Blake Spears and Lanz Lowen have been together in an open relationship for over 40 years, and in past columns I’ve reported on their in-depth research on the viability of long-term open relationships. In the past, they write, most research on gay male couples has shown that approximately two-thirds of long-term male couples who have been together for five years or more are non-monogamous. But they have just released a new study of younger gay men, aged 18–40, called “Choices: Perspectives of Younger Gay Men on Monogamy, Non-monogamy and Marriage,” which suggests that an historic change has been occurring in the attitudes and behavior of gay men in relationships.
“The most striking finding of this study,” they report, “is younger gay men’s greater inclination toward monogamy. We see this in the overwhelming number of relationships that are monogamous (86%). In addition, 90% of the single younger gay men were seeking monogamy. This is a sea change compared to older generations of gay men.” Even in a cohort of interview subjects recruited from the hook-up site Grindr, a whopping 81% of the 325 single men reported that they were seeking monogamy.
While there is an emphasis on monogamy, it is also true that many younger gay men are holding the concept more loosely. Many are now describing themselves as ‘monogamish.’ This term was originally coined by sex columnist Dan Savage, who used it to describe couples who may be perceived to be monogamous and who are mostly so, but not completely.
The researchers found that “the notion of ‘monogamish’ appears to be increasing, particularly as couples are together for longer periods of time. Interestingly, there is a dis-owning of the notion of ‘open relationships’ which younger gay men assume are wide open, whatever goes, relationships. Open relationships are associated with previous generations of gay men and are viewed as part of the previous gay culture that is no longer necessary.” Monogmish couples, by contrast, typically have an understanding that allows for some limited sexual contact outside the relationship. “75% of our 45 ‘monogamish’ respondents reported mostly having three-ways and always playing together as a couple. A few couples mentioned sex parties and bathhouses, but were clear they always played together.”
What accounts for these dramatic changes in gay men’s attitudes? Spears and Lowen identified two factors. First, “as younger gay men have the option of marriage and homosexuality becomes increasingly accepted, the traditional heterosexual model of monogamy and marriage become much more viable options. Younger gay men have the option of adopting the norms of the heterosexual majority and becoming integrated into the mainstream in ways that weren’t possible before. In this study, we see them taking advantage of those options in large numbers.”
Second, “Younger gay men are coming out much sooner and are much less likely to have the experience of ‘closeted sex’ or to develop the sexual patterns of previous generations where a great deal of emphasis was put on sex. One way to think about this is that younger gay men come to terms with their sexual orientation much earlier and get to experience their age appropriate adolescence as gay men. This was not the case in previous generations and it could be hypothesized that because of the furtiveness, the need for an underground sub-culture and the tremendous emphasis on sex, that previous generations of gay men tended toward prolonged periods of sexual adolescence when they finally did come out.”
Another interesting finding was that “we heard both monogamous and non-monogamous respondents complaining of the lack of support for their respective relationships. To the degree monogamy and non-monogamy can be more fully discussed in the community, the better. Both monogamy and non-monogamy are viable. Let’s provide enough information and adequate avenues for discussion, so that couples can make informed decisions. Furthermore, as a community, let’s stop proselytizing our preference as ‘the right way’ and demonizing that which we don’t embrace. We need to create norms in the community, where both monogamy and non-monogamy can be rationally discussed and considered. If we can do that, both monogamous and non-monogamous couples will feel supported by the larger community.”
Anyone who would like to read this fascinating new study can download it for free on the authors’ website: www.thecouplesstudy.com
Tom Moon is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. For more information, please visit his website http://tommoon.net/