The idea of open relationships and monogamy continue to be a tricky topic in the LGBTQ+ community. For some, it devalues the importance of monogamy and undermines the effort it took to legalise gay marriage.
Others dismiss it as a permissible way to cheat on your partner.
But do open relationships really threaten to disrupt what we’ve always known and understood about dating and intimacy? Or is it the concept of monogamy that we need to put under scrutiny. Does it still have a place in modern queer culture?
Rob, like a growing number of LGBTQ+ people, is in an open relationship. He says in the past he felt “trapped” by the idea of being in a monogamous relationship. Rob always wondered if – when it came to sex – he was missing out.
For him, being in an open relationship means he’s able to be in the most honest relationship possible. He and his partner talk regularly. Physical contact with someone outside the two of them is agreed upon in advance. Failing that, they tell each other about it afterwards. Essentially, everything is on the table.
“People ask me why allow my partner to cheat on me, but cheating, by definition, is doing something dishonest. Asking this ignores the understanding my partner and I have of our own relationship,” says Rob.
It’s a similar story for Pasha. He’s happily married to his husband and emotionally committed, but they’ve agreed to be sexually open.
Pasha and his husband have been open for their entire relationship
“We’ve been this way since we first got together. We both liked the idea of sleeping with other people. We talked about what it would take for us to feel safe and loved. It still works for us 6+ years later.”
Because he’s married, it’s common for people to assume that Pasha and his husband are using the label of an open relationship to disguise the fact they’re unhappy in their marriage. But he assures me this is far from the truth.
“I always make it clear to other guys that they’re my second choice. As soon as my husband is home, I’m not going out with anyone anywhere,” says Pasha.
“I always make it clear to other guys that they’re my second choice”
“Monogamy works for some LGBTQ+ people, but not everyone is going to be happy in the same relationship.”
Lana is “happy” knowing her partner has a relationship with another person
At the core, communication and respecting your partner’s needs and desires appear to be the key to making open relationships work. And for Lana, who identifies as pansexual, her need to feel free is why she’s chooses to be in an open relationship.
“I get very insecure and bored in committed, monogamous relationships and if you meet someone and fall for them, why limit yourself?” She says.
Her partner already has a ‘primary partner’ and all three people involved have a unique dynamic. Her relationship can’t take time away from her partner’s main one and clear roles have been outlined. While it might not work for everyone, it works for them.
“What people don’t realise is that my relationship with my partner is one thing, and his relationship with his partner is another. It’s none of my business. I’m just happy to know she exists and leave it at that,” Lana explains.
Rob would like more people to explore open relationships
With so many moving part at play and no two relationships the same, where does this leave the concept of monogamy? “I guess the question should be whether monogamy is relevant for anyone, not just LGBTQ+ people,” says Rob.
“Many people struggle to ignore their desire for other people and we all know someone who’s been cheated on. I just wish people were more open to saying monogamy doesn’t suit them and not be ashamed of it.”
“Many people struggle to ignore their desire for other people and we all know someone who’s been cheated on”
Similarly, Lana explains how the notion of monogamy has meant in the past she’s felt rushed into committing to one person or pushed into getting serious with someone too fast, leading her to be unhappy and feeling stifled.
“Why is there such an expectation that you’ll get together with one person and then go all the way? Do people ever stop and question it or do they follow this routine without thinking?”
But being open isn’t for everyone
That said, not everyone within the queer community is quick to denounce the idea of monogamy so soon. Anna, who is in an exclusive relationship with her girlfriend, believes monogamy has a vital role in modern queer culture because of the common misunderstanding people have of LGBTQ+ people being sex focused.
“Being LGBTQ+ doesn’t automatically mean you want multiple partners”
“The stigma is definitely projected on gay men and bisexuals primarily, but not all of us want sex all the time. Sure, some queer people do but, so do straight people. Being LGBTQ+ doesn’t automatically mean you want multiple partners,” Anna explains.
It was when she was active on the dating scene that Anna realised being with more than one person wasn’t suited to her. “I did date a lot of different people at the time, but I noticed it didn’t make me happy at all,” she confesses.
Open relationships require “trust, maturity and understanding”
Just like all other aspects of queer culture, what suits one person isn’t going to suit another. Open relationships require a great deal of trust, maturity and understanding from everyone involved.
“I think being in a polyamorous, open or non-monogamous relationship can actually prove really healthy. It encourages partners to think and talk about their boundaries and emotional needs without any of the societal expectations,” says Lana.
But will open relationships ever become the socially acceptable? That remains to be seen, but there does appear to be a slight shift in acknowledging they exist at the very least. Many gay apps have long included ‘Open Relationship’ as a relationship status for users to pick, should it apply.
No one needs others to validate their relationship choice
It’s also worth remembering that open relationships relationships are by no means a radical new invention created by millennial gays looking to have their cake and eat it. You can go as far back as the writings of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of The City in the 1970s to know open relationships have always existed and perplexed not only those outside our community, but those within it too.
But for Rob, and countless others like him, it’s not his job to convince others that the relationship he has is valid and honest. “I’ve reached a point where it’s not worth my time trying to persuade others to change their mind about open relationships. They don’t need to value my relationship for me to know it’s got worth.”