Can you have all the sex in the world without sacrificing the intimacy of a significant other? A new study suggests the answer is: Totally!
While critics of open relationships remain cooped up in their studies, droning on about how humans will never be able to differentiate between love and sex, plenty of same-sex couples are demonstrating how open relationships can indeed be highly successful, perhaps even allowing each party to become closer to one another, more communicative, and more satisfied with their love-lives in general, especially when compared to their so-called “more faithful” peers.
A new study conducted by Christopher Stults, a researcher at The Center For Health, Identity, Behavior, and Prevention Studies at New York University, interviewed gay men and their partners, all of whom were in the age range between 19 and 43.
“We wanted to see how these relationships form and evolve over time,” he tells The Guardian, “and examine the perceived relationship quality, relationship satisfaction, and potential risk for HIV/STI infection.”
So far, his findings strongly suggest open relationships can be every bit as satisfying as closed ones; perhaps even more so.
“My impression so far is that [couples in open relationships] don’t seem less satisfied,” he says, “and it may even be that their communication is better than among monogamous couples because they’ve had to negotiate specific details.”
Based on his findings, being in an open relationships doesn’t increase the likelihood of contracting HIV, either. “To my knowledge, no one contracted HIV and only one couple contracted an STD.”
Of course, there’s a library’s worth of studies that contradict these findings. In 2012 alone, four studies from the University of Michigan found that people in monogamous relationships found the arrangement “overwhelmingly more favorable” than open ones.
(So perhaps those of us who need slightly less conventional arrangements should steer clear of the University of Michigan.)
Then there’s still the whole societally-ingrained stigma about open relationships so that civilization remains suitably snoozy. Couples like 26-year-old Hugh McIntyre and 26-year-old Toph Allen have chaffed up against that stigma firsthand.
“We’ve run into gay and straight people who have assumed our relationship is ‘lesser than’ because we’re not monogamous,” McIntyre says. “I think that’s offensive and ridiculous.”
The way to make an open relationship work is pretty much the same way to make any relationship work: Both parties must be open, honest communicators who fundamentally know what they want. Two golden rules: “Always tell the other person when you hook up with someone else, and always practice safe sex,” Allen says.
Brian Norton is a psychotherapist who works almost exclusively with gay couples, and an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s department of counseling and clinical psychology. He has a much darker theory as to why open relationships “work” with gay men:
“The experience of coming to terms with your homosexual identity can often be associated with emotional abandonment, shame and rejection,” he says. “So our experience with love and intimacy at an early age is often broken and compromised, so when someone tries to get close to us as an adult, defenses get close. It’s human nature to avoid revisiting feelings of abandonment, and open relationships may be a way of keeping a distance between another man.”
Not that people in open relationships necessary agree. “I feel a greater sense of connectedness with Hugh because I get to see him explore his sexuality with other people,” Norton says, “and I feel gratitude to him for giving me the same leeway.”
Of course, no relationship — open or closed — will work with a guy who’s a liar, unreliable, wishy-washy, or a glassy-eyed emotional vegetable.
Those should just be one-night stands.