LGBT Couples and Open Relationships: Do They Work?
You’ve found that special person and you feel connected to them in a rare and wonderful way. But you don’t think that means no-one else should ever get their hands – or mouth – on your gear.
You want the best of both worlds – the warm familiarity of a loving partner plus the buzz of a hookup.
You’re talking about an open relationship.
What is a gay open relationship?
An open relationship is one where you and your partner agree it’s OK to have sex with other men.
It’s just about the sex though. Open relationships are different from polyamorous ones where you might be in a romantic relationship with more than one person at the same time. In an open relationship, you save the dates, conversation and emotional connection for your partner. The only thing you can share with someone else is your body.
How many gay couples are in open relationships?
Somewhere between 30-50% according to three surveys of gay men conducted from 2010-2020.
For straight couples, the rate of open relationships is thought to be about 4-5%.
So why are open relationships so popular among gay couples? There are probably many interconnected reasons including:
- The appeal of no-strings-attached sex with no shortage of willing partners
- A history of rejecting societal norms for relationships
- Seeing open relationships as the norm for gay couples – and perhaps feeling pressure to conform to a different kind of societal norm
- The impact of previous hurt and stigma which may make it harder to be emotionally vulnerable with someone.
Navigating a gay open relationship
If an open relationship appeals to you or if you’re wondering how to respond to your partner suggesting one, then you might be wondering how other couples make it work. What are the open relationship rules or the open relationship problems to avoid? Here’s our top tips.
1. Pause to consider your feelings
Open relationships are common in the gay community but you don’t have to do what everyone else does. What are your hopes and intentions for your current relationship? It’s not wrong to want an open relationship but neither is it wrong to want an exclusive one.
Perhaps the best thing you can do at the beginning, is think about it carefully and be honest with yourself and your partner.
2. Consider how it will affect the relationship
It could be great. It might give you both more pleasure, more adventure and more appreciation for one another. It might be a good way to give one of you a chance to explore things that aren’t to the other’s taste like bondage or fetishes. It might be an easy way to satisfy one partner’s higher libido while the other enjoys a quiet night.
Or it could introduce all kinds of new difficulties like insecurity, jealousy and deceit. What happens if one of you picks up an STI from a hookup and infects the other? What happens if it turns out that the sex is hotter outside the relationship? What happens if one of you finds a stronger emotional connection elsewhere too?
Talk these things through with each other before you open up your relationship. If you’re the keener one, don’t pressure your partner to agree to something they’re not ready for. And if you’re the reluctant one, don’t leap to a decision – give the idea a fair hearing before you decide.
3. Agree on the ground rules – and honour them
If you’re both comfortable with an open relationship, then it’s time to set your ground rules. And they are yours – no two couples handle this exactly the same way.
You might consider:
- Who you can have sex with – are friends and colleagues off limits?
- Where can you do it? Is it OK to bring someone home or is that just for the two of you?
- What can you do? Be really specific. Is oral OK but not anal? Or will you have an ‘anything goes’ policy? One rule should be that you will always wear a condom to protect you, your partner and your hookup buddy.
- How often can you do it? Trouble can arise when one partner assumed that sex outside the relationship might be only if you’re away on business or no more than once a month while the other person thought it was OK to hook up as often as they liked.
- What will you tell each other? Some couples share pics. Some have a strict don’t ask, don’t tell policy.
- How will you treat your hookups well? This is not all about you and your partner. There are potentially many other men involved here too. They’re real people, not disposable toys. How will you ensure you’re treating other people well? At the very least, that involves wearing a condom and being honest about the fact that you’re already in a relationship.
- How will you nurture your relationship? Your relationship should be your priority. How will you and your partner continue to support each other emotionally and satisfy each other physically? What will you do if the open relationship doesn’t seem to be working?
4. Review regularly
Maybe agree to review after the first 3 months and regularly after that. Are the rules working? Are they too strict or are there new situations you haven’t covered? Did you both honour them or not?
5. Always, always, always practise safe sex
It’s not great to break any of the rules you’ve agreed with your partner about an open relationship. But it’s deadly serious to break the rule about practising safe sex. Always wear a condom. If you get carried away and forget this basic rule, then always get tested for STIs.
HIV can’t be cured but it can now be prevented with a drug called PrEP. If you’re in an open relationship and therefore at higher risk of exposure to STIs, including HIV, then it may be worth starting PrEP to protect yourself.
PreP can be ordered online from within Australia through PreP Health. Get started here.
Do gay open relationships work?
Yes, for some people. No, for others. The question is, will it work for you?
We’ll leave you with this thought from Mark, an American in his 30s in an open relationship:
I think if both people in a relationship can look at the hottest guy on Grindr and say, “You know what, I’d rather be at home on the couch watching the worst YouTube video with you,” you can make the open thing work. But if there’s a hint of jealousy in your relationship already, tread lightly. Don’t try to force an open relationship. If it doesn’t happen naturally, I don’t think it’s ever going to feel right
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.