Why bother with sexual exclusivity? So many gay men ask this question, given all the attractive guys and erotic experiences out there to enjoy.
But I think the allure of sex without limits leads a lot of us to too easily reject monogamy as just a puritanical, deprivational, outdated construct, ignoring that it has something powerful to offer us: the possibility of developing a deep bond with your significant other by shutting the door to distractions and making a commitment to collaborate on keeping sex between the two of you interesting.
And while multiple partners are the easy (and fun) fix for sexual boredom, we’re apt to go for non-monogamy without considering the cost. Opening a relationship frequently leads to hurt feelings, jealousy and distance, no matter how carefully we go about it. And when hot times can be so easily had, why put sustained energy into keeping our primary relationship interesting?
It’s true that non-monogamy is attractive to people of all genders and sexual orientations, but several factors make it almost irresistible for gay men: our general ease of finding willing partners, the tendency to pursue sex separately from emotional intimacy since we didn’t get to date and discover romance growing up, our tendency to define ourselves by our sexual desirability and conquests, our lack of role models and also homonegative feelings many of us absorbed that can lead us to disrespect our partners and sabotage our relationships.
Another universal appeal of non-monogamy: sex with a long-term partner is different from the thrill of hot sex with a new man. It leans more toward closeness and connection and less toward sizzle. Because of all the hype and glorification that sizzle gets in the gay world and in our larger culture, many of us don’t know that it’s unavoidable and normal for sex to change in this way over time, nor do we see the warmth and attachment of long-term sex as “hot.”
As a result, we’re apt to believe that something is wrong when the passion and intensity of sex simmer down. When things get monotonous, we wonder: “Is it because I’m getting older? Is my partner no longer attracted to me? Is my sex life pitiful compared to the fun my friends are having?”
To feel better about ourselves, we’re likely to start looking for the high of a new experience. Meanwhile, we don’t consider the possibility of developing something different but pretty wonderful with the guy who’s been right next to us for a long while.
There’s a popular myth that great sex should just happen automatically without any effort. Truth is, if you want to maintain a passionate sex life with your partner, you do have to work at it, just as you must put forth effort for so many things to go well in life. You need to find ways to nurture romance and affection. You need to find ways to keep sex interesting. Rather than lying around waiting to be “turned on” by your partner, you have to take responsibility for igniting your own desire.
We’re all human; the easiest route is always tempting, including when it comes to sex. And gay men are especially vulnerable to being hijacked by the allure of multiple sex partners. The monogamy route can be difficult and more work. It can also be a path to rich connection, and to desire that transcends simple physical arousal and is also stoked by emotional intimacy.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in gay couples counseling and individual therapy in Washington, D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.