Would relationships endure - and be healthier - if they were non-monogamous, asks Alex Hopkins.

I always miss the best events. Earlier this year I was invited to a gay wedding. Now, I usually hate weddings, but this was one I wish I had been able to attend. No expense was spared: at the ceremony (in a deconsecrated church) one of the grooms - an artist - wore black, insisting all guests wore white. For the wedding reception (in an underground club), he switched to white, entering on a white horse. Guests were subsequently treated to a 1970s inspired cabaret show, while being served with poppers on silver trays (by scantily clad Latino waiters), which they could then sniff until they turned blue in a dark room.

But it wasn’t just the nuptials and festivities which were different - it was the ideology behind the wedding. Here were a couple making a commitment within the traditional heterosexual structure of marriage, but on their own terms, to suit their lifestyle. In the lead up to the wedding they created an art installation called ‘Something Blue’: a duvet and matching pillow cases with a full body shot of them holding hands in matching pyjamas. They then invited 144 guys to have sex with them and cum over the duvet. Talk about a powerful way of celebrating a non-monogamous relationship. 

It’s easy to make assumptions about why some gay men do not choose monogamy. The most common are that they are either scared of them or are just plain greedy. Men will be men, they say: they’ll hump a tree, given the chance. I’ve been quick to judge those in open relationships myself - without bothering to enquire about reasons for couples’ arrangements, which are invariably unique. In the case of the pair I’ve just mentioned, one partner had been a serial monogamist but had fallen in love with a man who was not. This prompted him to re-evaluate everything he had learned - and thought - about monogamy. “I believed growing up that monogamy was the only way that one could or even should have a relationship,” he told me. “But as I got older and met more gay men and women who were older than me and had more experience than me, I realised that the overwhelming majority of relationships that had lasted, unlike my parents, were open relationships in varying degrees.” He certainly has had no regrets.

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Growing up as gay men in a straight world, we’re offered very few relationship templates. The predominant one is the heterosexual, monogamous marriage - an arrangement, which is, historically, based upon women being traded as property, or, to put it another way: the sense of owning somebody - and, in sexual terms, the ownership of somebody’s body. This presupposes that a couple are - from the outset - entirely sexually compatible - and always will be. Reality is somewhat different: we know that sexual tastes change over time; people experiment; they may wish to include others. Perhaps what we should really be having then is a debate about the emphasis we place on sex – how we may idealise it. If we really love someone, would we want to limit their choices and experiences? In the words of one man who spoke to me: “How is taking away somebody's freedom an act of love? If the man you love is into being tied up and whipped, and you know full well that if you were to be the perpetrator of this tying/whipping it wouldn't be as gratifying for him as if some cigar-smoking Daddy did it, why not let him go off and have that experience?” Imagine what this could mean: more gay men entering into partnerships on the basis that, yes, they could still “play around”; an increase in longer, healthier relationships; and - best of all - a decrease in gay men moaning about being perennially single.

The cynic in me has always said that gay men are monogamous until something better comes along. And yes, I’ve been there: coasting it with someone, while on the lookout for a hotter number. In the cyber age we’re bombarded countless other options. It’s the age of mass connection, yet paradoxically mass disconnection; how meaningless these brief conversations, and often just as brief encounters can be. But while tech has perhaps widened that “revolving door” approach to sexual partners, it’s not, I believe, the cause of people not sticking with one partner. There have always been other options out there. It’s human nature to be attracted to more than one person, and it often takes considerable willpower not to act upon this. But what exactly are we achieving in resisting? Ideas of sacrifice and temptation buy into the kind of religious doctrine that tells us that sex is sacred - beliefs that, in many cases, have seeped into our psyches from birth. Scared of monogamy, or bold enough to challenge thousands of years of a power structure that has subjugated millions? The choice is yours...

Ultimately, perhaps what it comes down to are the ways in which we choose to compartmentalise sex and emotion. The couple whose wedding I missed have a very healthy stance on this: “We’re emotionally monogamous, which for us is far more important than sexual monogamy.” But this I’m told, takes work. It is, however, worth it, claimed a man who is now in his 30s: “I’m now enjoying sexual non-monogamy, and have never been more peaceful. I can make love and sleep with the boyfriend and have morning cuddles, but then when my pervy side strikes, I can go and seek that and it has absolutely no bearing on my relationship.” Sounds great in practice, but not so easy if you’re the sort of person – like me - who too easily equates sex with emotion; well, that’s a Catholic upbringing for you!

What do you think? Post in the comments below...




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Personnally i do prefer monogamy.... My first relation lasted 6 years and my second 25 years. I have no regret.

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Well, dear. We all know you like a big one!

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