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Having Kids Helped Me Embrace My Own Sexuality

By

Margaret E Jacobsen

My children’s first interactions around sex and sexuality are actually taking place in our home right now. I’ve worked hard to establish where we live as a safe place for them to grow, make mistakes and learn from them, and to inquire about life. It’s why I made the choice early on in their lives to make sure that they learned about sex from me and from their dad, and that in teaching them about sex, we taught our kids to be sex positive. As much as people warned me that the conversation around sex is awkward between a parent and child, I didn’t let the fear of being uncomfortable keep me from taking about sex with my 3- and 2-year-old children.

I’m sure that talking to a 3 year old and a 2 year old about sex sounds like it’s a bit young, but I feel like that’s because we’re so used to framing the sex conversation around the “birds and the bees” conversation. When I was growing up I never had that conversation with my parents and had to frame my own ideals about sex and sexuality through experience and age. I didn’t want that for my children, though. So I felt that a toddler age was actually a wonderful time to start talking to them about how to love their bodies and how to appreciate them. I felt like the intro into sex isn’t about diving head first into questions like “where does the penis go?” and “what is the purpose of the vagina?” I wanted to give my kids a foundation for understanding and respecting their bodies before I ever taught them how about the intimacy shared between two people.

Margaret E Jacobsen2

More than anything, I wanted my kids to understand as soon as possible how to love themselves, to understand consent, and to respect others’ bodies. I believe that sex positivity isn’t just about the act of having sex, it’s also about learning that the experience starts with you and will eventually (if you choose) include others.

By the time I was 18, I had disassociated myself from my body because of how my parents talked about it. now I had the chance to do things differently.

My upbringing kept me from understanding what sex was. My parents sex hidden, far above my reach. I was told we’d open that box when I was old enough, but only when I was was getting close to marriage. I found this strange — even at 10 years old. I would look sex up in the dictionary and in the encyclopedia. I often wondered what sex was and what was so special about it — why was it something only adults could understand? I’d hear my friends talk about boobs, about liking boys, and wonder if I’d ever feel comfortable enough to be naked around another person I liked. At the time, the thought horrified me.

I was uncomfortable with my body. I didn’t understand what was happening to it, or why I was suddenly getting hair under my armpits and on my vagina. My parents were constantly telling me to “be modest,” and I felt so much pressure and responsibility to look and behave and act a certain way. By the time I was 18, I had disassociated myself from my body because of how my parents talked about it. now I had the chance to do things differently.

Margaret E Jacobsen & kids

When I was 18, I was in love and I had sex for the first time. It was amazing, and I had no idea why I’d been so afraid and so ashamed. I was raised Christian and was taught to believe that sex before marriage was shameful. But after having sex for the first time, I didn’t want any forgiveness. I simply wanted to keep having sex, without feeling guilty because of it. After I’d gotten married to my then-husband and had two kids, I looked back on my own sexual experiences and realized that I didn’t want my children gaining their sex education from the world around them without some input from me. I didn’t want them feel ashamed of the fact that they liked having sex or pleasuring their bodies. I wanted my kids to know that they could always come and talk to me, that I would always support them.

I tell them dressing my body in things that make me feel confident makes me feel empowered, as if my body hold some kind of magic. They love that. So do I.

So I started to talk to them about celebrating their bodies when they were young. And because of that, I had deeper conversations with myself surrounding my own sex positivity. I had some sexual trauma in my past, which has always made it a bit difficult for me to grapple with wanting to be sexual and carving out safe spaces to practice having sex. I made changes in my personal life: I was more vocal with myself about my needs and wants, then with partners. It helped me shape the conversations I’d have with my children about how they can and should voice what they want, not with sex because that’s still a ways off, but when interacting with others. I wanted them to learn and understand the power of their own voices. I taught them to say, “No, that’s not something I would enjoy,” or “I would really like if we did this” in their everyday lives, knowing that these lessons will help them in their sexuality later on. We’ve focused on how important it is for them to speak up for themselves and to advocate for themselves.

Margaret E Jacobsen's kids

Another thing we do in our house is walk around naked. I used to shy away from showing parts of my body, like my stomach or my thighs. I have stretch marks and cellulite — both things I’ve been told aren’t “sexy.” My kids, however, could care less about whether or not my body is sexy enough, because they just like how soft my body is. It’s soft for cuddling and for hugging, two things that are very important to them. My kids move so confidently with their bodies, both with clothes on and with clothes off. My daughter’s favorite thing is to stand in front of the mirror and compliment herself. She’s actually inspired me to do the same. I’ve taken up the practice. They’ve seen me in some of my lingerie, and tell me it’s beautiful. They don’t know that lingerie is “just for sex” or that it’s something I should feel wary of other people seeing. Instead, I tell them dressing my body in things that make me feel confident makes me feel empowered, as if my body hold some kind of magic. They love that. So do I.

I watch them be confident in their bodies. I watch them say “no” strongly to each other, and to others, and most importantly, I watch them hear and respect each other.

My kids are 6 and 7 years old now, and we’ve talked about what sex is. The conversation has changed as they’ve grown up. They understand that sex is a beautiful act, one that mostly happens when people are naked. They don’t really care to know more yet, but I watch them be confident in their bodies. I watch them say “no” strongly to each other, and to others, and most importantly, I watch them hear and respect each other. As a person who is non-monogamous, I’ve shown them that sex and love are not limited to one person. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. In turn, my children have taught me to respect and be proud of my body. They think it is magic — and I agree.

Lately, the children have been exploring their bodies, which I’ve told them is fine, but it’s reserved for their alone time. I’m trying to make sure that when we talk about our bodies and about sex that we do so in an uplifting, positive way. I don’t want my children to ever question or feel any shame around their bodies or their wants. I want to equip them with the right knowledge so that they’ll be able to enjoy. Most of all, I want them to be happy.

Complete Article HERE!

A Brief History of Homosexuality and Bisexuality in Ancient China

By Zachary Zane

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Bisexuality and homosexuality in Ancient Greece is (relatively) well-documented and understood, but same-sex love and romance in Ancient China is a little more complex and speculative.
Still, there is recorded documentation of same-sex relationships in each of Ancient China’s many dynasties, and there are many things we know about how bisexuality manifested itself during those times. Similar to Greece, there wasn’t a strict divide between “gay,” “straight,” and “bisexual,” and in Ancient Chinese times, it’s believed that same-sex relationships were more commonplace.

To increase your knowledge of queer history, here’s some factoids about bisexuality and homosexuality from the time of Ancient China. (Unsurprisingly, many of the historic accounts of homosexuality take the form of stories/myths, so we’ll share some of those too.)

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Ancient Chinese Terminology

Let’s start with some Classical Chinese terminology, which is quite fascinating. There were two common phrases for men who engage in same-sex relationships in Classical Chinese, which are sometimes (though not often) used today: “The passion of the cut sleeve” (斷袖之癖)  and the “divided peach” (分桃).

Modern Chinese slang is equally as interesting, with Baboon (狒狒) being the literal translation of what Westerners call a bear-chaser and monkey (猴子) being the literal translation of what Westerners call a twink. 0 is also a symbol for bottom (0 is supposed to reference an anus) and 1 is a reference for top (1 being a symbol of the penis). So naturally, .5 means vers.

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The History of the Cut Sleeve and Same-sex Relationships and Intimacy among Emperors of the Han dynasty.

We can probably guess your response when you first read the term “the cut sleeve,” (Is it a euphemism for a circumcised penis?! What does it mean?!) but there’s actually a heartwarming story that explains it. Emperor Ai of the Han Dynasty who ruled from 7 to 1 BC took the throne when he was 20. He was very much known for his homosexual, proclivities, we’ll call them. One morning, Ai’s lover Dong Xian was still asleep in bed, lying on Ai’s robes. Instead of waking Dong Xian, Ai cut off his sleeve to let his lover continue to sleep peacefully.

But Emperor Ai wasn’t the only emperor of the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) that had same-sex sexual relationships. The Han records show that nearly every emperor that ruled during the Han Dynasty had same-sex lovers (10 of the 13) in addition to their wives and female concubines.

After the Han Dynasty, ancient Chinese people were more tolerant of same-sex relationships, assuming it didn’t get in the way of eventually marrying (a woman) and starting a family.

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The Tears of Lord Long Yang

Another passionate same-sex love story comes from Lord Long Yang who was lovers with the King of Wei. The two men were fishing, and together they caught an impressively large fish. Then, they happened to catch an even bigger fish, so the king threw away the first one. Suddenly, Long Yang broke out into tears. When the King asked him what was wrong, Long Yang replied that he was afraid he would be treated like the first fish. When the king found someone newer and more impressive, he’d be thrown away too. Moved, the King of Wei issued a decree stating that “Whoever shall dare speak of beauties in my presence will have his whole clan extirpated [destroyed].”

(Isn’t that adorable? I mean, possessive and nuts, but also adorable?) Anyway, that’s why “Long Yang” is a another reference to same-sex love in China.

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In Classical Chinese, the pronouns he, she, and it were written with the same gender-neutral character, tā (他). If only English learned from Classical Chinese, instead of differentiating gender with obnoxious pronouns…

Because of this, there’s more ambiguity with regards to same-sex relationships occurring in classical Chinese texts. Many stories can be read as either homosexual or heterosexual depending on the reader’s desire. Also, many ancient writings were written by men with a female voice (or persona), further complicating as to whether the work was intended to be heterosexual or homosexual.

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The switch of attitudes against same-sex relationships in the 19th century

Ancient Chinese attitudes towards same-sex couples were pretty relaxed (assuming it didn’t interfere with heterosexual marriage and procreation), but of course, that’s not the case with China today. It’s unclear what exactly caused the attitude shift toward same-sex couples, but many scholars credit modern China’s homophobia/biphobia and disapproval of same-sex relationships to the country’s adoption of Western viewpoints of homosexuality.

In the 19th century, the idea of the “modern homosexual” was born in the West, and with it, the birth of the “modern heterosexual” whose behaviors and sexual activities were opposite of the modern homosexual. It’s believed China picked up some of the new Western perspectives concerning homosexuality in the 19th century, which dichotomized sexuality, eventually demonizing same-sex relationships.

Complete Article HERE!

What Happens To Men Who Stay Abstinent Until Marriage?

by Sarah Diefendorf

Russell Wilson and his girlfriend Ciara

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his girlfriend Ciara arrive at a White House State Dinner in April.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his girlfriend, the singer Ciara, recently announced plans to remain sexually abstinent until marriage.

It was a vow that came as a surprise to many. After all, sexual purity is a commitment that is historically expected of, associated with – even demanded of – women. However, sexual abstinence is not something assumed of men, especially men like Russell Wilson.

Wilson, an accomplished, attractive athlete, embodies contemporary ideals of masculinity, which include style, wealth and, yes, sexual prowess.

So how does a man like Russell Wilson navigate a commitment to abstinence while upholding ideals of masculinity? Wilson’s status as an athlete and heartthrob is likely giving him what sociologist CJ Pascoe calls “jock insurance.” In other words, due to his celebrity status, he can make traditionally nonmasculine choices without having his masculinity questioned.

But what does it mean for a man who isn’t in the limelight, who makes a similar type of commitment to abstinence? And what does it mean for the women they date, and might eventually marry?

I’ve been researching men who pledge sexual abstinence since 2008, work that comes out of a larger scholarly interest in masculinities, religion and sex education.

While men make this commitment with the good intentions for a fulfilling marriage and sex life, my research indicates that the beliefs about sexuality and gender that come hand in hand with these pledges of abstinence do not necessarily make for an easy transition to a married sexual life.

Who’s Pledging “Purity?”

Comedian Joy Behar recently joked that abstinence is what you do after you’ve been married for a long time. Here, Behar makes two assumptions. One is that sexual activity declines both with age and the time spent in a relationship. This is true.

The second is that abstinence is not something you do before marriage. For the most part, this is true as well: by age 21, 85% of men and 81% of women in the United States have engaged in sexual intercourse.

purity ringIf we compare these numbers to the average age of first marriage in the United States – 27 for women, and 29 for men – we get the picture: most people are having sex before marriage.

Still, some in the United States are making “virginity pledges,” and commit to abstinence until marriage. Most of the data that exist on this practice show that those who make the pledges will do so in high school, often by either signing a pledge card or donning a purity ring.

Research on this population tells us a few things: that those who pledge are more likely to be young women, and that – regardless of gender – an abstinence pledge delays the onset of sexual activity by only 18 months. Furthermore, taking a virginity pledge will often encourage other types of sexual behavior.

Virgins In Guyland

But little is known about men who pledge and navigate this commitment to abstinence.

I was curious about how men maintain pledges in light of these statistics, and also balance them with expectations about masculinity. So in 2008, I began researching a support group of 15 men at an Evangelical church in the Southwest. All members were white, in their early to mid-20’s, single or casually dating – and supporting each other in their decisions to remain abstinent until marriage.

The group, called The River, met once a week, where, sitting on couches, eating pizza or talking about video games, they’d eventually gravitate toward the topic that brought them all together in the first place: sex.

On the surface, it would seem impossible for these men to participate in what sociologist Michael Kimmel calls “Guyland” – a developmental and social stage driven by a “guy code” that demands, among other things, sexual conquest and detached intimacy.

Rather, the men of The River approach sex as something sacred, a gift from God meant to be enjoyed in the confines of the marriage bed. At the same time, these men struggle with what they describe as the “beastly elements” – or temptations – of sexuality. And it is precisely because of these so-called beastly elements that these men find each other in the same space every week.

The men of The River grappled with pornography use, masturbation, lust and same-sex desire, all of which can potentially derail these men from their pledge.

It raises an interesting dilemma: to these men, sex is both sacred and beastly. Yet the way they navigate this seeming contradiction actually allows them to exert their masculinity in line with the demands of Guyland.

Group members had an elaborate network of accountability partners to help them resist temptations. For example, one had an accountability partner who viewed his weekly online browsing history to make sure he wasn’t looking at pornography. Another accountability partner texted him each night to make sure that he and his girlfriend were “behaving.”

While these behaviors may seem unusual, they work in ways that allow men to actually assert their masculinity. Through what sociologist Amy Wilkins calls “collective performances of temptation,” these men are able to discuss just how difficult it is to refrain from the beastly urges; in this way, they reinforce the norm that they are highly sexual men, even in the absence of sexual activity.

The River, as a support group, works largely in the same way. These men are able to confirm their sexual desires in a homosocial space – similar to Kimmel’s research in Guyland – from which Kimmel notes that the “actual experience of sex pales in comparison to the experience of talking about sex.”

A ‘Sacred Gift’ – With Mixed Returns

The men of The River believed that the time and work required to maintain these pledges would pay off in the form of a happy and healthy marriage.

Ciara, in discussing her commitment to abstinence with Russell Wilson, similarly added that she believes such a promise is important for creating a foundation of love and friendship. She stated that, “if we have that [base] that strong, we can conquer anything with our love.”

So what happened once after the men of The River got married? In 2011, I followed up with them.

All but one had gotten married. But while the transition to married life brought promises of enjoying their “sacred gift from God,” this gift was fraught.

Respondents reported that they still struggled with the beastly elements of sexuality. They also had the added concern of extramarital affairs. Furthermore – and perhaps most importantly – men no longer had the support to work through these temptations.

There were two reasons behind this development.

First, respondents had been told, since they were young, that women were nonsexual. At the same time, these men had also been taught that their wives would be available for their pleasure.

It’s a double standard that’s in line with longstanding cultural ideals of the relationship between femininity and purity. But it’s a contradiction that leaves men unwilling to open up to the very women they’re having sex with.

These married men and women were not talking to each other about sex. Rather than freely discussing sex or temptation with their wives (as they had done with their accountability partners), the men simply tried to suppress temptation by imagining the devastation any sexual deviations might cause their wives.

after marriage

After marriage, the men felt left to their own devices.

Second, these men could no longer reach out to their support networks due to their own ideals of masculinity. They had been promised a sacred gift: a sexually active, happy marriage. Yet many weren’t fully satisfied, as evidenced by the continued tension between the sacred and beastly. However, to open up about these continued struggles would be to admit failure as masculine, Christian man.

In the end, the research indicates that a pledge of sexual abstinence works to uphold an ideal of masculinity that disadvantages both men and women.

After 25 years of being told that sex is something dangerous that needs to be controlled, the transition to married (and sexual) life is difficult, at best, while leaving men without the support they need. Women, meanwhile, are often left out of the conversation entirely.

So when we urge abstinence in place of healthy conversations about sex and sexuality, we may be undermining the relationships that are the driving goal of these commitments in the first place.

Complete Article HERE!

Making a Marriage Work; A Primer For Sexual Success

I’m preparing a workshop for recently engaged couples. I expect there will be about a dozen couples attending. While most of the participants will be preparing for their first marriage, there will be at least two couples working on their second marriage. My experience tells me that regardless of how many turns one takes on the merry-go-round anxiety about sexual compatibility, particularly for the long haul, abounds.

One of the best resources out there for those considering a sexually exclusive traditional marriage is Esther Perel’s controversial book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic.  Her thesis is that increased emotional intimacy between partners often leads to less sexual passion. I’ve been preaching the same sermon for nearly 30 years. But I assure you; there are ways around this predictable stumbling block.

Here we have Paige, age 22 from Tulsa. OK.

I am engaged to a wonderful guy. I’m excited about my upcoming marriage, but I’m also afraid that it will fail. I know you are going to think we’re freaks, but my fiancé and I have decided to save ourselves for after we are married. Some of our friends even our recently married friends are having trouble with their relationship and with the divorce rate so high, what are the chances that my marriage will work? Do I just have cold feet or am I not ready to get married?

First off, I don’t think you’re a freak for reserving full sexual expression till after you’re married. It wasn’t too long ago when that was the norm. But even people who enter marriage as established sex partners aren’t assured success.

I caution you to jettison any Pollyanna notion you might have about marriage being a breeze, or that all you need is love. These are dangerous fictions. Your recently married friends have problems because there are always problems in a marriage. It’s the nature of relationships. Hopefully, the problems you guys will face won’t be insurmountable, but sure as shootin’ problems will be your constant companions, even big problems. So count on it and prepare yourself accordingly.

You can also be assured that the problems you will encounter, regardless of their nature, will impact on your sex life together. Money concerns, the stresses of a career, kids, in-laws, you name it will all influence how you perceive your spouse. Nothing dampens ardor like financial difficulties or meddlesome relatives.

So Paige, rather than focus on the nature of your sex life as you enter your marriage, may I suggest that you concentrate on the bigger picture. And in order to do that you need to ask; why do most traditional, sexually exclusive marriages flounder? They crumble because they can’t bear up under the strain of the couple’s expectations for each other. Simply stated, they want too much from their spouse. They expect companionship, economic support and family for sure, but they also expect their partner to be their best friend, confidant and passionate lover. That’s a pretty tall order to fill for a single individual. Who wouldn’t have cool feet, or even be frozen in place, faced with those daunting expectations.

A lot of engaged couples overly concern themselves with the sexual viability or their relationship. My sense is that sexual concerns, by themselves, don’t tax a marriage to the point of breaking. You’ll notice that I said, ’sexual concerns, by themselves’. While sex and intimacy issues are indeed real and sometimes overwhelming, it’s the underpinnings of the relationship that bring these sexual issues into stark relief. Let me give you an example.

Say I’ve just spent 60 hours this past week at work; I get snarled in traffic on my commute every single day. I drag my sorry ass home to a loving partner, who may have been looking forward to an amorous night of sex play. But I’m completely fagged out, so to speak. I simply don’t have an interest in the old slap and tickle. It’s not that I don’t love my spouse; I do! I don’t have the energy to even squeeze one off by myself, let alone please and pleasure my partner.

Or say I’ve been caring for a house full of sick, ornery kids all day; and freaking out about our family’s precarious financial situation. I have barely the time and energy to rustle together some grub for the brood, when my loving partner, who may have been looking forward to an amorous night of sex play, arrives back at the homestead with stars in his/her eyes. I’m exhausted; and the idea of a tussle in the sack is the last thing on my mind. It’s not that I don’t love my spouse; on the contrary. I just don’t feel attractive, interesting, or more importantly, randy.

As these examples point out it’s not that the sexual energy has flown the coop. More often than not couples who face the tribulations of life together redirect their energy into resolving more pressing concerns than gearing up for sex. The reason I know this for certain is, if I were to take this stressed out couple away from the humdrum of their day-to-day, and land them on a tropical beach without a care in the world; I know for certain they’d fuck like bunnies.

Another example, say a couple is joined at the hip; you know the ones I’m talking about. Where one or the other partner can hardly take a trip to the loo without their spouse traipsing along. Many couples think this kind of closeness is a sign of their love and fidelity, and it may very well be for them. But I can guarantee this kind of familiarity will also stifle sexual passion. The truth of the matter is erotic fervor is dependent on at least a modicum of mystery. If I know my partner like the back of my hand, I’m less likely to see him/her as a sexual object; in the same sexual way as when we were courting.

This also can be proven. Why is the chick at work, who I have virtually nothing in common with, such a turn on? How is it that my yoga instructor, someone I hardly know and who pays me no attention, make me wet? It’s the mystery or the forbidden that jacks up the sexual tension.

The way I see it is passionate sex is dependent on a good deal of sexual tension. This kind of tension dissipates with time and it takes a great deal of work to keep that tension alive. Most couples don’t invest that kind of energy; even though they may pay lip service to the notion that they want the passion to continue.

Intimacy, on the other hand, is dependent on domestic tranquility, in other words, the elimination of tension in the relationship; regrettably this also includes sexual tension. And since most couples desire intimacy over sex they choose (either consciously or not) the path of domestic tranquility. But the result can be the kind of sexual frustration so many married people report.

I’ve been to a lot of wedding; and I’ve officiated at more than I can count. I’ve helped numerous couples construct their vows. Generally the first thing they want to say to each other is something like: “I promise to be your best friend, your confidant; your constant companion. Sound familiar? I thought it might. What I never hear is: “I promise to always be up for all your hot monkey love.” Not only would that vow be a showstopper; it would be an impossible promise to keep, unless you’re a blow-up doll. Frankly, it’s so much easier being a best friend or confident than the sexual siren that will be the answer to all your erotic dreams after we’re married for a few years.

Sexual exclusivity is at the heart of the romantic ideal. That’s why sexual infidelity is such a bugaboo in our culture. But the truth of the matter is, sustaining a model where marriage is the font from which all fulfillment flows is simply unrealistic. Maybe if we expect sexual exclusivity from our spouse, we ought to manage our other expectations of him/her (best friend, confidant, etc.) more pragmatically.

I am of the mind that since more than 50% of marriages in this country end in divorce; we must look at the relationship model we are laboring under. Maybe the romantic ideal is simply an illusion. I mean we can’t honestly try to explain away the divorce rate by saying all these couples simply married the wrong people. Know what I mean?

The parameters of a healthy, successful marriage will need to expand and contract with the stresses put upon it; it is after all a living entity. The balance between dependence and independence will constantly shift; so will the power dynamic in the relationship. Carve these things in stone and you will be mark a grave, not milestones on a path to growth.

Good luck

Sleeping with other people: how gay men are making open relationships work

A new study says non-monogamous couples can actually be closer, even as critics of open relationships argue humans are unable to separate love and sex

Non-monogamous relationships can lead to a happier, more fulfilling relationship, a study found.

Non-monogamous relationships can lead to a happier, more fulfilling relationship, a study found.

By Spencer Macnaughton

Hugh McIntyre, a 26-year-old music writer, and Toph Allen, a 28-year-old epidemiologist, are in love and have an “amazing” relationship of two and a half years. One of the keys to their success: sleeping with other people.

“We wouldn’t change a thing,” says Allen, who lives in New York City with McIntyre. “We get to fulfill our desire of having sex with other people. We avoid cheating and the resentment that comes in monogamous relationships when you can’t pursue sexual urges.” Their relationship is not unusual among gay men. In 2005, a study found that more than 40% of gay men had an agreement that sex outside the relationship was permissible, while less than 5% of heterosexual and lesbian couples reported the same.

McIntyre and Allen say the strength of their bond is built on clear and open communication. And while that assertion will be perplexing or even taboo to many monogamous couples, a new study into gay couples in open relationships suggests that this skepticism is unjustified. In fact, the study says, non-monogamous couples can actually be closer than their more faithful counterparts.

In June 2015, Christopher Stults, a researcher at The Center for Health, Identity, Behavior, and Prevention Studies at New York University, launched a qualitative study of 10 gay couples in open relationships. He conducted 45-minute, individual interviews with each of these men and their partners, who ranged in age from 19 to 43.

The study, funded by the Rural Center for Aids/STD Prevention at Indiana University, had multiple aims. “We wanted to see how these relationships form and evolve over time, and examine the perceived relationship quality, relationship satisfaction, and potential risk for HIV/STI infection,” says Stults, who finished coding the interviews this week at NYU and hopes to have the study published early next year.

So far, Stults says his finding is that non-monogamous relationships can lead to a happier, more fulfilling relationship. “My impression so far is that they don’t seem less satisfied, and it may even be that their communication is better than among monogamous couples because they’ve had to negotiate specific details,” Stults says.

And open relationships “don’t seem to put gay men at disproportionate risk for HIV and other STDs,” Stults says. “To my knowledge, no one contracted HIV and only one couple contracted an STD,” he says.

But despite Stults’s findings, there’s stigma associated with these kinds of relationships. In 2012, four studies from the University of Michigan found that participants’ perception of monogamous relationships were “overwhelmingly more favorable” than of open relationships.

“Gay men have always engaged more often in consensual non-monogamous relationships, and society has consistently stigmatized their decision to do so,” says Michael Bronski, a professor in the department of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard University.

McIntyre and Allen say they’ve experienced the stigma themselves but that an open relationship is the most honest way for them to be together. “We’ve run into gay and straight people who have assumed our relationship is ‘lesser than’ because we’re not monogamous. I think that’s offensive and ridiculous,” McIntyre says.

So what makes an open relationship work? Participants in Stults’ study emphasized that success is predicated on creating rules and sticking to them. For McIntyre and Allen, two rules are key: “Always tell the other person when you hook up with someone else, and always practice safe sex,” Allen says.

For David Sotomayor, a 46-year-old financial planner from New York, sticking to specific rules is fundamental to the success of his open marriage. “They’re built to protect the love of our relationship,” he says. “We can physically touch another man and have oral sex, but we can’t kiss, have anal sex, or go on dates with other guys,” he says. “We attach an emotional value to kissing – it’s special and unique.”

But sticking to the rules isn’t always easy. Sotomayor has broken them multiple times, which has caused conflict. “It creates a sense of doubt of whether someone is telling the truth,” he says.

Critics of non-monogamous relationships argue that humans are unable to separate love and sex. “Sex is an emotional experience,” says Brian Norton, a psychotherapist who specializes in gay couples and an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s department of counseling and clinical psychology. “There is emotion at play, and even in the most transactional experience someone can get attached,” Norton says.

Further, Norton believes that going outside the relationship for sex can lead to emotional insecurity. “I think it is a difficult pill to swallow that we cannot be all things to our partners,” he says. “A relationship is a constant balancing act between two conflicting human needs: autonomy and the need for closeness,” he says.

But Allen thinks it’s more complicated: “It’s true that love and sex are intertwined, but they aren’t the same thing. Love is about so much more than sex. [There’s] intimacy, friendship, mutual care and respect.”

That gay couples are leading the way in sexually progressive relationships shouldn’t be surprising, according to Bronski. “Because they’ve been excluded from traditional notions of sexual behavior, they’ve had to be trendsetters and forge their own relationship norms,” he says.

Norton believes the facility with which gay men engage in open relationships may be related to a fear of intimacy. “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,” he says. “It’s human nature to avoid revisiting feelings of abandonment, and open relationships may be a way of keeping a distance between another man.”

But Allen says that being open has strengthened his relationship with McIntyre and brought the couple closer together. “I feel a greater sense of connectedness with Hugh because I get to see him explore his sexuality with other people and I feel gratitude to him for giving me the same leeway,” he says.

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