Gerry North

Gerry North

MORE than 50 per cent of gay couples coming for counselling want to discuss having sex outside their relationship. Gay men need to negotiate this issue maturely, as having sex with others is a threat to any relationship – but not talking about it is an even a bigger one.

Having a monogamous ideal is fine, but keeping it all in a “not for discussion box” is like trying to keep a lid on our nature as gay men. I am not advocating that couples seek sex outside their relationship. I am merely saying it should be discussed so there is no confusion.

A lot of assumption takes place without this discussion. If both partners agree to a monogamous relationship that is great, provided they stick to it and there is the possibility to review it later.

One of the highest HIV contraction rates are with men becoming positive because their partner is having sex elsewhere and has unknowingly become infected. The virus is most virulent and silent when first contracted, so one partner does not know they are infected and infecting the other takes place. These cases and other STDs could be avoided with an honest discussion on an agreed sexual contract, which includes protection.

Usually one partner wants to open up the relationship more than the other, who could be struggling with jealousy or fear of losing their partner. However, more damage is done if lies and deception are in place. Nothing destroys a relationship more than secrets.

Finding out your partner has been fucking around behind your back when you thought you were in a monogamous relationship will cause huge emotional distress. Also, feeling like a fool for not knowing about it is psychologically damaging, especially when friends have known. With a well-structured sexual agreement in place and understood, this will not happen.

Surprisingly, most gay men deep down believe that other gay men will fuck around, but this does not mean their partners can do it behind their backs. When couples come to see me with this issue, I firstly congratulate them for showing respect for their relationship. Gay men are more realistic and honest about this issue than straight men.

Gay couples have many wonderful attributes: usually a shared property, pets, cherished common friends, loving inter-family connections, dreams for the future together and genuine happiness in each other’s company. It would be a shame to throw all this away because a negotiated agreement about the possibility of sex outside the relationship has not been discussed.

So when is the best time to sit down and negotiate an agreement? For beginning couples I suggest as soon as when they know they are in a committed relationship. For long-term couples things change over time, with once a monogamous understanding being replaced by one partner wanting to open it to sex with others. It is never too late to begin honest discussion.

Once the shock of the prospect of an open relationship has been dealt, there is now room to reinvent the terms of the sex relationship. It is time to negotiate what is acceptable and agreed to by each person. Strict rules of when, how often and under what conditions. Also, the notion that intimacy for each other on so many levels has nothing to do with sex with strangers needs to be fully understood.

What is interesting is that some couples, once they have opened up the relationship and try it, decide it is not all they thought it would be. They then enter an even closer relationship with each other and grow emotionally.

Having sex outside a relationship without a sexual agreement is one of its biggest threats. Negotiating what is allowed will prevent a lot of psychological pain, prevent STD or HIV infections, and help protect the nurturing elements of long-term relationships.

Typical Case Study

George and Sam* have been together for eight years and live together – but their sex life has diminished. George wants to open up what has been a monogamous relationship belief. Sam is not happy about this and found sex emails on George’s computer. He also suspects George is having sex when away on business. Sam wants to leave the relationship as he is hurt and confused. In counselling, George admits he has been having sex while away for the last year and this secret has made him feel dirty and unworthy.

I say maybe this is a wake up call and ask if they see anything positive about it. George says he is relieved to have told Sam about being unfaithful, while Sam says he finally knows and can now plan to leave George. I point out the mind wants that to happen, but does Sam’s heart have a voice? He admits he loves George but does not know how to forgive him.

Sam is jealous and scared of losing George, while George says he loves Sam but what can he do when he feels horny and Sam is not into it anymore. George also says it is just sex and he loves his life with Sam.

In the second session, we discuss intimacy and being intimate, and the difference with Sam understanding now that George will not leave him. I point out this is easy to say but they both need a sex agreement. The following session, they come with their own conditions about how often and where it will happen, not to see the person more than once, no texting, full protection, and even the possibility of a threesome if both fancy it.

Sam now feels better and admits his previous monogamous understanding was for the past. I insist they write down their agreement and both sign it. They agree to return for monthly sessions to make sure they are okay emotionally.

A six-month follow-up shows George has had sex three times while away on business and Sam once. They tried a threesome but it was a disaster. Overall, they now feel more connected as before Sam was feeling quite the opposite. We can now talk about ways to improve their own sex lives together, which requires both to get back in the boat.

*Not their real names

Gerry North is a gay couple counsellor and treats depression, anxiety, panic attacks and addictions. He tweets under @gerry_north and can be emailed here  and found online here.

Related: Matt Young writes about why he doesn’t like being a “mistress” and wants forever.

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