Perhaps no word in relationships, including those between gay men, is as incendiary as “cheat”: slang for a person in a relationship who has sex with someone outside of that relationship in a way that too often frequently results in feelings of anger, betrayal. , and disappointment in the remaining partner. However, some would say that this dynamic simply borrows from an outdated heterosexist paradigm, where a “helpless” woman, dependent on her husband for economic and social support, is “despised” by a womanizing man unable to control his lustful desires. , and she can only regain status and dignity by punishing the man in a bitter divorce and alimony agreement.

In gay male culture, however, more variations on the monogamous relationship are common. A 2002 study in Lawyer The magazine reported that only one-third of gay male couples are sexually exclusive (Advocate Sex Poll, 2002), and that the AIDS epidemic has not changed this basic statistic from years past. Many circles of gay male friends would casually suggest that this percentage is much lower, with a common phrase like “Do you know no gay couple who is really monogamous?” Perhaps this somewhat cynical perception is correct.

Legendary psychotherapist Michael Shernoff, LCSW, who has been an author, teacher, and therapist specializing in gay men’s issues in New York City for over 30 years, wrote about “Negotiated Non-Monogamy and Male Partnerships” in a recent article for the academic journal, Family Process (Vol. 45, No. 4, 2006, pp. 407-418). Shernoff offers a possible explanation for nonmonogamy in gay male couples in that it is related to gender: that men tend to be more oriented toward a recreational approach to sex than women. She cites researcher Michael Bettinger, who suggests that this trait may be genetically embedded in males because it is evident in all human cultures throughout history. In addition, he cites author Dominic Davies, who suggests that men may be better able to separate love from sex in their minds, and that gay men (already challenging heterosexist notions just by coming out) develop their own system of values, rejecting “patriarchy”. and the capitalist notion of a partner as a possession”.

Shernoff classifies gay male couples into four subtypes:

1) the sexually exclusive (monogamous) partner;

2) the sexually non-exclusive but unrecognized partner (“cheating”);

3) the primarily sexually exclusive couple, also known as “modified monogamy” (those who perhaps engage in occasional threesomes or group sex together);

4) recognized non-exclusive sexual partner (open relationship), and

5) non-sexual domestic partners. It describes how for some gay male couples, “fidelity” is defined by the emotional primacy of the relationship and by following any rules the couple has agreed on about how sex should manifest itself outside of the relationship; while “cheating” does not mean sex outside of the relationship, but breaking established rules, such as having unprotected sex outside of the relationship when it was agreed to use condoms, or having sex locally when it was agreed that they would play with others only while traveling.

Very often in my psychotherapy practice, my gay male clients discuss various concerns about meeting their sexual needs, including the gay couples I see. These couples describe how, while their emotional commitments to each other are strong, some yearn to fulfill a sexual need that is outside the desires or even the capabilities of their primary partner. This tension leads the couple to marriage counseling to explore the issues and identify some options to resolve their dilemma.

Others are in counseling because the relationship has been damaged by one or both partners “cheating” on the agreed-upon monogamous arrangement, and seek help to understand why sex is desired outside. Sometimes this can be due to power dynamics or unresolved emotional conflicts between partners, while other times, perhaps more commonly, it is just a natural male desire for sexual variety after the initial arousal that characterizes relationships. predictably declines.

In identifying possible options, much of the discussion revolves around how each partner is influenced about sex early on by the teachings of their family of origin, culture, religious upbringing, and past relationship experiences. , and exploring how the two members of the couple differ in these areas. Understanding how each partner reached their conclusions about preferences, desires, and fears regarding love and sex is a first step in identifying what new options might work as the couple seeks to make changes that lead to emotional satisfaction and additional sex.

To explore non-monogamy options that feel safe and minimize jealousy or threatening feelings, we assess the overall relationship, including things like housework, work life, finances, routines, shared hobbies, health issues individuals, friends and social support. and relationships with “in-laws.” Next, we explore each member’s view of the couple’s current sex life: the type, frequency, duration, sexual roles, and levels of satisfaction.

Next, we brainstorm each partner’s fantasies that lead them to consider wanting to open the relationship to outside partners, including what activities are desired and why, and characteristics of desired partners (race, size, etc.). , complexion, age, even “endowment”). ” or “sexual style”). Positive fantasies of desired activities are considered along with the fears each partner has about exploring options, such as jealousy, fear of abandonment, personal safety, risk of HIV/STD and even practical time management on how to play with others while still saving free time to share activities in the relationship.

Part of the job is to assess whether the couple is ready to consider a non-exclusive arrangement. Author J. Morin (In the family, Flight. 4, p. 12-15) has suggested that a gay male couple is prepared to adjust to nonmonogamy as long as

1) both partners want their relationship to remain primary;

2) have established a reserve of goodwill;

3) there are minimal lingering resentments from past hurts/betrayals;

4) partners are not polar opposites on the issue of monogamy;

5) partners feel equally powerful/autonomous as equal partners in the relationship;

6) each partner has friends and support besides his partner,

7) partners have an above-average tolerance for change, confusion, anxiety, jealousy, and other uncomfortable feelings; Y

8) the couple is just sexually bored but very secure and loving with each other. When these items are mostly satisfied, you can begin a safe exploration of options.

The next step in the counseling process is to discuss the proposed ideal scenario, a time to start the new arrangement, and a set time to evaluate, discuss, make changes, and re-evaluate the arrangement. The final step is to have each partner fill out a written exercise called Outside Sex Contract Agreement. After some time to experiment with the new arrangement, perhaps a couple of months, the couple evaluates their experiences and makes additional changes if necessary, each partner being careful to respond to the other’s concerns to preserve a sense of security and safety. privacy. and trust.

Once these steps are completed, the couple moves forward with the confidence that they have overcome the conflict related to external sex with open and safe communication and the confidence that the love they share is safe, as they embark on exciting changes that lead to greater fulfillment and satisfaction. in the relationship of each of them – without more “cheating” dynamics that detract from their quality of life.

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