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Gay Men in Open Relationships: What Works?

Hint: It will take a lot of work.

As a couples counselor working with gay men I am often asked my opinion on monogamy and open LGBTQ relationships. What works for men in long-term relationships? First, the research.

Several research studies show that about 50% of gay male couples are monogamous and about 50% allow for sex outside of the relationship. The research finds no difference in the level of happiness or stability among these groups.

Next, my opinions and advice, based on my therapy practice.

Talk About It Openly With Your Partner

If you and your partner want to have a close relationship and have additional sex partners, be prepared for a lot of talking. And I’m not just referring to discussions about when, where and with whom. I mean talking about feelings, what we therapists call “processing.”

If that kind of conversation makes you squirm, I understand. Most men are not socialized to embrace the sharing of intimate and vulnerable emotions. However, if you aren’t willing to experiment with processing then I suspect the closeness of your relationship may be limited, and you guys could be headed for trouble.

Remember Why You Want a Long Term Partner

Here’s why learning to talk about feelings is extra important in the context of an open relationship. Most of us enter into long-term relationships because we want to feel special to another person. We want that experience of being number one in the eyes of our partner. We want the comfort, satisfaction, support and meaning that can come from spending our lives committed to another individual.

Additional sex partners can be perceived as a threat to the safety we long for in our long-term relationships. Some of us may not feel threatened on a conscious level, but I believe most of us do feel it unconsciously. And in some manly circles, it is not cool to admit that.

So if you want the experience of an open LGBTQ relationship that works, you will need to continually tell each other how much you love each other, how deeply committed you are to the partnership, and how glad you are to see him. Lots of hugs and kisses will need to be exchanged.

Listen (For Real)

You will need to listen without getting defensive while your partner tells you about their moments of insecurity when you have sex with others. You will need to encourage this kind of sharing from him and to push yourself to express any of your own feelings of insecurity, vulnerability or jealousy when he plays with others.

You are not responsible for changing your partner’s emotions but you are responsible for listening to them and for making sure that your partner feels heard by you. Repeat back to him what you heard him say about his feelings so you both know if you really listened.

Define Your Terms and Stick to Them

Beyond feelings, couples must also agree on the guidelines of sex outside of the relationship. They need to talk about what kind of sex is acceptable and what is not okay. These rules will require negotiation. Again, lots more talking. A good book on this subject is called The Ethical Slut, written by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt.

The core actions of a successful open relationship are identical to those of a successful monogamous relationship: shower your partner with attention and positive regard, offer lots of physical touch, share your more vulnerable feelings, and listen well when he does the same.

These principles are easier to say than to do. They take practice and risk, with lots of missteps along the way. Monogamous couples can sometimes get away with avoiding this work and do okay. Not great, but okay. But couples in open relationships won’t do well in an autopilot relationship. To be successful in working through the inevitable hurt feelings, these couples need to lead the way on relationships based on intentional communication.

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18/08/2021 12:05 PM

Thank you for this advice! I’ve been approached by my husband about this – and I am researching stuff.

Reply to  Adam Blum
06/10/2021 5:36 PM

Thank you. I am in a relatively new inter generational relationship, which has another set of issues. We both think we want an open relationship and this gives us an idea where to start

22/01/2022 7:20 AM

This one I need you to elaborate on what you mean “ They need to talk about what kind of sex is acceptable and what is not okay”?

24/03/2022 6:24 AM

Thank you for this information, I am currently in a throuple and one of my partners wants to introduce opening our relationship, hesitations are inevitable. I am scared to be honest, scared of what it could possibly to do all of us, but also the possibility of making things amazing for us.

Reply to  Patrick
01/07/2022 11:08 AM

I am curious why a throuple feels the need to open the relationship. You already have alternatives to express different desires etc.

Jim s
Jim s
30/04/2022 6:49 PM

My husband of 22 years recently began exploring relations outside of our own (Grindr and OkCupid) without talking to me bout it. Once I uncovered the behavior, he stated he was not asking permission to sleep around and if I wanted to stay, I had to agree. We are both on PReP, but recently he changed the terms: he was supposed to talk to me about his trysts, but told me since we are both on PReP, he feels less obligated to do so. I told him that he was being selfish and now our LTR is on life support. I am so depressed and hurt. I feel thrust into this and cannot see how I can move forward with him. I appreciate what you wrote here.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jim s
Reply to  Jim s
01/07/2022 11:11 AM

Wow! I am amazed at the flippancy with which your partner treats your relationship. You had to agree? That seems forced to me. Were you really comfortable with it? It doesn’t sound like it. You were given an ultimatum. There is a problem in this relationship because he is unilaterally determining you have to agree then also decides to change the rules of the game that you are forced to accept. I’m not sure if your relationship has survived, but you may want to ask yourself if this is the person you want to stay with.

09/06/2022 1:38 PM

Hi. I am 26 and my husband is 38. We met when i was 19. And i ended up marrying my first boyfriend. So i feel like i have not experienced sex with different guys or played around a little as much as he did. Meet someone at a bar and go home with them or normal life experience. I feel like i just adapted to what our relationship was naturally. We both have talked about open relationship. A open relationship where we can have fun with someone every 2-3 months. Once off meet only. No contact afterwards. Keeping it a nsa basically.
My problem is how can we still make each other feel special or make each other feel like they are still good enough. I don’t want to feel like my husband will choose me long term over someone else purely because we know each other and we get along. I am more emotional than him. I still want to feel like “the one”

13/08/2022 6:37 AM

What about if the emotional connection is there but there’s no sexual chemistry in the couple? Does an open relationship works when sex doesn’t happen within the couple?

25/09/2022 3:15 AM

My partner and I have been together for over 16 years. I have caught him texting guys over a language learning app once, and more recently with a much younger guy that was also his student. No minor but a student. In both occasions he claims is just flirting and loneliness , seek for attention. The thing is I have been away for a year working in one of ours projects abroad, and also looking after my sick mother that passed away. Our sex life is almost non existent as he is not a very sexual person and has loads of internalised issues with his body. We are amazing as partners in anything else… he still promises me that he doesn’t want anything serious with anyone else. At this point I am so insecure and feel like the only way to forgive him is to make it like I have allowed it through a open relationship. He is said he will do what he needs to do so we are together. I am confused and hurt that he was saying to another guy things he says to me. There was no physical cheating, more emotional and this hurts me more. I am now trying to make a decision I am not sure I can see him with another for an open relationship but I can’t accept the lies also. All the loneliness claims are not always true because whilst we managed to travel and be with each other he continued to send pictures of places we’ve been together to another guy. We also depend on each other financially, as we are developing in a different country that was supposed to be our retirement home. Any help, advice or shared experience will be extremely appreciated. Thanks to all

06/11/2022 10:42 PM

I’m dating a guy for almost 4 months and at the beginning everything was so nice. Now he’s into 3somes and having sex with other people together. I feel is too soon to do all this stuff and makes me feel insecure.

04/01/2023 6:25 PM

I’m in an open relationship with my boyfriend. The rules that we’ve set for now are that we play together with a 3rd. We’ve done it. Zero hang-ups over it. Honestly, i find I appreciate and love him even more after a 3-some. It also helps spice things up and keeps them from becoming rote.

27/04/2023 7:06 AM

I have been in a relationship with 31 year old guy since last one and half year , we both got in the relationship cause we both wanted monogamy , last weekend he tells me he has been thinking of moving to open relationship since last 3 months but he was scared to tell me. He says our sex life is not that well and I replied it’s cause you don’t remove time from ur work and from ur friends . I am ready to have sex with you daily . We haven’t even tried different forms , roles to make our sex life more happening . He felt this after 9 months of our relation but he has been thinking on it. I don’t know what to do I love him a lot and I never wanted an open relationship, we don’t live together. And I am 40 years old.

01/01/2024 5:07 PM

Our relation still new and we share many great things but sex is none, we have talked about about it many times, I do not prefer open relationships but I am thinking on contemplating with his approval for the best as he doesn’t enjoy as much as I do and I don’t want anyone else to spend my life with.

08/03/2024 8:17 PM

My husband of 27 years will no longer have sex with me. However, whenever I am out of town, he has plenty of sex with other men. I saw it on the dog camera while I was on vacation. What can I do?

30/03/2024 7:27 AM

Thank you for the great article.

My partner of 11 years has cheated on me, and it seemed like he really liked the other person.
The excitement of a new sexual encounter is incomparable to the familiar intimacy of a long-term relationship.
When my partner started giving me the cold shoulder, I panicked because I didn’t want to lose him. I begged him countless times to not to leave me, he finally agreed to stop seeing the other person.

Communication has always been challenging with my partner.
He tends to shut down and avoid discussing anything unpleasant.

During one of our conversations (which I mostly led), I asked him if he had used a condom with the other person, and he said yes.

A few months later, my partner told me he had to stay in the hospital for a few days. When I asked what was wrong, he revealed that he had a bad case of Condyloma acuminatum in his anus and needed surgery to remove it.

I was saddened by the fact that he had hidden all the details of his treatment from me, including multiple visits to testing and clinics, and the fact that he hadn’t used a condom with the other person.

Despite everything, I still desperately wanted to be with him, fearing being alone.
I feel like my chances of having another relationship are slim because I consider myself physically unattractive and socially vulnerable.
I went to the hospital with him and prayed for the success of his surgery.

After a few years, well, today, I discovered that he was using a hooking up app.
…I’m more mad at myself than at him for feeling so desperate.
I always have anxiety about detachment and fear the breakup and being dumped more than anything else.
I’m struggling with these feelings, and I’m very sad.

Gay or men culture is often promiscuous, and sex can be fundamentally discriminatory.
Physical appearance holds ultimate currency in many gay social circles.
Toxic masculinity is frequently praised, creating a breeding ground for unhealthy relationships, especially for those like me who are socially vulnerable.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ken
Reply to  Ken
18/04/2024 2:38 PM

Ken, that just sucks. I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with that. I agree about our very looks-ist culture. I hope you have some close friends to confide in, who will remind you of your inherent worth and goodness. Sending you warm vibes. Hang in there.

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