? Is masturbating to a fantasy that doesn’t include your partner cheating? Is sexting without the intention to meet in person straying? Is flirting permissible?
With each of your boundaries, you can also ask yourself the question why? Are those boundaries value-based? Some people hate pornography because it doesn’t fit with their religious faith, for example. Or are those boundaries fear-based? You don’t want your partner to flirt because you’re afraid they might like the other person better? Or perhaps you refuse to use a sex toy because you fear your partner might like it better than sex with you?
Monogamy can feel good: it is where we feel safe and secure. It is where we can have a solid base. But the other side of it is that couples can often fall into the ‘care-taking’ role for each other: when the sexual energy disappears to prioritise the love: it is when couples report that there is no more sexual desire. Some couples report being ‘best friends’. Others identify a parent/ child type of care-taking role. This happens across the board with heterosexual couples, gay male couples and lesbian couples. It is important to nurture the love in a relationship but without making your erotic space second class.
What are the right questions?
If you want monogamy to work, first you have to be very clear and explicit and mutually agree your boundaries: ‘how is monogamy going to work for us?’
The other aspect of this topic is internalized homo-negativity. Some people don’t want to do what ‘other gays do’ because they harbor subconscious homo-negativity: to distance themselves from being gay, which they perceive as overly sexual, they may prefer the conservative marriage.
When thinking about your relationship, don’t fall into the binary thinking of ‘monogamy or open relationship’. There are many other ways. The term ‘monogamish’ coined by Dan Savage means to be monogamous most of the time with a little consensual non-monogamy on the side that is clearly agreed upon. For some, it is a great way to enhance their relationship and loosen up the strict monogamy rules.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you think about the relationship that you want:
1- Do you want to have sex with others?
2- Do you want your partner to stay faithful to you?
3- What is your greatest fear about consensual non-monogamy?
4- What are the benefits of monogamy?
5- What are the benefits of consensual non-monogamy?
6- What are the messages that you picked up from childhood and along the way on your adult life about what constitutes a ‘good and healthy’ relationship?
7- Can some of those messages be challenged? Or do you agree strongly with them all?
8- Do you want to be monogamous because you don’t want your boyfriend to have sex with others? Or you don’t want to have sex with others?
9- What are the commitments to yourself? What would make you happy?
For the couples who consciously choose to be monogamous, it doesn’t mean that they are not allowed to have sexual fantasies about others. Playing with sexual fantasies can enhance a monogamous relationship. Monogamy is a very valid way for gay people to be in relationships. But it is important to know for yourself how to be in monogamy. Exclusivity in sex is a complex concept and needs clear conversations with your partner.
Whatever you do with your relationship(s) is not wrong or right. All relationships status are just as valid. But it is important to be fully conscious over the choices that you make. Making subconscious choices now is the very thing that can make you terribly unhappy in your relationship years later.