The M Word

Perfectlyflawed asked about my specific views on monogamy. Adam also recently referenced an article on his own blog about the same subject. After doing a search thru my blog files, I realized I’ve only given partial answers on the subject. What better time than the present to put it into a post? I had to really condense it though. There are so many aspects that come into play in relationships however, I’m trying to keep the topic about monogamy.

First, let me list out a few axioms which I firmly believe to be true1 and represent the bulk of my argument.

1) Commitment and monogamy are not the same thing.
2) Intimacy and sex are not the same thing.
3) Men, by genetic disposition, are less inclined to bond emotionally with their sexual partners.

Just from the above mentioned ideas many often assume I am against monogamy. Not true. My argument is that monogamy is possible just not probable for most gay men. Big difference. I am against applying monogamy out of personal insecurities, irrational fear or as a form of control. We also often forget what works for one may not work for others. We project our own morals or ideals onto those around us. A very natural human trait. However, it is our reason that should save us from false ideologies. What works for one may not work for all.

If one looks at most species in nature, monogamy is not the norm. That is not to say it cannot be. There are some species that often form life-long bonds with one mate. Again, possible? Yes. Probable? No. Back to my little axioms.

1) While monogamy is a type of commitment, it is not all encompassing. The failed assumption I encounter is that you cannot have one w/o the other. IMHO, we get this concept from a paradigm designed for opposite-sex couples to propagate the species.2 And, considering we are bombarded with this relationship model practically from birth, it is no wonder many gay men fall into the assumption they too must follow the same model. Commitment to share your life with someone involves a lot more than sex. Sex can be a big part of that but by no means the only part.

2) While intimacy and sex can be very intertwined they are also not mutually inclusive. From my own perspective, intimacy often involves very non-sexual acts. I often find this to be a big issue for gay men. Out of loneliness, I think many of us are really searching for intimacy and using sex to get it. It can be hard to separate one’s desire or lust from the need for companionship and/or emotional fulfillment. Now throw in varying sex drives and you see yet another failed assumption.

3) Men as mammals have lower levels of the chemical in their brains that causes bonding with sexual partners.3 That is not to say all men have the same levels. Libido goes hand in hand w/this argument. For some, like myself, with a strong libido, sex is more of a constant need vs a random occurrence. For others who may have lower sex drives, it can relate more to intimacy vs carnal satisfaction. Neither is wrong or right just different. Now put the two together as often happens. Who’s needs should come first? The person with the higher or lower sex drive? Is it fair to ask one to do without because the other just isn’t interested? Well, if he really loved me, he’d be faithful. Relationships are supposed to be about mutual fulfillment, emotionally and physically, not one-sided controls.

What about the children?” Forgetting for a moment we aren’t talking about children, children shouldn’t be exposed to the sexual exploits of adults (regardless of sexuality) until they reach a level awareness that usually comes w/puberty. However, when children are involved one should be putting the needs of the children first. The rather obvious failed assumption here is that children only thrive in monogamous relationship models because it provides stability. Well, I guess the thousands, if not millions, of us who grew up in totally dysfunctional families can prove that little assumption wrong. How many of us grew up with parents who hated each other but stayed together for the sake of the children. The reality is children rarely grow up even in heterosexual relationships only being influenced by their parents. What about Uncles/Aunts, Grandparents, and family friends? All of these folks often play a vital role in the development of children. Children need love, acceptance, and support. It doesn’t really matter so much where it comes from as long as they get it.

Now figure in a variety of variables like a complete lack of gay role models, environment, childhood trauma/abuse, upbringing, religion,4 the stigma of being gay, etc you begin to see how really complex it can be. Is it any wonder we as gay men struggle to find meaningful fulfilling relationships?

Instead of creating labels, limits, and controls for relationships or prospective ones, we should take the time to be honest. First and foremost, we need to be honest with ourselves about our desires, drives, fetishes, etc. Forget what you think you should be or is expected of you and admit to yourself what it is that really floats your boat. Then comes honesty with your partner(s). If you can’t be honest w/yourself or your partner, you really aren’t ready for any type of relationship, open or otherwise. We often see the fallout from such lack of honesty thru “cheating”. Lets face it, if your needs aren’t getting met at home (emotional or physical) you often find it elsewhere. That or it manifests in other ways like poor health, depression, etc. Either way, you are doing yourself and your partner a disservice.

Here is where I sort of go off topic a bit. Open or closed, relationships are hard work. Many of us rush into relationships w/o really being able or ready to handle it. No shame there. Loneliness can be an ugly and bitter emotion. But to truly conquer it, we have to reach a level of self-acceptance and respect that is not always easy. We need to love ourselves before we can truly love another. We also forget, humans are fallible. We make mistakes. Love without room for forgiveness, isn’t really love but control. I can only love you if you do this or don’t do that. Sound familiar? And just because many men rush into an open LTR5 w/o taking the time to understand it doesn’t mean it is any worse (or better) than a closed one.

Does this mean you might find less prospective mates? Of course it does. But, you are finding less because you are refining your search to those better suited to you vs anyone who expresses interest.

Let the “oh no he didn’ts” begin!

  1. IMHO,they are documented fact but for some, them is fightin’ words! []
  2. This planet is suffering already from overpopulation so there is no real fear of extinction. []
  3. I know the name of the chemical but having a brain fart on how to spell it at the moment. []
  4. Actually, religion shouldn’t count because monogamy was added to most religions much later. However, religion does play a big part in how we get our view of relationships. []
  5. People often assume having an open LTR means a complete free for all. Relationships can be open or not in a variety of ways. []

21 thoughts on “The M Word”

  1. Excellent, well thought out and well presented post, my friend. We are of very like mind on this topic. What amazes me is the sharp divide between monog-minded vs non-monog-minded as if there can be only 1 right way. Every argument I have heard against open relationships are the exact same arguments used to discredit gay relationships in general by homo-haters. (Not a real/respectable relationship;not healthy;can’t last;sick;unnatural;etc.) In our ten years together we have been both unwaveringly, willingly, happily monogamous and openly playful and back again. We have never been jealous controlling men, and every decision about our sexual relationship has been entered into willingly, together, for reasons of curiosity, exploration and fulfillment and never to fix or avoid something. Our sex life is ours to determine and execute. I am sad when I read/hear how judgmental people can be towards those in open relationships. (we lost our best friends when they discovered we were no longer strictly monogamous). I also find there seems to be more acceptance when there is non-monogamy happening on the “down-low” so long as we are not honest about it. (Kind of like closeted men having gay sex secretly but living a straight life.) I respect and value monogamy and have practiced it for most of my life for various reasons, but I neither need nor require monogamy to make a relationships successful. What I need is a man I can trust and be honest with and who is willing to discover together what works for us. Your post really touched me and I thank you for your openness and honesty with such a touchy and volatile topic.

  2. I like what you have to say. Personally, I’ve had both open and closed relationships, and at the end of the day, I fall into the category of “People who used sex as a substitute for intimacy”.

    I’m in a good relationship, with an awesome guy, and monogamy is what we agreed on. It’s working, for us, for now. It’s about all I can handle (the bipolar thing factors in there for me), and it’s not how I think everyone else should live their lives. As long as it’s mutually agreed upon, go for it.

    And if it’s hot, take pictures, because I want to see. (Yeah. I may be in a monogamous relationship, but we are a pair of pervy voyeurs. 😀 )

  3. Sean ~ there are very few things in life I see as absolute black and white.

    I must admit, I do get surprised when gay men try to use the “moral” argument. Forgetting morality is completely subjective, most of the country still views us as an “abomination.” And many of my Southern ancestors used the very same “moral code” to enslave a whole race of people. Kind of hard to fall back on a moral structure that condemns your very existence.

  4. You sound like most gay men I know 🙂 Although, for me, I’ve always been monogamous. I also expect that when I’m committed with someone.

  5. you wrote “Children need love, acceptance, and support. It doesn’t really matter so much where it comes from as long as they get it.”
    that really struck a chord with me. I grew up the 8th of 8 kids in a staunch catholic family who only kept me because they had to. my dad despised his kids.
    if you love someone let them know.otherwise they will whither and die.

  6. Very well written and thought out, and I have to agree. Having recently left a monogamous long distant relationship, I don’t know next time if I would opt for either. The road you walk in life is heavily dependent on the choice you make. It’s your road, you can walk it how ever you want. Obviously, being gay men, the road already has built in obstacles. I don’t need someone pushing their obstacles in my way also. We are sentient beings, we have the freedom of choice.

  7. Wonderfully written. Very good points! I fall in the middle of the open/monogomous relationship thing. I enjoy the play together idea. I don’t want to worry about my man tramping around, but I do like watching the action and also participating in the festivities. We do it from time to time and really enjoy it, but we also enjoy each other. There is no doubt that either of us would have strayed at some point if we did not play together. We love each other and love being with each other sexually… it is totally HOT. But we also like to have some variety from time to time… Variety is the spice of life… so, while I am a little skeptical about completely open relationships ( I know couples who have them and have lasted very long), I prefer the play together… I don’t really know that I could do the complete monogomous thing either… just my opinion… in the end, we just have to do what feels right in our relationships and what feel comfortable for both parties…and not judge others for their decisions.

  8. Ah, so much I’d like to say on this subject.

    Actually, I agree with you – for the most part. My partner Mark and I are monogamous because (a.) we agreed to it and (b.) living in a small town affords very little in the way of promiscuity. That said, I often have the longing to connect with another on an emotional level instead of a physical one. I don’t think it’s fair to expect all emotional needs to be filled by one person alone. It’s too much pressure. I look (unsuccessfully) for a sense of camaraderie so in that respect, I guess I’m polygamous? [sic?] I long to forge more romantic friendships and more friendly romances with others whilst still keeping true to my commitment with my partner. It’s complicated, but it has nothing to do with sex. As you so rightly say, intimacy and sex are two very different things. Unfortunately, we don’t always see the difference.

    I guess it just boils down to this: I want to be loved and I want to love in return. Love is love. The form it takes is different, but it’s all the same thing. Why should that be limited to just one other?

  9. I’ve wavered back and forth on this issue my entire sexual life. I’ve never used sex as a substitute for intimacy. I’ve often used sex as an escape from problems. When I’ve experienced powerful intimacy with someone — both within and apart from sex — I am less inclined to seek escape.

    When I’ve been non-monogamous (and boy have I), the quality of intimacy in my primary relationships was poor. And so I escaped into endless sex with others.

    So here’s my personal challenge. To encounter a man with whom I can be intimate both in and out of bed. And from whom I have no instinct to flee. I’d be inclined to utilize monogamy as a tool for assisting the bonding process if it heps. But even then, if Brad Pitt walks in our bedroom, or in mine, or his, we’ll just have to deal with it as it happens.

    Seriously, though, I’d add to your analysis that men in general have significant issues with developing stable intimacy patterns and long-term commitment. As women tend to complement those issues, I’ve wondered if that explains the relatively more stable phenomenon of heterosexual relationships vis a vis gay male relationships. Indeed surface comparisons between M2M and F2F relationships is quite telling from that perspective.

    So when you combine commitment issues, intimacy issues, monogamy issues and bundle it all within in gay identity, you might be faced with quite a challenge.

    I’m always inspired by encountered gay men who succeed in building healthy relationships of any length — but particularly those that last 20 years or longer. It can be done.

    I’m also equally inspired by gay men who choose to construct a healthy solo identity and build their lives around friendship, family, and fuckbuddies.

    I’m currently in the latter group. But I wouldn’t mind jumping to the former group if I meet the right match.

  10. I have to agree as well. I think you covered the basic parameters pretty well. I especially appreciate “Commitment and monogamy are not the same thing.” But more than that, the bottom line that either you and your partner work with each other (meaning you put work into understanding each other) or you don’t. If you don’t, all the absence of outside sex won’t make it any better and neither will endless outside sex.

    Commitment is emotional. Sex is physical. There IS a connection between the two. But they don’t completely overlap, IMO.

  11. I thank you for writing such a well crafted and thought out piece on your views on monogamy. It was also very interesting to read all the responses to your post. While I don’t agree with your views on the subject, I do respect and understand them.

    For some people sex is just sex. As atari_age said “sex is physical”. For me sex is more that just jumping into bed with someone. It is an emotional and mental connection between two people. It is meaningful and precious. Its not something rushed. For me to be able to have sex with someone, that person has to ‘know’ me. My passions, my fears and all my flaws and I feel that person should be my partner. When I commit myself to someome, I commit mind, body and soul. How can I take one factor (body) out of that equation and share it with someone else? Then, am I truly in a committed relationship?

    The very idea of having an open relationship scares me. As I was reading Curtis’ comment, two questions popped into my mind. Doesn’t being in an open relationship leave room for us to form emotional bonds and real true feelings for others? Does this not in turn threaten the existing relationship with your partner?

    It is true that men are more inclined to bond on an emotional level. We do have commitment issues, intimacy issues and monogamy issues. But what do we do with those issues? Do we try to get to the root of them and really examine the reasonings behind the way we feel and the things we do? Or do we just say, “oh well, I’m a man, I’m just wired this way.”

    I believe in monogamy. It has worked for me and will continue to do so. I’m excited to see a relationship grow and mature and evolve with that said, relationships are so hard, and at times I can barely find the time and energy to make my relationship work with one person, much less if I were to introduce other people into the mix.

    In the end its all about being honest with yourself and your partner and knowing that whatever decision you do make, makes you truly happy.

    It was Robert Sternberg who said: “Passion is the quickest to develop, and the quickest to fade. Intimacy develops more slowly and commitment more gradually still.”

    I don’t want passion alone, I want commitment, love, trust and I found it all in one person, and I have no intention on sharing it with anyone else.

  12. Two things: 1) Correction: men are LESS inclinend to form emotional bonds. (re: my last comment)

    2) If I offended anyone with my comment I am truly sorry, that was not my intention. Moby I thank you once again for your honesty. I look forward to discussing more modern-day issues with you.

  13. When people are not getting their needs met, they usually hint to their partner many times before they feel “justified” in doing something about it. This is where many gay men fail their partners and cheat. I think most do.

    Personally, I wouldn’t be opposed to a relationship where my partner and I could occassionally play with a HOT out of towner. That could be a fun adventure we could share together. If others find my partner hot, then that turns me on. It makes me proud that I am with someone that others desire. I have witnessed others kissing my other half and perhaps more… and it’s so erotic. We say, “It cranks my tractor!” down where I am from.

    Now, I would never want it to be a weekly occurence… only reserved for special moments. The vision of the computer on Manhunt, disco music blaring, with the doorbell ringing every hour on weekends turns my stomach. That’s too close to Tina culture. And that’s not my thing.

  14. I also believe in monogamy. It has worked for me and will continue to do so. We have been together for 8 yrs and know each other better than than we know oursleves and we are very very happy. I really dont know what all the fuss is about. If you have complete honesty with each other in every respect then you should be able to have a fun loving relationship. I think there are way too many people out there trying to hard. They seem to spend more time nit picking about stupid little things. If its not broke dont try to fix it! If people spent less type setting limits and boundries and just got on with being happy, they might find that monogamy actully works for them too. And contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of gay people out there who are in monogamous relationships and are a lot happier than most of the gay single people who I know! I think if anyone has a problem with monogamy, then they obvioulsy have a problem with themselves. It is always better to start with ones own issues before criticising others for simply being happy! Everyone is different and always will be. You find what suits you and if it works then grab it with both hands. If it doesnt then stop blaming it on everyone else and start looking at those problems a little bit closer to home!

  15. This is so deliciously fun. I love these type of discussions. First, thank you to everyone for sharing in a respectful manner. This is always a touchy subject.

    If anything, the comments have already shown the wide range of views on the subject.

    Perfectlyflawed ~ first, you were not offensive only expressive. My appreciation for that. The tiny point of my rant that you seem to be missing is that monogamy doesn’t work for EVERYONE. You assume because it works for you that it MUST be the same for everyone else. That is where the assumption goes awry.

    We truly are diverse creatures. I understand and appreciate what you wrote about sharing and commitment with one person. From your description, maybe monogamy works for you. I support you in that.

    Just because you don’t understand another’s point of view or approach doesn’t make it wrong just different. If you think your stomach can handle it, register on my blog and I’ll bump your user level so you can see the other side of the post I kept private. Be warned, it is a bit graphic.

    Romach ~ Love ya. Many of your arguments can be used for both sides. I do have to take exception to one thing. You imply happiness is only obtained thru monogamy and that single people can only be happy in a relationship. Happiness comes from within not from finding a partner. While I do hope to find a new LTR eventually, I know some men who are single by choice and completely happy with that. Just felt the need to clarify with you on that.

  16. perfectlyflawed, I totally see your point.

    I can say this: It’s my *ideal* wish to be in a relationship where all things, physical and emotional, were so solid (due to our working on it, I assume) that the need to explore outside the partnership simply didn’t exist. The ideal is where you touch each other so deeply (read that any way you wish) that the strength of the commitment is unbreakable.

    And I absolutely believe that such a partnership CAN happen. It really depends on both people AND how they work together.

    In fact, in the best of times in my last relationship sex and love were absolutely intertwined. In the less good times, sex with someone else was… just sex. The former is better, IMO. The latter gets you by, and in moderation I don’t think it’s detrimental.

    It’s also possible that in that best-of relationship, there may yet be mutual interest in “playing around” or something. That’s something a couple has to figure out on its own.

    And all of this absolutely requires communication. If that breaks down, or one person holds back… then all might be lost in the end. And I’m a perfect example of that sad end result.

  17. Hey Moby,

    Wow. I’m going to say this is one of the best, and most refreshing posts I’ve ever read. I won’t spend several run on sentences agreeing with your assertions, as it’s pretty clear I do.

    A few points though that for me, are key. One, I don’t think monogamy is a natural state for any couple, though I do think it can sometimes be the best state for some couples. Resisting the narratives that we have been acultured into and have lived with is pretty difficult stuff, and I think for some couples an open relationship is perhaps too threatening.

    Two, your point on commitment and monogamy being separate and distinct entities is where I base my stance on this. Commitment with a partner is scared, it’s always at a higher pinnacle of our core spirituality. Sexuality can and does reach those levels, but it’s also something that can exist along a continuum. From a much needed anonymous raunchy fuck at the tubs, to the transcendent sex that we occasionally realize with someone we have reached deep levels of intimacy with. Since the binary is never clear, holding monogamy to a similar standard as intimacy and commitment seems self defeating.

    Commitment and intimacy don’t waver. Once you are there, you’re “in” for the long haul. From what I’ve seen in couples who are successful with open relationships, and in my own experience, this clear differentiation of two very separate but often combined dynamics is central to the success.

    I really enjoyed reading your insights Moby. Thanks.

  18. Hello moby, I understand totally what your are saying and I do also know loads of people who are single through choice and are very happy with that too. I was just making the point that in the gay world there seems to be so many people that seem to think that gay relationships cant last long. I have heard so many people say to us ” my god 8 yrs? thats a life time in gay years, whats your secret?” I just wanted to let people know if you meet the right person for you, then of course things can last a life time. I have had a lot more relationships than Eiain, some lasted long, some didnt and that was through my own personal choice and admittedly I was not unhappy when I was single. But when I met Eiain, and as soppy as it sounds I really did wonder how the hell I had lived my life without it him. Then when I fell Ill last year, it was the greatest thing to have him in my life even more because of the love and support he has given me also with my body falling apart the way it is. Like many who have already commented I just think that if you want to pin your heart totally on one guy then do as honesty is everything and if it works for you then go for it but if it doesent then look in to why it doesnt. I guess if guys are happy with open relationships and it works for them then thats fine but if one or the other eventually starts to feel arkward about it then talk about it and dont go down the road of trying to keep thinking its cool because you think you will loose the other guy. It really is the greatest thing to be excited to see the person you love return from work or just return from a night out etc. For me personally I love Eiain as much as I did when I first met him. I never knew love until he brought it to me for the first time. That again, maybe sounding soppy, but I love the fact for me personally that while I think other guys are sexy as hell, yourself and Adam included, I really love my life with just Eiain and I. I didnt mean to cause offence to anyone but just to let people know out there that Monogamy can work if its with the right person and if there is always complete honesty. If people find it isnt working then all I meant was if its not for you then still be honest with the other person about it. If anything the best friendships in the world can still be forged. But for any people that are out there and really do think relationships cant last long in the gay world because they find themselves always gagging for a nibble on a different plate of muffins, we are testament to the fact that they can. And it is in no way a bad thing. I find these past 8 years for me have been the most rewarding 8 yrs of my life. My spine and back my be crumbling to bits faster than what I expected but my heart is strong and still have a huge capacity to love and I love my man more than I can even begin to possibly explain to people. So wether single or being a couple works for you, just be passionate about what you want. Life is short and ya have to make every minute count. Passion can be everything you want it to be even if it is just with one person for the rest of your life. I hope I dont not offend anyone with these comments as it is not my intention. Our relationship is not perfect and we have had our highs and lows too but the bottom line is we have been having a ball and always will. I have thought this has been one of your best posts as it has really got people thinking and that is a great thing. I have always had huge respect for you Moby and I always will as you were my first blog and Twitter buddy. I read your blog everyday and I always love to read your thoughts and opinions. I think a lot of people can learn a great deal from your blog and I always point people in its direction. Discussion is a great thing and I am sure there will be many more on this subject and long may it continue.

  19. Spot on, Moby!

    Above, Curtis said something that resonates with me.

    Paraphrasing here, he said that expecting one person to be your everything is simply too much pressure. Your emotional, intellectual, sexual soul mate. And I agree.

    I was in a relationship for 21 years. The first 14 of those years were monogamous, and the last 7 were not. His self-esteem problems, and drug addiction problems (pot, painkillers) made him listless and unconnected, leaving me with emotional and sexual needs that were not met – yes, I should have left him years ago, but I thought he would change – I gave him so much time to improve. Did I mention he was unemployed for 10 ten years, giving him ample time to work on himself?

    What works for some doesn’t work for all. Substitute the word “Christianity” for “monogamy” – see what I mean?

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