Don’t partnered homos live and breathe delicious irony just carrying out our sex lives?
Most ubiquitous is, the classic secret of gay life, found in so many officially closed couplings, theAre-you-discreet? types who don’t talk or deal with the issue of sex outside their relationship, but bang away with others under a shroud of silence. Glued together by a pretence that extracurricular sex is not happening, these gay pairs exist in a special kind of vacuum: “If I don’t know that he bones every boy he can, we are therefore monogamous.”
But secret tricks are for kids; it’s the flipside where things are more interesting, when couples choose to be open about the fact that they’re in an open relationship. Something kicks down doors to a slew of new adventures that can only be had by rising to the great challenge of honesty.
Honesty doesn’t mean drama-free, baby. In fact, it can mean more drama. So part of the deal of open relationships is learning to live with it, making feelings of jealousy an everyday part of the relationship. Then there are the couples who have long, honest, soul-baring discussions about… not talking about certain things.
“There’s a price to pay being in an open relationship,” says Sasha van Bon Bon, a columnist for Eye Weekly and local queer sex trendsetter. “That said, monogamy is definitely not a panacea.”
“I thought it would be easy,” declares Nuno, 40. (Except for Sasha, all the names have been changed to protect the sources’ privacy.) Nuno’s four-year relationship with his live-in boyfriend Charles, 38, has been open for two. “Most of the lasting relationships I know are open. I thought it would be all perk, no work. It’s not.”
Like Nuno, Charles thought opening their relationship would be simple, believing himself to be sufficiently emotionally mature.
“Until I found myself dealing with the new concept that the man I love could be making out, screwing and having fun with another guy while I’m home cooking our dinner,” says Charles. “Don’t underestimate the power of your imagination.”
When they first got together Nuno and Charles fully expected their relationship would open up eventually. But first Charles in particular needed to reach a place where he felt comfortable.
“When the time came, I was terrified to start a dialogue,” says Nuno. “I didn’t want Charles to think my wanting sex with other guys reflected on how I felt about him. I was this close to cheating instead. But that would be worse, would have hurt way more.”
Being honest can mean realizing and accepting that two people aren’t always on the same page sexually — having the freedom to fuck around can mean more for one person than the other; sexual jealousy isn’t always symmetrical. Partners have to trust that each person can explore their sexuality yet still maintain an emotional commitment.
Joe, 56, and Paul, 31, have been open since the beginning of their three-year relationship.
“We both knew we needed an open relationship,” says Joe. “I like the variety and I know I can’t always satisfy him. I’m also into a lot more kinkier stuff than he is. Why pretend?”
“In our relationship I like to be the top,” Paul says. “But when I’m with other guys I like to be submissive. Anyway, sex is everywhere. I don’t know a gay man out there who can honestly say that one cock, one ass is all they will ever need until they die. Men aren’t wired like that. We have our own sexuality; everyone should explore.”
Ryan and Andre, both 30, have been together for two years, open for one.
“Our sex drives are totally different,” Ryan says. “When I’m horny, I’m horny. We need different things at different times. We recognize that and it’s cool.”
Even if the urges and preferences are different, couples in open relationships often develop a shared philosophy that guides how they see sex, love and everything in between.
“You have to ask yourself: if you’re monogamous with your partner with your body but secretly resent him and long for another person, are you really being faithful? But if you go out, have recreational sex to blow off steam and come home still loving your spouse as your one-and-only, have you really been unfaithful? I say no,” says Andre.
Gita, 34, and Maureen, 40, decided to join the open-relationship circus in the name of their growing together.
“Polyamory is rare in our circle of friends,” says Gita, using the P-word queer women seem to embrace. “But we’re doing this for our relationship. I need to learn and explore my boundaries and when I can do that it makes me appreciate Maureen more, our romance improves.”
Men seem more inclined to stick to just sex outside the relationship, so much so that a big gay industry of bathhouses, websites and phone chat lines has grown up around it. Women don’t have those resources, but it also seems to be true that women can have different motivations for abandoning monogamy.
“We’re almost limited to the social circle we’re in, which is dicey,” Gita says. “I know enough gay guys who just fuck, names don’t matter.” But Gita says she needs an emotional connection with the woman she’s with.
Sasha agrees that women have broader interests: casual sex, yes, but also romantic fun times.
“They look forward to fun and flirty evenings where there’s a new line of passion in the air.”
Fun, flirty evenings of passion and sex. Sounds good. But then the couples haul out their own personalized version of the rules.
“Even if it gives you a really bad headache, it’s important to talk about every concern you might have going into this,” says Sasha. “It’s also important to know when to stop the incessant negotiations and get on with it.”
For Ryan and Andre, the number one rule is that sex has to take place outside the condo they share.
“That is our space,” says Ryan. “I don’t want to be working late at the office wondering if there’s a guy blowing his load on my side of the bed.”
For Nuno and Charles it’s about vetoes. “There are certain guys we’re not comfortable with the other sleeping with and so some are a no-no,” Charles says. “I have some friends who make it obvious they’d also like to play with me. It makes Nuno really uncomfortable. So I respect that and stay just friends with them.”
Over in Joe and Paul’s world, rules include only getting their extracurricular sex in bathhouses. They never meet guys individually on phone lines or web hook-up sites to avoid the possibility of recurring fuckbuddies — another no-no. “With us it’s just about the fuck, not the person,” says Paul.
That’s because doing so activates what is perhaps the biggest open relationship hurdle — “J” is for jealousy. It can fester despite any underlying intention of keeping the contact to just shagging.
“It would piss me off that Paul was having sex down the hall with someone else, especially if I was in my room alone,” says Joe. “So if we go to different baths, then I have no idea what’s going on with him. I don’t want to know, and I’m happy because I’m doing what I want to do wherever I am.”
Sasha’s advice with heavy feelings like anger or jealousy is to take responsibility for them.A lighthearted approach can work.
“I found that once I stopped giving a shit about how much better people were in bed than me, how much more creative and nicer looking they might be and all that, it had a huge impact on me.
“Don’t expect someone to stop reasonable behaviour — like an affair with someone you might feel threatened by just because they have a nicer ass than you — because you can’t deal with a situation. We have a really irrational fear of jealousy, like it’s the most treacherous thing to get over.”
Says Gita: “The times we’ve been with a group of girls I’ve gotten jealous when she’s been the one getting the attention. I don’t want to see my girlfriend getting hit on by another girl at all. But still, you do get jealous, and you will get jealous.”
For those who find corralling jealousy difficult, a kind of purposeful ignorance can be helpful. In the beginning Nuno and Charles were scrupulously upfront about what they’d each been up.
“That ended when one night I asked Charles how his evening was, and he told me the truth: Great, that two guys had banged him over the kitchen counter. Too much information — a visual I didn’t like.”
There are many things that can trigger the decision to have an honestly open relationship and making the big jump can be hard. Feelings are disclosed; rules are established. But it’s not like everything will run tickety-boo once the right set of rules are in place.
“Even when we’re walking down the street and pass by a trick, there can be a knowing look given to one of us and that’s always awkward,” says Ryan. “It’s fine to know intellectually that sex happens, but there’s no joy seeing who it happened with.”
Even though Ryan and Andre’s have agreed to restrict extracurricular activity to outside the home, there hasn’t always been 100 percent compliance.
“It’s better now, but for a while Ryan was really careless and inconsiderate,” says Andre. “Our lube suddenly disappeared one day. It insulted me that he thought I was that stupid I wouldn’t notice. Plus it hurt that he took from us to use with someone else. Or I’d go to do laundry and find poppers in his jeans. It’s like, put your fucking shit away. I also don’t need to find out you fucked someone by noticing your cockring on the toilet tank when I get home.”
Self-doubt can rival jealousy as an emotional obstacle. Says Joe: “There’s still sometimes the thought: Why isn’t Paul having sex with me? Why is he going after a stranger, instead of me?”
Indeed, with all the sex you might now be getting elsewhere, it could be easy to satiate your sexual appetite without ever including your partner. If you’re getting your rocks off with any guy you want, you can end up sexually ignoring the one person you purport to love.
“But we realized fast that this is about enhancing your sex life,” says Nuno, “not replacing your boyfriend.” He adds that while the excitement of sex with someone new is always appetizing, on the flip side the sex you can have with someone you know off by heart is a carnal opportunity unto itself that can only be achieved with that one person. “Which is really hot. But you have to maintain and grow that.”
Which, of course, means talking. Not necessarily about sexual adventures — though some couples get off on this — but about their feelings about certain situations.
“We’re always civilized. We talk about everything,” says Ryan. “Like the lube and the poppers and my lack of consideration before. Otherwise you hold stuff inside and it builds and builds.”
And though there’s no denial that the sexual adventures offered by an open relationship are a big part of the attraction, avoiding resentment and building honesty are part of the package.
“It’s not like I’m fucking all day, every day,” says Nuno. “But knowing I can without lying about it brings appreciation into my life instead of resentment.”