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Wednesday 14 April 2010

Opening up about our open relationships

Posted in: Safe Sex, People
By Matt Akersten - 6th February 2010

Groundbreaking New Zealand research which confirmed what Kiwi gay and bi men have known for ages, that monogamy's not for every couple, is now being echoed in the USA.

The Gay Auckland Periodic Sex Survey, conducted every two years with input from over 2,000 gay and bi men, has consistently shown that sex with more than one main partner at a time is relatively common. Half (53%) of Auckland, and presumably New Zealand, men with a regular boyfriend-type partner of at least six months duration at the time of the survey also reported concurrent casual or regular partnering in the past six months.

"It would be interesting to learn more about the issues concerning sex with non-primary partners, such as how the individuals involved view the practice, and the discourses surrounding it in New Zealand gay culture," notes NZ AIDS Foundation Senior Researcher Dr Peter Saxton.

While it's tempting to suspect that kiwi guys must be more sluttish than our overseas counterparts, it appears to not be the case. Recent American research shows that around 50% of 556 male couples followed for three years in the San Francisco Bay Area had sex outside their relationships - with the knowledge and approval of their main partners.

But extra-curricular sex certainly isn't a topic we're comfortable talking about. As the New York Times notes in its coverage of the San Francisco study: "Of the dozen people in open relationships contacted for this column, no one would agree to use his or her full name, citing privacy concerns. They also worried that discussing the subject could undermine the legal fight for same-sex marriage."


Respected gay Wellington-based counsellor Bill Logan says he knows many male couples who have had completely monogamous relationships... at least to begin with.

Queer as Folk's Brian & Justin
"Mostly we start off monogamous, in the passions of limerant early love, but that state of high-intensity obsession can't be maintained for ever - something changes," he explains. "Some people just break up, and move on to another intense love affair. In other cases the relationship adjusts. One of the adjustments that often works for gay men is some sort of change in the rules, to allow some sexual activity outside the partnership.

"There is quite a serious American book dating from about 1984 called The Male Couple, by McWhirter and Mattison," he recalls. "It says that the gay relationships which are purely monogamous do not last as long as the ones where there is an acceptance of some sexual connection outside the relationship, within delineated boundaries. In their sample, not a single monogamous relationship lasted above about five years."

So people in open relationships create their own, unique rules of engagement. Perhaps they agree to only have sex outside their relationship when they're on holiday. Perhaps they occasionally share a sexual encounter with another person. perhaps extra sex is possible on a strictly 'strangers only' basis. And some will keep their experiences to themselves, while others will 'tell all' to their partner.

Brian and Justin on the American version of Queer as Folk had this arrangement: "You can fuck whoever you want, as long as it's not twice. And no names or numbers exchanged. And no matter where you are, no matter what you're doing, you always come home by two."

It seems the keys to a functional open relationship are similar to those of any monogamous one: Honesty, respect and safe sex. Apart from that, every couple is different, so make the rules that work for you and your partner.

Let us know what you think of open relationships and share your story on's Forum.

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Matt Akersten - 6th February 2010