Last month I wrote that I wanted to give up being a slut as part of my quest to secure a stable relationship. The emails that flooded my inbox after the piece came out ranged in sentiment from utterly shocked (“Won’t you cease to be Chris Dupuis if you stop being a slut?!”) to knowingly condescending (“I knew eventually you’d grow up”) to backhandedly insulting (“Maybe you could work on being less of a narcissist?”).
I wasn’t surprised by any of these comments since I’ve made so many public declarations about my sexual politics and practices. What did catch me off guard however, was the automatic assumption that nearly everyone made about the type of relationship I’m hoping to have. I said I was tired of being at the bathhouse all the time. I said I wanted the deeper sexual connection that an ongoing relationship brings. I said I thought my constant search for different partners might be preventing me from finding the special someone I’m hoping for. I never said I wanted to be monogamous.
The fact that so many people assumed I was looking for an exclusive relationship got me thinking about the nature of sexual monogamy and its position in the gay community today. Gay men have always fallen outside the mainstream and so during the last sixty years we have had to construct our own concepts about what relationships and sexual fidelity mean. Certainly in the early days of our uprising, those of us labelled as freaks and perverts often claimed the title with gusto; why try to fit the conventional relationship mold when your relationship will never be accepted by the mainstream? Even today, most of the older gay couples I know are happily in open relationships and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Among younger gay men however there seems to have been a pronounced shift in how we want to construct our relationships. With an overall increased acceptance of queers in society it seems like more and more of us are hoping for our own slice of the mainstream pie. Gay marriage, gay adoption, partner benefits, and protection from discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act have left many of us feeling more welcome within the general population than those who came before us. As a consequence we’re often more interested to fitting in with the values of the mainstream. While the last generation of queers found power in reclaiming their marginalization by refusing to fit conventional molds, younger gays are tending more and more to want the exact opposite. Now that there’s a place for us in society we want to take it; white picket fence, 2.3 children, and fucking only one person for the rest of our lives included.
A lot of younger gay men also perceive monogamous relationships to be safer; if you’re only having sex with one person you can avoid the chronic fear of contracting HIV that comes with fucking around. I’ve had a number of friends in their twenties (several of whom that are legally married) who’ve expressed an incredible sense of relief in finding a lasting relationship, specifically for this reason. As one succinctly put it “Now that I have a husband I never need to worry about getting AIDS again.” I hate to be the bearer of bad news boys, but being married doesn’t mean you’ll never contract HIV.
A friend who works at Hassle Free (and asked to remain anonymous) told me that “many” of the new cases of HIV they see there among MSM are with guys who say they’re in a monogamous relationship. Of course in this case “monogamy” means that they’ve stopped using condoms and one or both of them is still fucking around and probably not using condoms for their extracurricular activities. After all, once you go bare it’s hard to go back.
While I understand the desire to fit in, especially having spent so much of my life as an outsider, as well as the fear of HIV that goes with sleeping around, I simply can’t conceive of having a relationship with someone who expects me to never fuck anyone else. To me this represents a completely different understanding of the nature of sexuality. While sex and love are deeply connected for me, they are not irrevocably tied. I have sex with guys I love and I have sex with guys whose names I don’t know. The experiences are different and both have their unique pleasures. While I hope to have the majority of my sexual needs fulfilled by one person, it’s irrational to expect him to deal with every desire I have.
I’ve had a number of long-term open relationships and a few key rules have made them work:
1. Sex with other people is fine. Relationships with other people are not. Suck whatever dick you want, but the minute you go for coffee with that dick, you’re crossing the line into a different and problematic territory. Similarly, don’t start fucking one of your existing friends (or one of mine).
2. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. If you went to the bathhouse last night and had sex with three or four guys, I don’t need you to come home and tell me all about it. However, if I ask you what you did last night and you say something like “I went out for a bit” and I pressure you for more details, you are at liberty to spill the beans on your evening of debauchery.
3. The best sex I have must always be with my boyfriend. Regardless of who else I fuck, the person I’m in a relationship with will always provide me with something I can’t get anywhere else. After all, if I’m going to commit to a special someone, he’s going to have to be pretty fucking special.