Negotiating sex outside of a relationship
A friend of mine likes to say that there are long-term relationships and there are monogamous relationships –but, he says, there are few long-term monogamous relationships. I don’t think he’s right. Statistics suggest that many, maybe even most, male-male couples keep all their sex within the relationship. Just the same, many men live in relationships that allow each partner to occasionally have sex with someone else.
How two men feel about opening up a relationship will depend on the meaning each partner gives to sex and sexuality. If sex is seen as largely a form of fun, then sport-fucking will have less impact on their feelings for each other than if one or both partners always connect sex with love. Most men who experience sex as intimate sharing rather than erotic recreation will be more comfortable in the long run if they keep things monogamous.
A couple may choose to open a relationship to spice things up sexually and provide a greater variety of experience. Other times, one partner has an erotic interest the other guy doesn’t share and sex outside the relationship is a compromise. Bill and Mike have been together for more than 5 years. They have found that inviting a third party to join them now and then is hot and non-threatening. Bill says, “I’ve also learned not to let Mike feel left out, even if I find the other guy is totally hot. Mike gets really turned on when I tell him how much I love him while we are getting it on with some stud.”
Occasional sex with an outside party may not make much difference to the level of closeness within a relationship. However, if cruising for sex happens too often, even the most tolerant partner may find he feels jealous, unhappy and displaced. Couples who have lots of outside sex should take a look at whether or not this really works for them. How satisfied are they with the relationship? Are they avoiding the difficult work of intimacy by getting some of their needs met elsewhere?
Too much avoidance will kill a relationship. If outside sex is an indication that one party or the other is withdrawing emotionally, the relationship is in trouble.
If you are interested in exploring an open relationship with your partner, be ready to talk and get all of each person’s needs and feelings out in the open. Choose a time when things are going well for the two of you; if you bring up the subject right after an argument, your partner may interpret the conversation as a desire to back away from him. If you have no idea how your lover will respond, you might start by asking him some questions: Has he ever thought about having sex outside the relationship? Has he known any couples with relationships that are open and happy? Those sorts of questions are an invitation to deeper conversation.
Listen carefully to how he responds. Don’t push him into saying the words you want to hear if he will resent caving in to pressure later.
If both of you are open to the conversation, the next step is to explore what conditions each of you feels will best serve your relationship. Tom is a software consultant and is frequently out of town on business. He and Rick have been together quite a while and have decided that occasional sex with other people is not a big deal when they are geographically separated. In fact, the two of them will sometimes talk about their separate encounters when Tom comes home. Tom gets very horny thinking about his lover getting another man all hot and bothered. They’ve also found that too much emphasis on cruising outside the relationship will make either of them feel a little jealous. Over time they have found the balance that works for them.
Boundaries are important. Joseph was much more agreeable to his partner Michael’s sexual adventures at the gym when Michael assured him that he wouldn’t do more than occasionally jack off with a buddy in the shower. Sex with any possible health risks was just too uncomfortable for Joseph. This compromise works well for them.
Unsafe sex outside the relationship can put both partners at risk – not just for HIV, but also for all sorts of other things. The increase in frequency of STDs in the gay community makes this a concern regardless of whether both partners are negative, both positive, or one positive and the other negative. If your partner has to pay a price for the pleasure you experienced with someone else, he’s likely to be devastated.
Telling your partner that you’ve slipped and not kept your agreement is not a pleasant task. If you tell him and the two of you decide to take safety measures with your own sexual experience, the commotion can be a relatively minor glitch while you pay a visit to the doctor. If you give your unsuspecting partner an STD, it’s likely to be a much bigger deal. Honesty really is the best policy.
Some couples find it useful to make a distinction between emotional faithfulness and sexual monogamy. “I don’t care who Bob has sex with,” one friend said recently, “as long as I’m the only one he’s in love with.” The rub is that it can be tough to build a wall between sharing erotic desire and experiencing romantic feelings.
Jealousy happens. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Relationships with no potential for a little jealousy are often boring or shallow.
Whether a relationship is open or monogamous, it is crucial for each partner to feel that his lover puts him first and above all others. Few men are going to be satisfied if they feel they are only a part of their lover’s stud stable. For this reason, healthy open relationships may take even more care and nurturing than other couplings.
What you and your lover decide about creating an open or exclusive relationship will depend on a lot of different things: your sense of what your relationship is about, the compatibility of your shared desires, the level of intimacy with which you are comfortable and your personal sexual ethics. Whatever choices you make, keep first things first. Your relationship with your partner is what is most important. Keep that in mind when you consider your options.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
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