Beyond monogamy:lessons from long-term male couples in non-monogamous relationships.
Article Type: Case study
Subject: Gay couples (Case studies)
Monogamy (Case studies)
Authors: Spears, Blake
Lowen, Lanz
Pub Date: 01/01/2010
Publication: Name: Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality Publisher: The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Family and marriage; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality ISSN: 1545-5556
Issue: Date: Annual, 2010 Source Volume: 13
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 249136755
Full Text: Study Overview

Although non-monogamous relationships are very common in the gay community, little research has been conducted and information about how couples navigate this terrain is surprisingly lacking As a long-term couple (34 years), this was a journey we had taken together, without a roadmap. The lessons we learned along the way were often hard-earned and we found ourselves wondering how others dealt with this. How common or peculiar was our experience? Were there models we hadn't considered? What worked or didn't work for others?

While recognizing the uniqueness of each relationship and assuming a wide diversity in approaches, we still imagined it would be valuable to hear from couples who had 'been there'. We initiated this study to hear directly from those couples

Study goals

The purpose of the study was to better understand the experience of non-monogamous couples and glean valuable lessons. Study goals were:

* Gather basic information about how couples handled 'outside sex'

* Identify and describe typical models and approaches (to the extent they existed)

* Identify common themes, patterns, challenges and benefits

* Record what couples had to offer in terms of 'learning'

Participant selection

We chose to focus solely on non-monogamous couples. Although the similarities and differences between monogamous and non-monogamous couples interest us, we didn't feel we had the capacity or inclination to adequately investigate both

Participants were recruited based on two criteria. Participants needed to:

* be in a long-term committed relationship (which we arbitrarily defined as 8+ years), and

* have some type of 'outside sex' or an agreement for such

Recruitment was haphazard We realized we had no way of methodically putting together a random sample or even recruiting a diverse population We found participants by word-of-mouth, canvassing gay events (Pride, Folsom Faire, etc), and 'advertising' through articles and flyers in the gay press and gay venues

Study population

As a result of our personal recruiting, we ended up with a majority of participants that looked like us--older, white, middle-class Americans--many from the Bay Area. In 19% of study couples, one or both partners were persons of color (primarily Latino or Asian).

The Bay Area was by far the most represented geography (35 couples). An additional 13 couples were from CA (outside the Bay Area). Other American couples were from FL (6), NY (5), NV (3), WA (3), IL (2), TX (2), CO (2), PA (2) and NE, TN, LA, HI, WI, DE. Nine couples resided outside the U.S.: Australia (2), UK (2), Canada (2), Mexico, Sweden and Netherlands.

Our population was also skewed in terms of age Our youngest participant was 33 and our oldest was 81 Average age was 51 Surprisingly, almost 25% of the couples had significant differences in age. Seven couples had age differences of 20+ years and 13 additional couples had 10+ years difference in age The average difference in age of all 86 couples was 7 years.

Partners had been coupled from 8 years to 42 years The average length of time together was 16.2 years.

[GRAPHICS OMITTED]

Reluctance to participate

We found recruitment of participants difficult We encountered a pronounced reluctance, resistance, or disinterest on the part of many 'eligible' couples for participation in such a study. We found long-term non-monogamous couples rather easily, but very few were willing to participate. Many declined immediately; some agreed, but didn't follow-through (probably typical in any study); and many reported back that their partner was unwilling In a few instances, some couples got 'cold feet' (e g calling the morning of the interview to cancel; acknowledging the questions had raised unresolved issues, etc.). We can imagine all kinds of hypotheses for this reluctance, e g wanting to maintain privacy, lack of trust in us/the study, disinterest in the topic, as well as discomfort in talking about these issues

Clearly our study population is not representative of all non-monogamous couples, but rather of couples secure enough to select into an interview process where they would be asked to openly focus on their relationship and the way they handle non-monogamy Since we primarily wanted to find out what works, we figured this skewed us in the right direction--e g away from couples with deep unresolved conflicts, poor communication patterns, and horror stories of what doesn't work

The interviews

86 couples participated Each partner was interviewed separately using a consistent set of questions (see sidebar). Interviews lasted 45 - 60 minutes. 60% of the interviews were conducted in person. 40% of the interviews were conducted over the phone, (It helped that we had met 2/3 of these couples in person when recruiting) We chose not to record interviews (to protect confidentiality), but we took extensive notes and wrote a detailed summary report after each interview Verbatim quotes were culled from the interview reports, to illustrate overall findings.

We also interviewed:

* The Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality, SFSU who have been conducting the Gay Couples Study for the last five years

* 3 therapists who worked extensively with gay couples

* One man whose partner of 48 years was too disabled to participate

* One man whose who had lost his partner of 12 years to AIDS

* Three men whose partners ended up declining to participate

The study results, however, are based solely on the interviews conducted with the 86 couples

Opening the Relationship

All of our couples by definition had agreement for some type of non-monogamy. Our first interview questions explored how that came about. As a starting point, we asked each partner to rate their inclination toward monogamy--when they first became a couple and currently. Results are below:

There were some obvious groupings:

* 36% were open from the beginning, with little change over time

* 12% were slightly open and increased their openness over time

* 42% of couples were initially monogamous and opened their relationship considerably over time

* 4% were initially monogamous and opened their relationship slightly

* 6% moved closer to monogamy and away from openness

Surprisingly, we didn't find much difference in the 'current' rating of couples who were open from the beginning vs couples who were monogamous at the beginning. If we only look at couples who began with an initial rating of 1 on the monogamy scale, we find their 'current' rating average at 6 2 (not much different than the 6 5 average of all couples). This would suggest that for couples who started out as open there is a fair amount of consistency over time. Their 'initial' and 'current' ratings were quite similar

Although the couples who were initially monogamous all moved somewhat toward greater openness, five couples' who were open at the outset had moved closer toward monogamy. Explanations varied--they had consciously 'slowed things down', lost energy/interest as they aged, or felt more content with the sex they were having at home. This suggests it isn't always a one-way street A few couples also reported that they closed their relationship from time to time.

Inclination Towards Non-Monogamy

ON A SCALE OF 1 TO 10

(1=Fervent Monogamy; 10=Anything Goes)

All Study Couples

Initially--Average response = 3 5 Currently--Average response = 6 5

Couples Starting as Monogamous

Initially--Average response = 1 Currently Average response = 6 2

When relationships opened

We asked couples when they opened their relationships

42% made an agreement to be open within the first 3 months, and by the end of the first year, 49% of all study couples had opened their relationship.

* The rest of the couples took from 1 year to 26 years to open their relationship--with the average being 6 6 years and the median 5 years

* 10% of couples opened their relationship between year 1 and year 5

* 17% of couples opened their relationship between year 5 and year 7

* 24% of couples opened their relationship after year 7

Opening the Relationship

Understood from the Beginning

42% made an agreement to be open within the first 3 months of their relationship. Typically, these were couples where both individuals had a strong preference for being non-monogamous based on their own personalities and desires, and/or experiences in previous relationships

Took time to consider/discover

Some couples needed a number of years together before they felt comfortable moving to non-monogamy (average of 6.6 years before opening relationship). This gave them time to develop a trusting foundation.

Pushing the envelope

In some cases, one partner insisted, advocated, cajoled or nudged the other in the direction of nonmonogamy (14%)

It just kind of happened

For some, it just seemed to show up quite organically as part of their evolution:

Getting caught/Coming clean

20% of study couples related periods of going out without prior agreement and having to come clean. Often the catalyst was a partner getting 'caught, followed by heated arguments and a traumatic owning up. This was not an approach any of these couples recommended.

We're still unresolved

In some cases (6 %), couples can't fully resolve the issue of whether or not to open the relationship This can result in on-going conflict:

Barrett

Ben

Leonard

Gil

What does non-monogamy look like?

When we started the study, we were hoping we might discover clearly differentiated models so that a couple might review advantages and disadvantages and rationally select a somewhat 'tested' approach. Our naivete was short-lived. Early into the interviews we realized that relationships and approaches to outside sex were more often than not, quite different from our own, and much more varied than we imagined.

People and relationships are unique and there is no roadmap for non-monogamy. A couple has to be willing to discover their own path. Not having a model can be confusing, but also freeing. The norms aren't written in stone, so each approach to non-monogamy is organic, emergent and often iconoclastic. It has to be in order to fit the couple as they join, grow, change, mature and evolve.

While recognizing the uniqueness of each couple and their approach, we weren't satisfied with "It's a diverse panoply." We found ourselves continuing to define specific clusters in an effort to map different approaches. However, as hard as we tried, we couldn't find a way to elegantly describe the diversity. We did, however, identify what we saw as core pieces of the puzzle

* We found three key variables that inform the 'characteristic look' of each couples' approach:

* Do they play together or independently?

* What gets shared and brought back?

* How emotionally involved do they get?

Key Variables

Joint vs. Independent

* Play separately

* Play together and play separately

* Only play together

Disclosure & Integration

* Acknowledged, but kept out of sight

* Communicated--details included

* Brought back, discussed and integrated

Connection & Involvement

* Anonymous contacts

* Fuck buddies and friends

* Deep connections

* Outside emotional commitments

What does non-monogamy look like?

Joint vs Independent

The first variable is straightforward. Couples have to consciously decide whether they will play together and/ or allow each other to play independently Each has its advantages and disadvantages

IF WE PLAY TOGETHER

ADVANTAGES

* We share the experience together, which could be enriching (and hopefully fun).

* It's reassuring since we're definitely clued in and have influence on how it transpires

* We can limit the opportunity for emotional involvement and unsafe sex (if we want)

* We have a say in who we do or don't do, when it happens or doesn't happen, etc potential disadvantages

* We may have trouble finding 'outsiders' we both like or who like both of us

* We may get jealous, envious, competitive, and/or insecure

* We may not enjoy the same type of sex as our partner

* We may not get needs for freedom, differentiation, and self-growth met

ADVANTAGES

* We get to have an experience separate from our partner where we're clearly the focus

* We have much greater control over who, what, when, how

* We can experience people or pleasures that may not be of interest to our partner

* We're not dependent on our partner's health, libido, willingness, desire for connection

POTENTIAL DISADVANTAGES

* We don't get to share the experience with our partner

* The onus is on us for how & what we report back

* We may be more likely to connect or get involved emotionally

* It could be threatening to one or both of us

Study Couples: Joint vs. Independent

12%--of study couples chose to only play together (10 couples)

56%--of study couples chose to play together AND

separately (48 couples) 32%--of study couples chose to play independently (28 couples out of 86)

31%--of the couples that did both, primarily played together and occasionally played independently

Consistency

Some couples chose an approach and consistently stuck with it for decades. This isn't surprising for couples who chose to play separately, but it also held true for some couples who decided to only play together. 50% of the study couples that only play together had been doing so since the beginning of their relationship--an average of 11 years

Change over time

Many couples' approach evolved over time The most typical pattern of change was couples who started by playing together and then gradually moved toward including independent play. This was often a result of the difficulty of finding appropriate 3-way partners and/or the increasing trust and comfort level that developed over time

What does non-monogamy look like?

Disclosure & Integration

The second key variable that has a big bearing on a couple's approach to non-monogamy is the degree to which information is shared and outside experiences are brought back to the relationship. If a couple only plays jointly, they share the experience as its happening. But for all other couples, choices are made on what to share and how outside experiences are brought back into the relationship. We saw a continuum between high and low disclosure and integration

PARTICIPANTS' DEGREE OF DISCLOSURE

40%--routinely disclosed fully (including details) 40%--had varying degrees of disclosure (reported without details, offered if questioned, depended on situations) 20%--had more of a 'don't ask, don't tell' norm re: disclosure

Disclose fully

40% of study participants, who played separately, routinely report back, disclose details and share experiences. Some enjoy the process of reporting back and re-engaging. Some find knowing what happened reassuring Some discuss the experience focusing on reactions and what it means to the couple's relationship

Show me what you learned

20% reported bringing back new sexual techniques and greater expertise. The experience not only gets integrated, but put to good use

Tell me again

Spare me the details

20% of study partners who played separately reported the encounter, but without sharing details Another 10% said the degree to which they share depends on the situation. These couples may feel less of a need to share or may be less comfortable sharing Some have learned how much their partner wants to hear and make choices accordingly 10% have an agreement to only share if questioned.

Finding the balance

A few couples talked about the difficulty they had in finding the optimum amount of information to share.

Fine distinctions

Some couples make fine distinctions about what needs to be reported:

Don't ask, don't tell

At the end of the continuum are couples (20%) who agree to share very little. They have an understanding that outside sex is permitted, but generally not discussed. Some referred to this as "don't ask, don't tell".

What does non-monogamy look like?

Connection & Involvement

The third key variable that shapes a couple's approach is the degree to which couples and partners are open to connection and emotional involvement. The continuum for this variable looks like the following:

Avoid connections

Many couples prefer anonymous contacts. 34% of our study couples avoided both emotional involvement and on-going connections (whether out of precaution or because of their preference for anonymous sex) Many tended to see sex as 'just sex'--quite separate from love or their relationship with their partner For others, limiting connection with outside sex partners is a way of preventing emotional involvement, something they see as potentially threatening or problematic

ALL STUDY PARTICPANTS:

* 34%--avoid connection--generally or exclusively have anonymous contacts

66%--prefer and/or permit some type of connection:

* 40%--typically have fuck buddies and/or friends with benefits

* 20%--have deeper connections--more than friends, but secondary to partner (includes 'above board' affairs and couples who take on temporary 'boys')

* have emotional commitments (triads, polyamorous families)

Connection allowed

A much larger group (66%) of study couples preferred or permitted some type of connection Some couples kept the connections very limited and some couples allowed greater involvement Connections (in order of increasing involvement) included:

* Fuckbuddies ("We only see each other for sex ")

* Friends with benefits ("We're friends, but occasionally we have sex.")

* Friends who've lost benefits ("We can continue the friendship, but not the sex")

* Friends of the couple ("We all get along and enjoy hanging out even though initially he was Tom's trick/friend")

* Our boy ("We both love him, but not in the same way we love each other")

* Committed Third or Polyamorous Partners & Families

40% of participants typically have regular or occasional fuck buddies or friends with whom they have outside sex 20% have deeper connections

- These include 'managed' infatuations, 'above board' emotional involvements/affairs, partners or couples who take on a 'boy' or a 'third' for a period of time, and on-going long-distance relationships that are more than friendship, but secondary to the couples' relationship

Connection allowed, but limited

For most couples, even when connection is allowed, there is a limit. 75% of study couples had rules or norms that precluded or limited involvement. Where a couple drew the line between what's okay and what's 'too involved' varied. It depended on:

* their values

* their expectations and desires as a couple

* their level of comfort with involvement

* their level of trust in each other

* to what degree the specific 'outsider' was perceived as a threat

* the norms they had developed

Connection allowed, but limited

Differing preferences for connection

One of the most striking study findings was the large percentage of couples (35%) where one partner preferred anonymous sex, while the other only enjoyed sex with friends or people with whom he felt connected

Chip

Barry

Where's the line? Managing involvement

Having one partner open to and preferring connection was not problematic for some couples However, for many couples there was a learning curve for each partner The partner who preferred anonymous sex had to grapple with: "How connected does my partner have to be and what impact will that have on me/us? Will he fall in love and leave me? Will I be okay meeting and possibly hanging out with friends with whom he's been sexual?"

The partner who preferred connection had to discern, "What is the line between connection and romantic involvement? Will I be able to stop myself at infatuation? How can I follow my heart, but not hurt my partner or jeopardize our relationship?" Many couples learned what worked for them without too much drama.

Lewis

Walter

Clark

Owen

What helped couples navigate this terrain?

* Relying on their sense of trust

* Reassuring each other

* Exercising restraint

* Setting clear boundaries

* Integrating the 'outsider' into the couple's relationship (e. g. became joint friend)

* Limiting the sex if the involvement felt too threatening

* Ending the outside relationship if that was what either partner felt was needed

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Going too far

While 75% of study couples had rules or norms that precluded or limited involvement, 15% with this norm had experienced finding 'the line' by going 'too far' and realizing they needed to pull back:

Daryle

Elliot

It helps if we both prefer connection

It may be a bit easier for couples where both partners favor connecting to their respective 'fuck buddies' There's still a learning curve, but more opportunity to empathize and to join in discerning what feels appropriate and what feels 'over-the-line'

Mitch

Steven

Logan

Dwight

Zak

Martin

Larry

Dennis

Or is it double the trouble?

On the other hand, for some couples where both partners favor connecting with outsiders, there may be less vigilance and a tendency to allow more. Sometimes one or both go "too far".

Lewis

Walter

Involvement permitted

A few study couples described situations where partners got very involved, but they were reluctant to squelch it. Even though it created tension or was potentially threatening, the partners preferred not to put constraints on each other. In these cases, everything was very transparent, discussed frequently and ultimately treated as learning opportunities

Wayne

Jim

PARTICIPANTS' DEGREE OF INVOLVEMENT

75%--study couples had rules or norms that precluded or limited involvement

18%--study couples had no restrictions on involvement J 7%--had never discussed the issue of emotional involvement

Getting involved as a couple

Some couples found themselves getting involved with a third--as a couple. When couples are getting connected to the same person at the same time, it may feel less threatening to the relationship We were surprised at the number of couples (13%) who reported having 'a boy' or taking on a third for a period of time Some of these couples clearly had restrictions against involvement, but their norm was over-ridden by their shared interest and enjoyment. Several couples stated this was an anomaly and didn't expect it to happen again Some couples had a number of 'boys' over the years

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Triads and polyamorous families

A small, but significant number of study couples had enlarged their relationship to include and embrace new members They felt like they could love and 'be in love' with more than one person (some couples labeled this polyamorous). A third or possibly more people were incorporated into the 'family'. For some this was situational, "we both fell in love with him". For others, it was intentional.

Although one might assume these were couples where 'anything goes', in fact, these 'families' took considerable time to communicate, problem-solve, and build trust and commitment.

Although we only interviewed a small number of couples or families that fit this model, we talked with 2-3 times that many about participating. The model deserves its own study since the philosophy, dynamics, and issues are quite different from many of our study couples

Joe

Thom

Trent

Carl

Walt

Leonard

Phillip

Approaches to Rules & Norms

Explicit rules are one way couples can manage expectations, behaviors, and fears. In what little research that has been done on non-monogamy, rules and explicit agreements have been a central focus. However, we found less reliance on explicit rules than what the research assumes.

APPROACHES TO RULES AND NORMS

32%--had explicit rules 43%--had norms or understandings 15%--had very fluid, emergent rules 10%--eschewed rules

No rules

In fact, 10% of our study couples were explicitly disdainful of rules:

Emergent rules

15% of couples had fluid, emergent rules. In general, they hadn't talked through norms and had no set guidelines. This left them with a general fuzziness about what exactly might be okay, but within the context of "we're pretty relaxed about all this". For example, what to disclose after going out might be ambiguous. "Sometimes I share and sometimes I don't--it depends on the situation."

Although things are left rather loose, a rule might emerge in response to a particular situation or problem. An example might be requiring a partner to stop seeing someone with whom he was getting too involved.

Spoken & unspoken norms

43% of couples had at least a few norms--patterned behavior that provided a framework from which to operate. Although they may never have explicitly agreed on a specific rule, they described shared understandings and jointly held values that strongly influenced their thinking and behavior.

Clear rules

32% of couples had rules and found them helpful for guiding behavior, reassuring one another and building a greater foundation of trust.

We set down some rules when we first agreed:

* If we go out together; we come home together

* If we go out together and one wants to go off or stay out longer, we want to know where he is going and what to expect.

* We enjoy each other, but if something comes along--we take advantage.

* We only do 3-ways if we both agree on the person.

* We talk about if it we've done something--always above board

* If one of us is on holiday, it's okay to have outside sex (partner is back home).

We have the same norms we began with. Nothing has changed

* No anal intercourse with outsiders (it's our way of protecting ourselves from a health perspective)

* Only go out when one is traveling or out of town

* If we're together, we play together. Although we do go to the sauna together, and sometimes play separately while we're both there.

* Not allowed to see someone more than once

* If you arrange to meet that same person again, that's not okay--that's an affair. No planning.

The rules change

Although some couples stay consistent with their initial rules, many find the rules evolve as they discover first-hand what works, doesn't work, and what's actually needed:

Sean

Chuck

Stewart

We have pretty clear rules, although they're evolving:

* Twice is the limit to see any particular person, although Lee found guys he liked playing with that I met and didn't feel were a threat and so we began allowing fuckbuddies.

* The overnight rule has evolved to its okay when you're out of town

* The anal sex rule has remained, but I would very much like to change it. Lee's not into anal sex, but I'm getting increasingly into it. It's getting harder for me not to do it. Tricks will say, "But no one will ever know" But of course,

I would know. We talk about it periodically

Lee

* We always tell each other, including the details.

* I always tell whoever I am playing with that I am partnered and I will be telling him.

* We have to play safe. This means no marks, which is a big concession for me.

* Emotional connection is strong because of S/M. The two-time rule saves me. The two-time rule doesn't apply when traveling and it also includes grey for fuck buddies. I have several buddies that I've become friends with. Stewart has met them and isn't threatened by them and they have been integrated into our lives. Stewart doesn't mind if I play with them more than once.

Or fall away

Some couples who start with rules evolve to a place where they are comfortable without them. Over time, they develop a good idea of what to expect, a deeper trust in their partner, and a confidence that they will be able to address issues on a case-by-case basis. The rules may no longer be necessary because both partners are following the spirit behind the rules.

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Typical Rules & Norms

Each couple has to develop and customize their own approach to non-monogamy. Norms were often where couples were the most creative. Injunctions are typically serious and impersonal but given we're gay men, negotiated agreements often had a playful edge or matter-of-fact bluntness. Before sharing the most typical rules, we'd like to share some of the less common rules that joyfully reflect our gay sensibilities.

Ms. Manners' Top In List

10. You can see him as many times as you want, but you can't schedule it

9. If they're in our bed when I get home, they're fair game

8. If you're in love with the guy, you're not allowed to fuck with him one-on-one

7. You can put him in the sling, but no cuddling

6. If you bring him home and he's cute, you have to let me join

5. You can fuck whoever you want, but you can't take him to dinner

4. If you're in the mood to fuck someone else, but I'm horny, you have to do me first

3. You have to spend twice as much time with me than with any of your tricks

2. You're only allowed to date the terminally ill

1. "The Sauna Clause": Sex at the gym doesn't count as sex

Honesty

There were a few very prevalent norms. One was the limiting of emotional involvement, which we discussed previously. Even more prevalent was the norm of Honesty--being straightforward with the truth. Whether or not it was explicitly stated, it was apparent in couples' responses and stories. Often it was mentioned as something that didn't exist in a previous relationship. Even couples that preferred not to share much information, usually had a norm of having to respond truthfully and sufficiently to a partner's questions. Honesty was viewed as foundational.

Courtesy and consideration

54% of couples with norms mentioned courtesy and consideration. Some couples instinctively practiced this; some had rules that reinforced it.

3-way etiquette

Courtesy and consideration were even more carefully cultivated when couples played together with outsiders. Couples had various rules or understandings that ensured each partner felt valued, comfortable and respected

Safe sex

43% of couples had rules about safe sex. Some used condoms, some sero-sorted, and some restricted specific behaviors.

Not surprisingly, couples that were HIV negative were more likely to have rules, restrictions, and stronger concerns related to HIV. Of the couples restricting behavior, receptive anal sex was most commonly off limits A smaller number avoided anal sex altogether and two couples disallowed giving blow jobs

We asked the study participants that had anal sex, about the frequency with which they used condoms.

Predictably, couples that were sero-discordant were more likely to use condoms with each other. Couples where partners were both positive or both negative typically did not use condoms.

STUDY COUPLES'S HIV STATUS

24%--both HIV positive 49%--both HIV negative 27%--mixed antibody status

PARTICPANTS' SAFE SEX PRACTICES

25.3%--frequency participants used condoms with partner

71.8%--frequency participants used condoms with outsider of similar status

89.7%--frequency participants used condoms with outsider of opposite status

Other commonly mentioned norms

Below is a list of other commonly mentioned norms. All are attempts to either:

* limit connection or emotional involvement

* prevent discomfort, hurt feelings, and jealousy; or

* ensure partners practice safe sex

Other Commonly Mentioned Norms

32%--Can't bring them home

22%--Can't stay out all night

20%--Veto rights--We stop if I'm uncomfortable

16%--Can't go home with them

11%--Can't see them more than once (or twice)

11%--Restrictions on specific sex acts, e. g. "No receptive anal sex"

11%--Okay to play when out of town

A norm we recommend

We conclude this segment with one norm that we heard from several couples that made good sense to us:

Challenges and Difficulties

We asked participants what they felt was difficult or most challenging about non-monogamy. The top response was Jealousy

Jealousy

21% of participants said jealousy was a difficulty or had been a difficulty at some point. Based on the research and articles about non-monogamy, we would have expected this number to be higher. Furthermore, many of the participants who mentioned jealousy talked about it as something they had gotten past. However, for some, particularly partners who were competitive, jealousy definitely was a source of tension.

Jack

Miles

Jealousy--Fear of losing partner

Jealousy is often triggered by the fear of losing out to a rival. 14% mentioned fear of losing their partner to someone else as something they had felt at some point

Kurt

Paul

Jealousy--Envy

Whereas jealousy is about something one has and is afraid of losing, envy refers to wanting what the other one has (or preventing them from having it). 6% of participants mentioned envy or experiences of envy.

Jealousy--Insecurity

Jealousy, fear, and envy (and sometimes anger) can get jumbled together. Often the underlying emotion is hurt (My self-worth or position has been injured) or insecurity (I have doubts about my position or selfworth) . The emotional reaction may be triggered by the other person's actions, but is rooted in one's own sense of security and self-esteem.

Dale

Chuck

Jealousy--Antidotes

Interestingly, many brought jealousy up as something they had learned to conquer or keep at bay. Feeling secure seemed to be an antidote. To get there, participants talked about reassurance, building self-esteem, focusing on what they have, and/or feeling generous toward their partner.

Discomfort with non-monogamy

12% of participants described difficulties becoming comfortable with non-monogamy or the decision to open the relationship. Some participants described initial discussions as what was most difficult. Some spoke of internal conflicts about being non-monogamous. Some reported that openly sharing information and expressing feelings was difficult. And a few reported that their differences about opening the relationship were still unresolved.

Connor

Logan

The challenges of 3-ways

11% of participants reported difficulties when playing as a couple with outsiders. Finding the outsider can be challenging and how the outsider relates to both partners can trigger many of the same feelings of jealousy and insecurity mentioned previously Some couples avoid playing together for this reason; others become skilled at paying close attention to these dynamics

Dishonesty

9% of participants mentioned a point in their relationship when they, their partner, or the two of them were not being fully forthright about their outside sex. Examples included covert outside sex prior to opening the relationship (discussed previously), illicit affairs (most of which eventually surfaced), not abiding to agreed upon rules, and partners used to habitual outside sex having trouble fully disclosing.

Drug/Alcohol issues

8% of respondents mentioned difficulties with drug use related to outside sex. In most cases, crystal (methamphetamine) cocaine and alcohol were the drugs that were problematic Most of the participants that brought this up were at least several years into abstinence and/or recovery They reported heavy drug use in previous periods of their lives, difficulties with others who were heavy users, and/or the prevalence of unsafe sex when high A few participants acknowledged current drug use and their on-going need to curtail or manage this when being sexual.

Lack of sensitivity

7% mentioned their partner's insensitivity. It wasn't seen as intentional, but more a general lack of awareness--a pattern of being so focused on their own concerns and pleasure, they forget to track or take into account the impact an action might have on their partner. In most cases, although the partner learned to be more aware and less insensitive, it continues as an on-going issue rearing its head periodically.

Other responses

Two other responses to the question about difficulties were common. 20% mentioned one or both partners getting too emotionally involved We addressed this previously in the section on Connection and Involvement

For another 20%, the response was: "Nothing. It's never been a problem."

What Helps

We asked couples what helped make non-monogamy work for them. Many participants gave a comprehensive list of factors. Below are a few representative lists followed by the key themes we heard about What Helps:

* We're easy-going and non emotional about outside sex.

* We communicate a lot, which is key. We realize the benefits to the relationship of communicating

* We use our outside sexual experiences to fuel our own at-home sex

* We have a high level of trust in each other, but we don't take each other for granted

* Having a clear understanding of the arrangement takes away the difficulties.

* We make a clear distinction between emotional and physical needs

* We constructively talk about the issues when we need to.

* We're both physically driven men (sexually), but we're both solidly committed to the emotional aspects of our relationship We're on the same page on this

* Discussing it openly.

* Establishing a firm foundation of trust

* Taking it slowly

* We know we always want to be together

* We recognize and differentiate between sex and love

* We developed clear norms that we could follow

What Helps:

Communicating openly and honestly

The most common response was honest, open communication. 65% included this in their response to the question about what helps.

Frequency of relationship discussions

We also asked couples to rate the frequency with which they discussed relationship issues (regardless of topic). Below are participants' responses. A few observations:

[GRAPHIC OMITTED]

* Couples scoring lower often commented "We don't have many issues".

* Couples scoring lower tended be the ones that disclosed less about outside sex.

* Couples scoring higher were more comfortable with difficult conversations, more likely to form connections with outsiders and enjoyed sharing their internal experience

* Most of the '1' scores were only one partner--not both, and often indicated concern--"We don't talk enough "

* Approximately 20% of the couples had strong differences where one partner preferred relationship discussions more than the other. This could be a source of friction, but most commented on how they had found a middle ground.

Being truthful/honest

Honesty was often linked with comments about communication, but it was also mentioned separately, in its own right. 65% spoke about the importance of being truthful.

Trust

52% of participants named 'Trust/ in response to the question "What helps?" Trust, which is an important ingredient in any relationship seems pivotal in a non-monogamous relationship. Participants talked about trust as both an action and an outcome. An active belief in their partner's love and integrity reassured them when they might be feeling fearful or insecure

Trust as an outcome

Trust as an outcome was built through consistent love, caring and commitment If partners were consistently honest with each other, trust deepened We heard repeatedly from couples, as their experience of successfully trusting each other grew, it became easier to manage the ambiguity of an open relationship

Appreciation and reassurance

Appreciation of their partner and the relationship was a key support for 34% of participants. The relationship and life created together was reassuring--helping them look past the smaller issues and keep things in perspective. Sometimes individuals needed to be reminded of their partner's love and loyalty, e. g. "I needed to hear that he wouldn't leave me" But often they reminded and reassured themselves.

Respecting partner and their differences

30% of participants named respect as an important helper. Participants spoke of respecting a partner's feelings and sensibilities, but also acknowledging and honoring a partner's differences.

Getting support

18% of participants talked about getting outside support. This took two forms. Some utilized therapists and counselors (separately or as a couple). Some had friends or mentors that they felt they could confide in and use as a sounding board. The enthusiasm of couples who had mentors was in marked contrast to the couples who complained of feeling isolated and unable to find couples who would talk openly.

Don't overdo it

6% of participants mentioned practicing moderation. A few couples talked about periods where they had overdone it A few participants intimated they thought their partner went out too frequently and/or was compulsive around sex. None of the study couples had rules about overall frequency, but many had norms about what seemed appropriate.

Other helpers

* Learning to Deal with Jealousy and building self-esteem was mentioned by 18% of participants. (See section on jealousy for examples and discussion).

* Setting Groundrules was mentioned by 17%. (See sections on Approaches to Rules/Norms and Typical Rules for discussion and examples)

Couples' Sex Lives Together

What about couples own sex lives together?

To get a sense of how outside sex fit in with study couples' own sex lives together, we asked each participant to tell us what percent of their sex was with their partner, independent of their partner, with their partner and others

* For some, independent sex is primary.

* Some have no, or very little independent sex.

* For others it falls somewhere in between

Love without sex

Study couples fell into four clusters in terms of their own sex lives. 15% were couples who no longer had sex together, but still felt very close, loving and connected to each other. One of the biggest learnings for us as authors was to hear couples in this group glowingly talk about their relationship. Prior to the study, we imagined couples whose own sex lives had dwindled were more like room-mates. Repeatedly, we listened to partners talk about their affection and concern for each other, their joy in companionship, their loyalty and commitment. It was quite gratifying to let go of our misperception and we noticed this was the one study finding we most enjoyed sharing when asked what we were learning.

Most of these couples seemed quite comfortable with having let go of their sex lives together. It was shared rather matter of factly--been there, done that and moved on. The 'routineness' of many years with the same person was a leading cause, but some couples acknowledged their early sex lives together had never been terribly passionate or compatible. In other cases, it was more one-sided with one partner having health issues and/or losing interest in sex altogether. A few participants described their own pattern of becoming bored with any partner after a certain amount of time.

Rather than lamenting the lost sex life together, the couples in this cluster focused on the strength and joy in their relationship and were pleased that their open relationship allowed them to carry on as sexual beings without giving up what they most valued. The outside sex for these couples was most often anonymous and characterized as a necessary response to a physical drive. Although it was important not to squelch their sex drive, it was deemed rather insignificant when compared to what they valued in their relationship.

On the wane

10% of couples characterized their sex lives as increasingly infrequent or on the wane. Unlike the first group, some of these couples did express a sense of loss, particularly if one partner was still interested (and the other wasn't). Others seemed ambivalent. They wished it was more frequent, but didn't have the energy or the inclination to make it a focus. As with the first cluster, these couples put their emphasis on what they loved and valued about their partner and their relationship.

Fanning the fire

30% of couples were still quite engaged with each other sexually although they expressed concerns about how to keep this alive. Many couples in this group used outside sex to energize their own sex together. Whether by sharing titillating details, experimenting with newly learned techniques, or playing together with outsiders, outside sex was seen as a helpful contributor to keeping their own sex life vibrant. Some couples described having date nights and deliberately setting time aside--making sure it was a priority.

What's Libido Got to Do With It?

We had participants rate their libido on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high). The average libido of study participants was 7. We didn't find any important patterns related to libido, but we will share a few observations:

* Our average would be much higher if we included the frequent responses of '11', '12', and 'off the charts' (we scored these as 10's)

* Most participants' libidos were quite similar to the libido of their partner.

* A few participants reported very low libidos, which certainly had an impact on how invested they were in any type of sex. For some, having their partner be able to go out was a relief.

* Although a few commented on their libidos declining as they aged, many participants in their 60's and older reported strong libidos.

* A few related a great deal of fluctuation in their libidos due to steroids, aging or HIV

Still vibrant

The remaining couples (45%) had active sex lives together and a) either made positive comments about this, or b) didn't express concerns. Other than these two criteria, there is no clear distinction between this group and the previous cluster. Couples in both clusters are apt to be 'fanning the fire'.

What's important here is the number of long-term couples that are still quite sexually active with each other. On average, the couples in this cluster had been together 15. 3 years, with 6 of these couples having 20+ years together. When combined with the previous cluster, 75% of study couples continued to have active sex lives with each other.

We asked some of the couples who had been together the longest if they had thoughts about what fueled and sustained their sex lives together. Some said sex together had always been a central driving focus. Many related having a fair amount of outside sex with much of it together. Switching roles, high compatibility, a deepening sense of trust, and an appreciation of the ease and intimacy were also offered as contributing factors. A few of these couples noted that their interest in outside sex was waning. Hooking up with others required too much effort and they were finding themselves increasingly content and fulfilled playing at home

Rob

John:

What's the Impact? Benefits & Risks

We asked couples to describe the impact outside sex had on their relationship. We were careful to position this question neutrally, without pulling for positives or negatives. If there seemed to be any confusion, we always clarified by saying "we were looking for both positive and negative impact". In the case of participants who had an immediate response of "Nothing has been negative" (end of conversation), we did ask if there had been any positive impact.

Both positive and negative impact

21% of participants shared both positives and negatives in their responses. The quotes below give a perspective of the trade-offs. Notice how many of the benefits go beyond 'just providing a sexual outlet'. And these benefits come with some risk.

[check] Makes relationship more interesting, in general. We're not closed; we're open--so we're meeting new people and that enriches what we bring to the relationship. It forces us to be more honest. It helps us be more willing and comfortable to talk about what might be difficult.

[X] There's people you can't talk to (family and friends) about being non-monogamous. We stopped having sex together a few years ago. Occasionally we do three ways. So that leaves me wondering "Would we have tried harder to make our sex life work together if it were the only option?"

[check] Its created adventure and it's allowed us to join together in playfulness. It encourages us to talk about our feelings and it serves as a catalyst for new perspectives into our relationship. It challenges trust, but on the other hand it helps us hone our sense of trust. If we can navigate it well, we can be more trusting.

[X] In addition to the tension, I worry that it means our relationship is aberrant. There's no clear model and so we don't know if we're doing the right thing or how to do the right thing. And there is stigma to going outside the relationship.

[check] It's helped us evolve We feel we really want to be together We've learned that we can trust each other. Ted can go out clubbing and I decided that I could either trust him or not and I realized I clearly trust him. We have better communication because we have talked about outside sex and how to handle it

[X] The only negative is we have more worries about getting a disease.

[check] Its underscored the importance of honesty in the relationship. It's forced us to be more intentional in how we navigate and evolve the relationship. It's helped increase our communication muscles

[X] It's brought some pain and confusion and it's required a certain amount of expenditure of energy

[check] We're probably more relaxed with each other--sex isn't as charged.

[X] It's taken some emphasis off our one-on-one sex. Its spread the focus a little wider and now we're not totally dependent on each other for sex. After a 3-way, sex together is very nice and sometimes it feels less exciting.

[check] It's allowed the relationship to survive. It's brought more honesty and openness to the relationship . We're both reassured about the relationship continuing. We've got several fuck buddies with whom we've become good friends.

[X] There are still moments of jealousy.

[check] It's improved our sex lives both internally (with each other) and externally. We're both more sexually satisfied. It's kept my sex drive going.

[X] The downside is there have been some hurt feelings; I feel distrusted; and there's been a few traumatic situations.

Randy:

[check] I got sexually bored I also wanted outside validation--"I know Art thinks I'm hot, but I wanted a second opinion." Art also didn't think he was that attractive and so I wanted him to experience that others perceived him similarly to me. He finally opened up to noticing others and their response to him. It was a joy for me to see,

[X] It has introduced something in our relationship that we can't do together. I'm missing him. We also now have 'secrets' from others since we don't tell family and friends.

Art:

[check] I really enjoy the outside sex, so in some ways, it strengthens the relationship. It's a blessing that we can be open so that we can stay together and not be sexually frustrated and biting at each other.

[X] Randy and I are pretty tight emotionally, but being open to outside sex has diminished that a bit. There's a bit of the pie chart missing. There are people outside the relationship with whom we're being intimate and we're not sharing that as it happens I regret that

Primarily negative impact

A few participants (4%) shared strong negatives. This was more apt to be the case for couples where the decision to be open or closed is still not fully resolved.

[X] It's brought issues of insensitivity and lack of confidence to the fore. It's allowed me to observe both our behaviors. The issues would be there anyway, but they get exacerbated by sex. We get competitive around sex.

[X] It hasn't always gone well. There have been a lot of hurt feelings and arguments. It's been one of the more difficult aspects of our relationship. However, we both believe that sex is very important. I don't believe any one person can meet all of your sexual needs. So, we keep coming back to outside sex and we're getting better about communicating. We do really care for each other.

Todd:

[X] Outside sex has really gotten in the way of the relationship because it's caused conflict. On the other hand, I don't think I could stay in the relationship if it wasn't allowed to continue. Although maybe I would find that I could

Ron:

[X] It's had a destructive impact. It's been problematic and has caused a lot of hurt on both sides. It's diminished our relationship and has been hard on both of us. During the times when outside sex has worked, I've found it enriching and it has recharged my sexual appetite with Todd.

Connor:

[X] It's brought a real negative to our sex life because of the fear of disease There's more tension. It definitely feels like something has been lost, due to trust and lack of intimacy. We discuss it but there are still things to work out

Logan:

[X] It's been hurtful. It's caused distrust. I haven't regained my trust in Connor yet, although some of that is about the way we went about it and the way I found out.

Positive impact

The vast majority (75%) of responses were solely positive. We would expect a fairly strong endorsement given participants' self-selection into the study. It's not surprising to us that participants appreciate having a sanctioned sexual outlet. What is striking is the number of benefits beyond having a sexual outlet that participants shared. These included greater communication, increased trust and openness between partners, and the opportunity for individuals to explore and meet individual needs.

Sanctioned sexual outlet

The first theme was the most basic. Overtly and consciously opening up the relationship, allows couples to pursue outside sex without being deceitful. 78% of the study participants named this as a significant impact.

Stimulates our sex life

48% of study participants shared that having outside sex was helpful to the couples' own sex life. We discussed aspects of this earlier in the sections on Integration and Couples' Own Sex Lives. Here are a few more examples:

Different needs met

40% valued outside sex as a way of exploring and meeting differing needs. Differing needs included different types of sex and amount of sex. This was a helpful mechanism in relationships where one partner was struggling with health issues, low libido or significant age differences.

Brought friends and new experiences into the relationship

34% talked about finding new friends and discovering new experiences as a result of opening the relationship.

Encourages and reinforces honesty

A certain degree of honesty is prerequisite for having an explicit agreement about outside sex. And for the agreement to work, on-going candor is required. 33% reported that having an open relationship encouraged honest conversation about attractions, fears, insecurities, desires--all of which might be easier to not acknowledge

Provides variety, sense of freedom

27% of participants valued the sense of freedom and/or the variety going outside offered:

Brought perspective and greater appreciation

26% of participants talked about the perspective that going outside has brought

Encouraged sexual growth

24% of participants acknowledged growing sexually as a result of outside experiences. This included increasing their expertise, repertoire and sense of sexuality.

Increased intimacy and commitment

23% of participants spoke specifically about intimacy and about the relationship becoming stronger.

Encouraged personal growth

20% talked more generally about how they had grown personally as a result of outside sexual experiences.

Wouldn't be together without it

15% of participants responded rather matter-of-factly that they wouldn't be together without it. This comment was offered in two ways. Some participants felt outside sex was essential and they couldn't imagine going without. Others felt their relationship was essential and they were glad that the lack of sex at home was not a deal-breaker

Discussion of Results

Providing a descriptive picture of what non-monogamy looks like was a core aim of this study. Because of this, we've stayed very close to the data, providing concrete examples and avoiding speculation When we step back and look more generally at the study findings, the conclusions we draw are more sweeping

A viable option

We assume we had a study population skewed towards the positive, but nonetheless, it is reasonable to conclude that non-monogamy for gay male couples is a viable option. When partners find enough common ground in their inclinations and perspectives toward non-monogamy, sanctioned outside sex is a sustainable and satisfying possibility.

If a couple is willing to be forthright and to problem-solve as needed, non-monogamy isn't by nature de-stabilizing. In fact, the results of this study would suggest the opposite--many study couples said non-monogamy enabled them to stay together. The average length of relationship for interviewed couples was 16 years--double our minimum requirement. Given the difficulties we had in recruiting participants, this figure suggests a positive correlation between longevity and non-monogamy. At a minimum, it destroys the myth that opening the relationship is the 'beginning of the end'.

The study also counters a second, and corollary, myth: open relationships are somehow less--less healthy, less loving, less responsible. Again, the results of this study would suggest quite the opposite. Certainly, non-monogamous couples can be as dysfunctional as monogamous couples, but they can also be as nurturing, trusting and cohesive. The vast majority of our study couples appeared to have caring, loving, and healthy partnerships.

What's the payoff?

We found many couples had a somewhat compartmentalized perspective and approach to outside sex. "It's just sex"--a release without meaning, quite separate from the relationship. For these couples, non-monogamy offers a valuable and satisfying outlet that's sanctioned and acknowledged. It allows men to 'follow their nature', meet differing needs, and seek variety without jeopardizing their relationship.

A majority of study couples had a more integrative approach to non-monogamy. There was less anonymity and more personal connection with outside sex partners, more sharing of information and discussion of what got stirred up, and an effort to bring back and utilize the energy and lessons of the outside experience for the betterment of the relationship. For these couples, nonmonogamy brought additional benefits beyond the sexual outlet. Couples spoke of greater trust, more forthright communication, personal growth, increased perspective, and more drive in their own sex lives together.

What's the catch?

Some couples experienced non-monogamy as a 'no-brainer'. They found an approach that worked for them with little difficulty or fanfare. This was more likely to be the case if outside sex was agreed upon at the beginning of the relationship and they had a compartmentalizing approach to outside sex.

However, for most couples, there was a price of admission. Non-monogamy came with risks and required maintenance. It may trigger uncomfortable feelings; it may provoke disagreements and tension, it may require self-reflection and personal growth, it may necessitate changing how a couple communicates and interacts. This was especially true for couples that valued sharing and integrating the experiences of non-monogamy. We also suspect this might be more likely for couples in the general population--couples who might be reluctant to participate in a study.

Couples have to decide what will work for them and how they can best minimize and navigate the risks. There isn't a simple model to follow. Couples don't know ahead of time what will surface or what will be required. They may be challenged by any, and probably many, of the following:

* clarifying values and making certain they are mutual,

* appreciating and accommodating differences,

* holding steadfast to agreements and a commitment to honesty,

* growing greater capacity to process and manage their own emotional reactions

* learning to voice their desires, concerns, and uncomfortable feelings

* becoming increasingly vulnerable, trusting, forgiving, generous

* partnering to constructively problem-solve and find resolution for unforeseen and possibly highly charged issues

It's an intriguing list--not advised for the fainthearted, yet full of possibilities for individual and relationship growth. As one study participant said, "Both people have to want it bad enough to be willing to pay the price and do the work required"

What Is enough communication?

Many couples mentioned that communication was critical. Some couples were very self-reflective and very verbal in their processing. Some couples were deeply in tune with each other and preferred finding their way intuitively. In between were couples that seemed more sporadic or 'hit and miss' in their communication with each other. We were surprised at the number of times

we heard, "Mmmm, we've never discussed that." Or "That's an interesting question, I never really thought about that "

We found ourselves wondering and sometimes worrying about these couples. When they took the initiative to communicate, it worked well for them. But they often defaulted to making assumptions without confirming them with their partner. If the assumptions they made proved to be correct (and they often did), they were home free

But we began to question if the study had a preponderance of 'couples who were lucky'. In the larger population would we see more couples with this approach that had 'guessed wrong'? We certainly heard from some study couples who paid heavily for a previous lack of communication or proactive consideration. We're speculating here, but if a couple wants to minimize the risks inherent in non-monogamy, it seems best to err on the side of checking out assumptions and inquiring into perspectives.

Dealing with differences

The study couples most likely to struggle were ones that were challenged by core differences. Certainly the most difficult situation was when partners differed in their desire to open the relationship. Until they could come to some shared agreement about what they both wanted, couples typically experienced recurring tension and frustration. We assume this is much more prevalent in the larger population which includes couples reluctant to participate in a study.

Another common area of difficulty was partners who had differing preferences for connection. It took partners time to realize the difference and to recognize the innate character of this difference. Initially there's the assumption--"He thinks like me." After a bit of discovery this becomes, "Why doesn't he think like me?" Unfortunately, accommodation and resolution only become

possible when there is recognition that both perspectives are valid. At that point partners can shift to "What will we need from each other to make this work?"--a much more fruitful question to be asking.

There are myriad sources of difference that can prove to be problematic. Partners may have strong differences in values, standards, personality traits, and psychological routines. At what point did you begin to see my 'harmless flirting' as 'disrespect'? How much outside sex does it take before it's labeled excessive? Why are you so jealous/insecure/out of control/uptight/insensitive? In most cases, awareness, empathy, legitimization and creative accommodation can bridge the gap, but it's not always easy getting there.

We had very different personalities and very different perspectives on what was appropriate. We tried using rules, but they never seemed sufficient. One of us would get hurt or uncomfortable and we would have long talks and then we would conscientiously revise the rules. But it was more like we were negotiating--our focus was on right and wrong and fairness and compliance.

The breakthrough came when we finally stepped back and seriously considered what we each wanted and needed from the other. Instead of trying to change each other, we created new 'rules' that actually differed for the two of us. Our friends thought we were crazy, but the new rules allowed us both to get our different needs met Instead of focusing on complying, we realized we actually wanted to honor and support each other's values and needs. I don't know why it took us so long to get there, but things became much easier when we started acting like we were on the same team... It was a few years after that we had this crazy idea that 'somebody' ought to do a study

So, where's the support?

Most research shows that approximately two-thirds of long-term male couples who have been together for five years or more are honestly non-monogamous (Shernoff,LCSW, 2007). This means a majority of long-term male couples are creating their own unique models--despite societal injunctions. This is remarkable. And it makes us wonder why there isn't more overt support from the gay community. Why is there a reluctance to discuss non-monogamy--particularly in a community that believes in path-finding?

Although some study couples were very transparent about the openness of their relationship, this was not the case for most. As one participant shares:

Having an open relationship feels like a funny way of being in the closet again. Family and friends expect that we're monogamous, and we don't tell them we're not. It's like a secret When we travel for work or to see family, we leave friends (and colleagues) at 10pm and then we go out In our community and society, it feels like something huge isn't being talked about or studied or understood.

When we began telling our friends, colleagues and family about this study, it did remind us of 'coming out'. It sometimes triggered dead silences or a polite change of subject. And it sometimes provoked deep, meaningful conversations.

As a community, we know from our own experiences of coming out that visibility and dialogue are critical. If you're bucking societal norms, it helps to have like-minded souls to reassure you that you're not alone. If you're charting a path where there is no roadmap, it helps to have folks who have been there or who can engage with you in your navigating. The study couples who reported having mentors were uniformly grateful.

Prior to initiating this study we encountered our own reluctance to publicly address this issue; we worried that talking about non-monogamy would be seen as jeopardizing the push for gay marriage. In the 4 years we've taken to complete the study, we never once encountered resistance from any group or organization. Perhaps this was a result of flying under the radar, but it also points to our own internalized fears of speaking about a taboo subject

Ironically, when California legalized gay marriage (however briefly), we began hearing more and more of our study participants mention their marriages. This wasn't something we tracked, but a majority of the study couples from that point forward spoke of being married. Clearly they weren't equating marriage with monogamy! So,

as a gay community, if we don't want to replicate the heterosexual divorce rate, we might begin looking for ways to talk more openly about how our relationships really work.

We hope this study opens the door to more candid discussions of responsible non-monogamous relationships. We strongly encourage others to research this topic to more thoroughly document:

* the wide range of behavior and choices being made

* the diversity of approach due to race, ethnicity, class and geography

* the generational perspectives

* the respective values of both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships.

In Conclusion

We think this study illustrates and validates the experience many male couples are having. It will be important to ascertain to what degree this kind of information is useful to non-monogamous couples, to couples considering non-monogamy, and to the larger community.

We'd like to end with our appreciation. Many, many thanks to the 86 couples who gave their time and perspective to this study!

--Blake Spears & Lanz Lowen www.thecouplesstudy.com
49%   within first year

10%   between years 1 and 5

17%   between years 5 and 7

24%   after year 7


We went on our second date and Todd said 'By the way, if you're
   looking for monogamy, I'm not the guy.' I responded, "Oh,
   thank God!' Having sex outside the relationship has always been an
   option for us.

   Jerry's former boyfriend had carried on with a boyfriend on the
   side, so he was very clear that he
   didn't want to play games. We decided right up front. "I'm gay;
   you're gay; You play; I'll play. Let's
   be realistic and open about it". We were both on the same
   wavelength and wanted the same
   thing I had been under lock and key in a previous relationship,
   so I was happy to be in an open
   relationship.

   Right after we met, I told Ted that I couldn't be monogamous
   even though I loved him I just need
   another dick occasionally. Ted said, 'Great! I've found the man
   I want to be with!' We were definitely
   on the same page We were open from the start, although we were
   mostly monogamous for the first 1 V2 years.

   We knew we both enjoyed sex with more than one person We had to
   decide 'How is this going to be part of our lives?' We even
   considered having a period of monogamy to help build the foundation,
   but it didn't make sense to us. We were both coming out of
   difficult relationships and so we started couples counseling
   at the outset We wanted to understand our own motivations and hear
   the other's We decided we would always play together There was no
   weirdness because we both liked seeing the other enjoy himself


We were monogamous the first 5 years. For the first couple of years
   I don't think we ever even noticed anyone else Then
   it took awhile before we got to the point of being able to
   acknowledge who we each found attractive We talked
   about opening it up about a year before we did it I think
   one of us was going on a trip alone--that became a catalyst
   to try it. We opened and closed the
   relationship a few times, depending on how we were feeling It
   wasn't ever a big issue, but we've
   approached it cautiously and carefully

   I think that as a hypothesis I was open to it from day one
   but realized that it took some time to feel
   totally comfortable about it and not feel threatened by Ken's
   interest in other men, especially if I
   felt they were younger, fitter, or sexier than me! When I felt
   sure of Ken, I could be less possessive.

   Eventually, there was one guy that we both liked and ended up
   doing a 3-way with After that, we
   started talking more about opening the relationship,
   but I didn't know how to proceed That was
   the beginning of our 'rule phase' I was very surprised I
   ended up wanting an open relationship
   since it was different than my family's values and what
   I expected that I would want It's funny -
   the guy we first did the 3-way with is now a good friend
   and we still do him occasionally.


When we got together, I sensed he wanted to be monogamous He had
   been in other relationships
   and they were all monogamous. I had been in a five year
   relationship that was very open
   and that was my norm We agreed we would be open, but he
   didn't really know what that meant
   or looked like or felt like Two months into the
   relationship I happened to call him from the baths
   and he lost it. It was a big fight. I said if it's a deal
   breaker, then I'm willing to be monogamous. We
   decided we would be monogamous About a year later, we were at
   a bar and someone hit on him and he asked me if
   we could take him home. We did and it was fine.
   For the next year, we did a
   lot of three-ways--we were Dallas's premier couple looking
   for a third. After the first year, I introduced
   him to the baths. We started going pretty regularly and for
   the first six months we always
   played together. At some point I suggested we be independent
   at the baths. He had concerns that
   this would be the beginning of the end of the relationship
   Since then we've gotten in the norm of
   going to The Club every weekend and doing people separately
   That's been our MO for the last 5 years.

   It took us a couple of years Terry insisted that we be
   monogamous, even though I wanted to play
   Terry said that if we're going to move countries and give up
   a career, he insisted that we be monogamous
   in order to make that commitment. So we were monogamous
   for a couple of years. In
   Munich, we were in a leather bar and were being cruised,
   and I asked Terry if we could pick up the
   guy. Terry gave me an 'arctic look' that said absolutely not
   It took another year or two before we opened it up.

   We were monogamous until 4 years ago. I could probably still
   be quite content being monogamous. Ted decided, rather
   unilaterally, that he wanted to open the relationship.
   I initially had feelings of inadequacy and rejection. I
   suppose if I had said, "This is absolutely not acceptable", he
   wouldn't have done anything But, I was also curious about
   what he wanted and wasn't getting at home.

   Rex told me in the beginning that he couldn't and wouldn't
   be monogamous I had a hard time
   with this the first 3-4 years. I talked to a lot of
   friends about it, and ultimately became comfortable
   with the arrangement Being open allowed us both to fully
   experience what we wanted to Rex
   always came back to me, which reinforced my decision to allow
   Rex total freedom By putting Rex's
   needs first and following Rex's inclinations, I experienced
   things that I never would have on my
   own, and that's allowed me to grow in ways I never expected
   I'm glad about that.


Albert was propositioned We went to a movie with the guy and then
   we talked about it all night
   We went out with the guy again and this time went home with him.
   He was very respectful of our
   relationship We were ready to have outside sex when this
   guy came along It was a watershed
   moment to realize that we could be attracted to each other,
   but also have attraction toward others.
   It can be hard to say what you want

   Four years into our relationship we were at the Gay Games and
   this guy started kissing Fred I
   asked him if he wanted to invite him home We did Our friends
   were being very dishonest--saying
   they were monogamous, but then secretly going behind each
   others' backs We wanted a relationship
   that was going to last We spoke about it and decided to
   open it Sex is sex; love is forever
   It's an on-going discussion to some extent.

   It was a gradual process and continues to be negotiated.
   At year 5, we had a commitment ceremony
   and went on a honeymoon to Cancun and started to talk
   about becoming non-monogamous
   Soon thereafter, we started playing with others when
   we were on vacation--it helped to be
   at ease, relaxed and far from home


We never talked about monogamy. The first 7 years we were both
   trying to be monogamous (for
   the sake of the other), but neither of us succeeded. Nor
   did we acknowledge that we weren't succeeding
   At 7 years, Luke and I were having very hot foreplay--I
   remember it clearly The phone
   rang and it was someone Luke had been tricking with
   saying he had been exposed to an STD I
   got angry and left the house We fought about it, but soon
   realized we were both 'cheating' and so
   it was hard to blame the other I quickly realized, "I love
   you and you're the man I want to be with"
   We decided we could be open and moved on

   About 3-4 years ago, I walked in on Julian having sex with
   someone. We had a big fight and realized
   we both had been fooling around on the side all along We
   had sex at the gym in the sauna
   or I occasionally met someone at the gym and would go to
   their house It wasn't like either of us
   had affairs, it was just fooling around. Well, we decided
   if that's what we needed, then we should
   be open about it So now we mostly do three-ways, but
   it's fairly open

   It was a hard decision. We only talked about it 7 or 8
   years ago. We both played outside of the relationship
   before that, but we didn't talk about it. We each assumed
   the other was doing the same.
   The relationship began to break down (energy, time
   commitment to each other, feeling honest).
   We decided we wanted to deal with the fact the relationship
   was open, but do it honestly We
   broke up for 11 mos We saw a counselor the whole time
   We both wanted to stay together, but
   we had to move the relationship to another level. The
   dilemma was, "How do we have an open
   relationship that is fair and honest and will work
   for both of us?" We realized that being able to go
   out sexually is a part of who we are and what we both want
   I wouldn't be as happy without it We
   needed to give each other some freedom


It's always been a thorny issue for us
   When we first met, I asked Ben to be monogamous,
   primarily because it was 1982
   and HIV-awareness was rising and I was
   concerned about either of us seroconverting
   However, Ben was very insistent that
   he be allowed to have outside sex and I
   was somewhat passive about it at first. For
   years 1-20, we both went out Ben tended
   to have anonymous sex I tended to get
   emotionally involved which caused conflicts
   with Ben. We still have conflict about how
   to handle outside sex


I wanted it open and Barret wanted it monogamous.
   Even today, Barret would like it
   to be closed We spoke about it repeatedly,
   but never came to full agreement Over the
   years, Barret had a lot of outside sex, but
   now he's not going out I went to sex clubs
   and I still have fuck buddies There has
   been on-going drama because it's never
   really been resolved


We were exclusive for a few years, but
   then we did 3-ways We did that for maybe
   five years and then it sort of stopped.
   We weren't traveling as much, we gained
   weight, AIDS became a concern, and opportunities
   didn't present themselves We
   then had about 10 years of monogamy, although
   we didn't talk about being monogamous
   I did phone and cyber sex, but never
   actually hooked up with anyone Then
   once when I was traveling, I decided to go
   out and kept doing this when I traveled I
   didn't tell Gil, but I somehow assumed he
   knew This period lasted another 10 years
   About two years ago, it all came out and
   now we occasionally have 3 ways and we
   have an agreement that we can go out But
   it still isn't totally resolved


Initially we travelled together and did
   3-ways together when they came up That
   was fine with both of us. We then went
   through a period of health issues During
   that time our sex life diminished, but I just
   assumed he didn't want sex because of
   what he was going through I thought we
   were growing as a couple, but I finally put
   two and two together and confronted him
   He owned up to playing around on trips
   and that he had been for quite a while He
   thought I knew His stance was "I have to
   do things on my own." And he definitely
   wanted to keep going out We almost
   broke up and we went to couples counseling
   We have surfaced the issues and right
   now the agreement is we both can go out,
   but it isn't resolved We're still in the middle
   of it


Joint

Only play   Play together    Primarily play
together    unless  at the   together &
            same venue       occasionally
                                 play separately

Independent

Play together   Only play
and             independently
independently


We didn't even acknowledge that we were attracted to other guys
   until 5 years into the relationship
   8 years into the relationship, we kind of impulsively decided
   to go into a sauna down the
   street We did a 3way with someone We decided afterward
   not to do it again, but several weeks
   later we went back For the next 5 years, we only went to
   saunas together One day, David suggested
   we go our separate ways in the sauna I didn't like that, so we
   didn't But we have different
   tastes, so it's real hard to find someone we both find
   attractive. Eventually we started going to
   saunas and doing guys separately

   The terms have changed as we've changed. We started with
   trying 3-ways. The first guy was a
   zero, but we found the experience interesting We continued
   in that mode (playing together) for
   awhile I stepped out once and had overwhelming guilt I told
   Terry and he was marvelous about it
   We re-negotiated and for awhile had a 'get out of jail
   free' card. If something was too nice to pass
   up, we would call the other and use a 'get out of jail
   free' card We did that for awhile, but it didn't
   really make sense--if you can't reach them it's a problem
   and so we let that go. Now we allow
   each other to play independently. We both wanted our sex
   lives to be fulfilling.

   We had argued about monogamy at the beginning I wanted an
   open relationship, but he said
   he would be pissed off if I was unfaithful I knew I wasn't
   capable of monogamy We decided we
   would only play with others together. Finding people that
   were equally attracted to both of us was
   difficult. We did find one guy we both really liked and
   he was very respectful of our relationship.
   We played with him for a couple of years At one point I was
   traveling and ran into one of our 'joint
   tricks' I made the decision to do him alone When I told
   Dwight, he wasn't upset This was the
   beginning of us evolving into having outside sex separately.

   We started by playing in the backrooms when we lived in
   Europe Initially, we played together, but
   then we started taking turns going to the back room One
   would tend the drinks while the other
   played, but we always went home together Over the years,
   it became okay to go home with
   someone and now we sometimes will hook up online when
   the other is out of town.


I was the more insecure one and I wanted rules I needed
   to know what Wayne was doing I didn't
   want to find out by surprise. I wanted him to tell me.
   That's still an important rule.

   We tell each other whatever we've done. It's not a rule.
   We like telling. I don't mind Pierce doing
   anyone, but it would hurt me if he deceived me

   Everything gets shared. It's how I can be comfortable with
   the situation. I'd have issues if I didn't
   know about it. If it wasn't discussed, it might lead to
   emotional disengagement. Once you start
   closing down sharing in one area, it may creep up in
   other areas I also enjoy hearing about what
   Cesar has done. It fuels my fantasies.

   If we split up at the baths, we share general info--Was
   it fun? What did he look like? Occasionally
   we introduce someone we've played with We don't go into
   gory details or go on and on.

   Our first reaction when either of us meets someone we
   like is, "Oh, you've got to meet my partner".
   We try to integrate the experiences and outside relationships,
   rather than compartmentalize.

   There is a deeper level of honesty, trust and sharing
   There aren't secrets It's a learning experience
   I bring back to the relationship.


It opens up sexual and physical ideas and options We incorporate
   what we experience and learn into our own sexual repertoire

   It's good to have sex with others. You see and experience
   something new and different. It gets
   brought back into the relationship when we talk about it
   Often, when we share experiences, we
   say, "Mmmm, let's try that next time "

   Ted brings a lot of new ideas back. I like the variety.
   And it reminds us that others still find us both
   attractive.

   We share everything. When Jesse first started going out,
   he discovered that if he gave me details
   about what he did, then I would try those things on him I
   learned a lot about what he likes and what pleases him.

   I've become a better cocksucker. Raul told me that
   and appreciated it.


I usually want to know how big their dick was We use
   it in foreplay.

   If Mac tells me and I'm titillated, then I'll ask more.

   It's fun to talk about the experience together. It's
   titillating. Even if we go out and don't pick up, the
   sex when we go home is very hot and fun. It adds an
   edge to the relationship. Graham's sex drive
   is diminishing and outside sex enhances it for us as a couple

   I want to know We talk about it It helped me with my
   insecurity and it can enhance our own sex
   I find it titillating. We also find out more about each
   other. "Is there anything else that he did you
   really liked?"

   We usually share--we find it titillating. I enjoy hearing
   after the fact. If I hear about it ahead of
   time, I get a little insecure


We both share details at times. It's often exciting, but it can
   cause a little jealousy. Sometimes I
   filter what I share based on who the other guy is. We like to
   compare notes, but we definitely try to
   not make the other person envious.

   If something funny happens, we share it, or if it's likely
   to be of interest to the other one. However,
   I like more kinky sex and Loren doesn't want to hear it, so I
   don't tell him that stuff. And Loren likes
   more 'traditional' sex, which bores me.

   I don't report back what I do Hugh shares because he
   wants to share He likes to talk about what
   happened. I'm not a jealous type. In fact, if he tells me,
   I get turned on.

   I share all the details although Ryan might not want to
   hear them I like hearing the details from
   Ryan--I create fantasies based on his exploits However,
   he usually just says that 'he went out'
   and doesn't elaborate

   When we play apart, we acknowledge that it happened,
   but we don't' share a lot of detail Neither
   of us needs to know a lot about the other's outside
   activities. However, if it was a good experience
   for one of us, and we want to repeat, then we will
   discuss it and perhaps even bring the other one along.

   There are some things that happen in the margins that don't
   get shared There's an acceptance of
   unfaithfulness -that sounds harsher than I mean it--but we
   can read each other


We're still working out what we talk about Cliff doesn't want
   to tell me what he does and doesn't
   want to hear what I did I like sharing and the idea of
   not knowing what Cliff is doing is very unsettling;
   We've been in couples counseling the past year.

   It's been very hard for Patrick to be open about what he does
   sexually outside I'm more open
   Most of the change has been with Patrick becoming more open
   about what he shares.

   The hardest thing has been to know how much to talk about
   what we did outside I tend to form
   relationships easier, and it can threaten George It's harder
   for George to form relationships, so
   he sometimes sees me as being more invested in the outside
   relationship than I actually am He
   views my relationships as more emotionally connected than
   I experience them.

   It's very hard for me to open up and talk about things.
   Talking about sex is difficult. We share most
   stuff--at least when it seems significant. But if he finds
   out later, even though I didn't think it was
   a big deal, then he feels like I'm not telling him
   everything I doubt he tells me everything, but its
   okay with me.

   Tom wanting to always hear the details in order to get
   titillated got wearisome I'm probably more
   promiscuous and I don't mind sharing some details, but
   it got to be too much I had to tell him, "If
   you want me to be honest and tell you about what I'm
   doing, you can't always ask for all the little
   details" It begins to intrude on my own experience.


You have 3 days to divulge, but if it's not oral or anal
   it doesn't count as sex. Jacking off in the gym
   shower doesn't equal sex so there's no need to report.

   We do have what we call the "Sauna Clause" Basically, whatever
   happens at the gym, stays at the gym.


There are no explicit rules, but it's very limited. Any outside
   stuff has to happen by 6 pm because
   we spend all our evenings together. I guess we have the "Don't
   Ask; Don't Tell" policy. We don't
   discuss and we choose to be discreet.

   We have an agreement that it's okay to go out, but we
   generally don't report back When Mack
   gets back in town, I don't tell him that I went out or who
   I played with I suppose he could ask, but he never does

   We still do 3 ways We have a norm not to tell about anything
   else I may see someone while he's
   traveling, but I don't tell him. It all feels insignificant,
   so it's easier not to tell him.


Connection Limited

Anonymous   Fuck buddies   Friends with
contacts                   benefits

Involvement Permitted

Deeper        Emotional
connections   commitments


We don't have an explicit restriction, but the norms we've
   created and the way we are each personally
   wired pretty much precludes emotional involvement I can only
   love one man at a time
   and so I'm not emotionally available I adore anonymous
   sex We both have our tricks that we play
   with multiple times at the baths, but it's not more than
   that. It's, "Gee that was fun. I already have
   a commitment." Even when the sex is very good, I get bored
   after 2 or 3 times.

   Nothing stated, but we both firmly believe in sex as just
   a release. If it were emotional, it would be
   much more threatening and would feel like cheating
   Even now, I have some guilt that I should be
   home rather than out looking for sex.

   We don't have any regular fuckbuddies and none of our tricks
   have become friends There's a
   pretty strong distinction between meeting sexual needs
   and emotional needs We're both men
   and there's that desire for variety By being together when
   we play, it makes it safe/non-threatening.
   It's a built-in mechanism that allows us to blow off
   steam We expect our emotional needs to
   be met with each other.

   We can schedule something with someone, but not a second
   time It's not a problem if you
   happen to run into them again, but the point is you're
   not planning/setting things up and seeing
   someone repeatedly. We're not looking for emotional attachments
   and we don't want them. It's a
   hard and fast rule that avoids complications.

   It's not an issue Sex is sex I love Gil Gil loves me
   There is no outside emotional attachment -
   we're not looking, needing, or wanting.


We're so tight and bonded that there's no room for anyone else.
   There's not really a chance for
   someone to get involved emotionally I'm the one that
   is more likely to get involved emotionally
   since I see guys repeatedly, but they know from the beginning
   I'm attached. I quickly distance
   myself if anyone starts to get clingy or too close emotionally.

   We have a clear rule that we're supposed to stop if emotions
   are getting involved. It's happened
   with me once. I had to tell the guy, "No, I'm not going to
   tell you I love you"

   I don't think we ever had to say, "Don't fall in love with
   someone". Emmanuel is into anonymous
   sex; I'm the one that would be more inclined to form
   relationships There have been a couple of
   people who I had sex with who became friends and became our
   friends (and Emmanuel had sex
   with as well) It wasn't a problem I don't think I ever got
   too involved Instinctually, I might pull
   back if I was getting infatuated But I never felt like I was
   holding myself back I think it's more that
   my needs are being met by Emmanuel, my family and our friends

   Neither of us wants an emotional connection We're free to
   make friends and get close, but my
   heart is and has always been with Byron. There is a boundary
   between love for a friend vs my
   love for Byron I had a boy that lived in Chicago. There was
   some emotional attachment, but it
   never crossed that boundary I was more like his father
   Byron had a couple of boys too We liked
   being mentors--they were a lot younger and it gave us a
   role and we did it together. It added to
   our relationship They ran their course and moved on


Ted doesn't like to kiss, touch, caress. He likes wham/bam, to
   watch, and very anonymous encounters.
   I like getting to know the person and touching I want foreplay.

   Brent goes after everything, but I want to know someone before
   I would ever want to have sex
   with them. Yeah, once I guess I had a bit of crush.
   He was really cute and really nice. I stayed in
   touch, but was very careful in my correspondence so that I
   didn't encourage anything. It passed. I
   don't worry about intimacy with others. I would stop myself
   from it. Brent? Oh he's incapable of it (laughs).

   I prefer having anonymous sex If I know their name it can ruin
   the experience I've seen a few
   guys several times, but I don't want to become attached or
   emotional I have what's called "New
   England emotional shutdown"--if someone is feeling an emotion,
   we can have a piece of cake
   Tim is wired differently He falls in love and processes like
   a lesbian.

   We're very different people. Anyone can suck my dick, but I
   only kiss someone I love. I would feel
   embarrassed kissing someone I didn't love Dale is opposite
   Dale wants to get to know them I
   just want a blowjob on the way home from work.

   I lead with my emotions We used to say that I could have a
   close friendship that would be as
   threatening as Mel having sex But Mel's not at all jealous.
   I feel no restraint from Mel to rein in my
   emotions There's no leash, but I stay pretty close I feel
   trusted and that makes me more secure
   of myself

   For Ted, "It's just sex" I'm much more of a romantic -
   I see sex as linked to romance. The bathhouses
   and sex clubs never worked for me I'd rather know something
   about the person--then I'm more comfortable


Barry is more emotionally focused than
   me He gravitates toward regulars It may
   be a transient relationship, but for that period
   they're very connected I had a couple
   of guys who liked me, but when that happens
   I get very uncomfortable Barry would
   love for me to be more connected to his
   'regulars'.


For me sex is love I like guys who are
   emotionally available, but only to a point
   that doesn't require I get involved in a way
   that would affect my relationship with Chip.


I was concerned "Is he falling in love?" He reassured me I met the
   guy a few times I thought of
   the whole thing as Adam going thru a phase I considered it more
   an annoyance than a threat I've
   learned emotional involvement isn't as binary or clear cut as
   I thought it was.

   There are no restrictions I'm the trouble-maker on this one
   Art gives me tremendous leeway I get
   close to friends and like to hang out with them, but it never
   makes me not want to come home to
   Art And if I get close to someone, I'm always open to including
   Art--they're not exclusive friends.

   There's always that risk There was one guy I started getting
   involved with so I stopped myself.
   There are no rules about it, but there's an understanding that
   our relationship is most important.
   Norman definitely got emotionally involved with Sam. He would
   just as soon have his tricks over
   for breakfast, but I'm not comfortable with that.


We're primary to each other We can
   depend on each other so unquestioningly
   He's had a number of serious health issues
   and to be able to be a support to him has
   been really important to me (as well as to
   him) Walter is emotionally involved with
   Gene, and even I have an emotional connection
   with Gene. But it's very secondary
   to Walter's and my relationship Our sexual
   relations with outsiders just aren't that important
   compared to our relationship.


I only enjoy sex with people I know and
   like I love my friend Gene and he sometimes
   spends the night at our house But I
   think of my relationship with Lewis as being
   emotionally monogamous.


Anonymous sex does nothing for me I
   only get sexually aroused by people whom
   I know and have some connection with
   So, I do get emotionally involved It's been
   a minor issue a few times  Most of our
   friends are people that I got involved with
   Owen feels more threatened because I
   need more involvement The sex usually
   quickly falls away and then we're usually
   friends, and Owen is close to almost all of
   them.


I don't take names or numbers Clark gets
   emotionally involved and that can feel
   threatening. Early on, I got very insecure,
   but I've learned to trust Clark and the relationship
   I realize I'm not in control, but I
   decided I have to trust that Clark and I have
   the same goals.


I fall in love He calls it "emotional wandering" and puts his
   foot down I cut it off totally, cut out the
   sex, or include Cliff in the sex.

   We met a 34 y/o boy, Lucas, who Warren was strongly attracted
   to. I was attracted to him as a
   friend Lucas ended up moving in with us and Warren and he had a
   strong sexual relationship.
   There was no jealousy, no drama, everyone was open Our friends
   kept warning us "What the fuck
   are you doing?" Their fears bothered me, but I had encouraged
   the situation I was having anonymous
   sex and enjoying that and they were spending a lot of time
   bonding Lucas lived with us for
   1 1/2 years, but Warren slept with me every night. I became
   the "Daddy" and they were the two
   boys I liked that role I felt left out and delighted Warren's
   a lot of maintenance so it was a relief.
   We stayed the course until it was time to shift and we
   all agreed that Lucas needed to move out,
   although he's still family. We now have a different model.
   Warren has a handful of fuck buddies
   and I tell him he can have sex with whomever he wants, but
   he can't have dinner with them.

   At first, Miles was quite carried away by Donald. It was
   very de-stabilizing and I drew the line. The
   three of us played together a few times and then we agreed
   that Donald would have dinner with
   us four or five times a week and the three of us would play
   once a week. We did this for a year
   and a half Fortunately, Donald had a strong sense of
   fairness and he and Miles became much
   more aware of my needs I now see it as a youthful infatuation
   on Miles's part.

   Dating or emotional attachment would spell trouble--so we
   don't do it I had one affair We talked
   about it all the way through it Bob handled it better than
   I did I'm more promiscuous, but also
   the one that's more likely to get jealous The affair lasted
   two months--it was with a married guy
   At no time did it jeopardize my feelings for Bob The guy
   was all over me telling me he loved me
   and when I finally gave in, he was gone. Bob was very
   supportive around my feelings of getting
   dumped. In the long-run, I lost my appetite for outside sex
   as a result of that experience. It certainly
   made me appreciate Bob more.


Early on, we didn't see a person more than
   once That's not the case now Now we
   say "No affairs". Affair = emotional, erotic,
   sexual commitment that draws energy
   away from Elliot We have the rule because
   I did have an affair at the 7 year point and
   it lasted 9 months. It was painful for everyone
   Now, I'm much more careful to have
   'friends with benefits.' If there's no romantic
   affair, no one gets hurt It has been trial and
   error and it's still an issue.


Daryle got emotionally involved, but now if
   he did, it probably would be okay because
   I trust that he won't leave me


The feeling of connection is what makes sex hot, so there is
   some emotional involvement We've
   become friends with playmates and friends have become
   playmates We both enjoy being openhearted.


We realize it's just sex and we save our emotions
   for each other We never tell anyone
   else we love them--that's just for us We
   have good strong feelings for our friends and
   fuckbuddies, but as friends They know it's
   about the sex and they're respectful of our
   relationship.


It's never really been a problem There were a
   few times very early in the relationship where
   I got infatuated, but Mitch called me on it and
   I backed off I always look at it from Mitch's
   perspective--"How would I feel if Mitch did
   this to me?" For the two of us, the relationship
   is paramount.


We're very comfortable with the strength of
   our relationship and we're not worried about
   anyone taking either of us away--so there
   aren't any restrictions However, we both
   expect to be primary Friends or tricks could
   be emotionally involved, but they're more like
   satellites We have crushes, but I don't allow it
   to go further We understand the importance
   of our relationship It's our bed I'm going to
   come home to.


For myself, I'm careful not to let anything get
   out of hand I learned in a previous relationship
   where to draw the line I don't want to
   fuck up what we have.


There are no real restrictions I have playmates
   I've played with for 2-3 years. Martin
   has met them It's important for them to see
   that I have a partner I make it very clear that I
   will be going home tonight Single guys often
   want a relationship I can't provide that, although
   they're welcome to come back to the
   well repeatedly Sometimes, I have to be very
   clear, "That's not going to happen" I'm always
   quick to introduce Martin. If they get clingy,
   I pull away During year two, we did have a
   3rd in our relationship for about 6 months.
   He didn't live with us He wanted me and we
   knew that, so we watched him Martin was
   more suspicious than I was, but we made
   it clear to him He realized the situation and
   moved on, although we're still friends.


They fall for Zak. Occasionally they have fallen
   for me, but usually with Zak because he's a
   social butterfly. We then have to navigate that.
   I don't tell him to stop seeing the person, but
   we talk and do confirm that they need to be
   reminded its physical and a friendship--not
   more We let it play out, even if they're macho
   and think they're going to win Zak away
   It's about them, not us We don't want to lead
   them on or damage their self-esteem They
   either get it and deal with it or they move on.


We don't have rules We have run into only
   one situation We had a visitor from Argentina
   --a young kid. I felt like an affectionate big
   brother The three of us played--Dennis more
   than me Dennis was aware I found the kid
   very appealing and we both knew the kid was
   going back to Argentina. But it turned out that
   Dennis felt uncomfortable and threatened I
   felt warmly toward the kid and flattered that
   we had some type of bond, but it wasn't at
   all comparable to what I feel for Dennis and
   certainly not a threat. However, I wasn't being
   aware of how it might be impacting Dennis.
   There is a line We do get close to some of
   our friends, but my feelings for Dennis are
   qualitatively and quantitatively different One
   of the key things we believe--a third can't
   break a sound couple up As long as we love
   each other, nothing will pull us apart.


We're sometimes sexual with friends and
   some 3-ways have become our friends We
   both know we're allowing ourselves to be
   open to others To some degree, that puts
   the relationship 'at risk' but it makes us both
   feel free and that we're choosing to be in
   the relationship. Larry had a cute guy from
   Argentina visit and he told me how special
   the guy was I felt threatened by that and
   told Larry my fears Larry felt really bad that
   he had caused me to feel insecure.


I was concerned "Is he falling in love?" He reassured me. I met the
   guy a few times. I thought of
   the whole thing as Adam going thru a phase I considered it
   more an annoyance than a threat I've
   learned emotional involvement isn't as binary or clear cut as I
   thought it was.

   There are no restrictions I'm the trouble-maker on this one
   Art gives me tremendous leeway I get
   close to friends and like to hang out with them, but it
   never makes me not want to come home to
   Art And if I get close to someone, I'm always open to including
   Art--they're not exclusive friends.

   There's always that risk There was one guy I started getting
   involved with so I stopped myself
   There are no rules about it, but there's an understanding that
   our relationship is most important.
   Norman definitely got emotionally involved with Sam.
   He would just as soon have his tricks over
   for breakfast, but I'm not comfortable with that


We're primary to each other We can
   depend on each other so unquestioningly
   He's had a number of serious health issues
   and to be able to be a support to him has
   been really important to me (as well as to
   him) Walter is emotionally involved with
   Gene, and even I have an emotional connection
   with Gene But it's very secondary
   to Walter's and my relationship Our sexual
   relations with outsiders just aren't that important
   compared to our relationship.


I only enjoy sex with people I know and
   like I love my friend Gene and he sometimes
   spends the night at our house But I
   think of my relationship with Lewis as being
   emotionally monogamous.


Jim is seeing someone who he really likes
   and they have gone on two weekend
   excursions together If there was ever going
   to be a threat, it's probably this guy Jim
   is keeping me informed and I can tell by
   his demeanor that nothing between him
   and me has changed He has sexual and
   spiritual needs I know I can't meet He likes
   drugs and intense sex I don't do either I
   know my limitations and I've always been
   secure It's about mutual happiness and
   mutual supportiveness I'd rather us put our
   energy and focus on what we have and
   what we enjoy together Where we don't
   meet our partner's needs, let them find
   their way and meet them He brings his
   excitement back to our relationship I never
   say to Jim he can't do something I think if
   I denied him, it wouldn't be a good thing I
   can dialogue about it, but I can't say 'No' It
   may be something very important to him I
   don't feel hurt by it because he's not being
   any different with me.


There's a guy with whom I'm getting very
   connected. It doesn't feel as romantic as it
   feels like a 'heart expansion.' We've spent
   two weekends together. It doesn't feel that
   de-stabilizing, but Wayne and I talk about
   it and what it means to our relationship
   Wayne doesn't put constraints on me, but
   I put constraints on myself Wayne is okay
   as long as the outside involvement doesn't
   threaten our relationship.


We don't fall in love with anyone else, but we've had instances
   where we've become emotionally
   attached, but we've always done it together For awhile we had a
   third living with us.

   We found a guy we care about and love He's more than a trick.
   He's a dear friend We both
   love him, but we're not in love with him. We certainly don't
   love him like we do each other;
   he's more like our boy--he's 32 and naive. We watch out for
   him--have him over for dinner
   or to play. He is the only one we feel that way about.
   We'd love to see him find a relationship
   of his own.

   Emotional involvement is the last thing either of us would
   want The only exception was with
   a neighbor we had 6 years into the relationship We both liked
   him very much We had many
   3-somes together and he would spend weekends with us We tried
   to keep him connected to
   both of us equally, but in the second year he became more
   emotionally involved with me We
   ended the relationship at that point because it was hurtful
   to John. It was the best thing to do.
   We're still friends, but the sex stopped as soon as he
   developed romantic feelings toward me.

   We met a guy in '96 that we started to see a lot for 3 months.
   He was new to the area. He
   spent every weekend with us, until we felt he was starting to
   get emotionally involved. We weren't looking for a 3-way
   relationship and so we had to pull back We didn't see him for a
   couple of months, but after that we all became friends again
   Eventually, he met someone
   else and we've maintained our relationship with him.
   He was the best man at our wedding
   and our commitment ceremony.


We had a rule that there wouldn't be any emotional involvement I
   used to worry that Dale would
   get attached if he had a really good outside experience.
   When we met Adrian, we both agreed that
   he was different. The three of us have been together for 4 years
   and I expect to be with the two of
   them the rest of my life We're monogamous at this point (no
   longer have 'outside sex') The three
   of us all go to therapy, individually and together as needed


Thom and I were together for 5 years before
   we met Trent Trent has been with us
   for the last 8 years. He's a senior exec at a
   Fortune 500 company and routinely takes
   us both to the company's retreats. He introduces
   us as his 'two husbands' Sometimes
   we all do things together and sometimes
   it's just two of us (any two of us). Our families
   have been very supportive. They saw
   how loyal and caring Trent and Thom were
   when I had cancer.


I have two husbands. A stool with 3 legs
   is stronger. We all balance each other. I'm
   playful even though I have a backbone of
   steel. Joe and Trent are the adults. Trent
   is in Denver four days a week, but when
   we're together with Trent, we're really
   together. We still have outside sex and
   various connections, but the three of us are
   emotionally monogamous.


It's been a hard year with Joe's health problems.
   Thom and I alternated 12 hour shifts
   when Joe was in the hospital and he needed
   a lot of support when he came home I don't
   know how we would have done it if there
   weren't three of us. It's definitely made us all
   stronger.


Walt is my husband, but I have two other
   major relationships--Chase is my 'boy'. I'm in
   love with him. Chase is in a 10-year relationship
   with my best friend. I'm also in love with
   Nelson, my other boy. We all view ourselves
   as family. Walt and I don't keep anything from
   each other. The 5 of us are very, very close.
   There are a variety of relationships, not all
   sexual, but all intimate.


When Carl tells me about someone new, I
   can't help thinking "Oh dear God, are you
   falling in love with another one?"' That's when
   Carl usually says, "I'm going to slap you if you
   roll your eyes again." No, I'm not threatened
   by it. Carl is incredibly loyal and I know we're
   in it for the long haul.


I was with my ex-partner Taylor, when I
   met Phillip. I've always considered myself
   polyamorous and so for the first four years
   that Phillip and I were together, I was still
   with Taylor. The three of us got along well
   together. Our relationship is definitely wide
   open, but it's not anything goes as in 'whatever'.
   We're very responsible and committed
   to what we have. The norms we have:

   * Honesty. A very proactive honesty that
     includes consistent checking in.

   * Trying to integrate, rather than compartmentalize.
     If I have a relationship
     that is becoming serious, I need to
     introduce that person to the family and
     they need to welcome them in (or
     not). If they're not comfortable with the
     person than it won't work.

   * Consideration and respect. Each of us
     is good about sharing time with the
     others. They have their own relationships
     with each other (non-sexual),
     and are respectful of each one's relationship
     with me.

Anything is fine if it adds to what we have
here. If I (or someone else) was to get involved
with someone in a way that jeopardized
what we have, we wouldn't do it


We consciously defined ourselves as open
   from the beginning. Each of us is free to
   see others within the boundary of not
   upsetting the whole. My previous partners
   were into the drama of jealousy, which just
   doesn't work for me. Leonard was with Taylor
   when we met. The three of us became
   a triad. It worked really well and I was really
   sad when Taylor decided not to continue.


I wouldn't be comfortable with a bunch of rules. You'd be
   constantly watching out for the rules and
   whose breaking them and then you would have to punish them. Who
   wants to focus on any of
   that?

   I hate all those rules! Who cares? Either the relationship is
   open or it's not.

   We have no rules. If we did, it would put restrictions on each other
   and we don't want to do that.
   I want to support Clay in whatever he wants to do. Even if
   Clay were to meet someone else, I
   would want the best for him and would support him.


For the first couple of years there was an assumption of monogamy -
   at least I had an assumption
   we would be monogamous. What was clear is that we would be
   completely honest with each
   other and we did that. There were occasional 'outside sex'
   exceptions and then we would talk
   about it. It was difficult and some of it was painful. I often got
   very emotional. I especially got angry
   when I found out Thierry had had sex with a former boyfriend.
   Rationally, I thought it was okay, but
   emotionally, it hurt. After a number of these experiences, we
   came to our first rule: "To talk about it
   ahead of time".


We don't really have defined rules. We do have the norm of playing
   together. We played apart
   some early on, but we realized we'd rather keep it inside. We
   shifted to playing together about a
   year into the relationship. We want to keep our sex drive in
   the relationship. It's not a rule, but I
   think we have a shared understanding about playing together
   and what's priority.

   There are no rules or restrictions around emotional
   involvement, but there is concern. We both
   love each other and we know since we're not having sex with
   each other, there is a potential to
   fall in love. I did meet someone I fell in love with. I
   certainly wasn't going to pack up, but I got very
   emotionally involved. I've learned to pay attention.

   Our basic policy is to try and play together. It's okay if
   something presents itself when you're on
   your own, but we don't put much energy there It has to be
   respectful It's not okay to suck everything
   in sight and it's not okay to leave the other person sitting
   at home while you go cruise. It's
   not really rules-based, but we have a pretty good
   understanding.

   We don't have set rules around it, but we choose not to
   have affairs. You can see the flags go up
   when someone is getting emotionally involved, and we pull
   ourselves back. The agreement is: be
   careful; don't get too involved and jeopardize the
   relationship.

   We don't really have rules, but we both realize that we're
   dedicated to each other. It's been an
   understanding that's developed. If something happens
   (individual sex), eventually, we will talk
   about it. At first it was kind of scary, but then we got
   over it. It's just sex. The first fear was one of
   us would get emotionally attached, but now we realize our
   emotional attachment is to each other
   only. We have fuck buddies, but we don't see them outside
   of a sexual context. They don't become
   social friends. For us, that would signify an emotional
   attachment.


Our spoken rules: When we go out together, we come home together.
   We tend to stick pretty
   close to each other. Whether at the baths or a party, we can go
   off for a little while, but then check
   back We touch base a lot.

   Our unspoken rules: When we travel, it's okay to fool around
   (either of us). We don't need to tell
   or inform the other unless it's extremely hot, tragic, or silly.

   Setting the rules ahead of time in terms of what we would
   and would not do was very important.
   For example, neither of us will get fucked. We feel that part
   of our relationship is a 'sacred thing'
   that we only want to do with each other.


We originally started with a bunch of rules.
   No one can spend the night. Nobody more
   than twice. That lasted about a year and
   then one day I came home and Chuck
   asked me about a guy he met online. It
   was my ex-boyfriend. We invited him for
   the weekend and had a great time. He still
   comes and stays with us a couple times a
   year and is a good friend. It's okay to play
   separately, but we put most of our energy
   into three-ways. We have a number of
   friendships that are sexual with the two of
   us, but not separately. We only play without
   the other when it just happens at the gym
   or traveling. We don't develop friendships
   without the other.


Our initial rules evolved. Now we don't
   always play together, but most of the time.
   It's okay to do someone multiple times. We
   have friends with benefits and we've often
   had guys come and visit and stay with us
   for the weekend. The rule around that is
   they sleep in the guest room. Things are
   pretty fluid. If we're both attracted to someone,
   than that person has to want to play
   with both of us.


At first, Jack hardly played out at all, but he did make a bunch
   of rules for me to play by. But over
   the years, we relaxed them all. The only rule left is that
   there be no overnight stays. However, it's
   okay to spend the night at a trick's, if the other person is out
   of town. Ironically, now, Jack is the
   only one going out.

   There are no rules now. But we act based on our feelings for
   each other. We act respectfully -
   appreciate each other's needs. We won't do things we know
   might be hurtful, e.g. dating someone
   or getting emotionally involved. I want him to be happy and
   do whatever he needs to be happy.


Straight away, I just wanted honesty and I never had it before.
   Dean's always been honest. Sometimes
   I don't like what he has to tell me, but he always tells me.
   I had a boyfriend for 18 years
   who lied and cheated. He was gorgeous and men were all over
   him and he would pretend nothing
   was happening.

   We meet people when we're out at parties so another rule is you
   have to introduce them to me
   before you leave. That way they clearly know Van has a partner,
   he has a face and they recognize
   they are getting permission. This has been valuable because
   it actually bothers some guys and
   those are the ones that need to fully recognize that we
   are partnered. It also gives a clear message
   that we are being straightforward and that we have agreed
   upon rules.


We're also very considerate. We can be out and if one of us
   meets someone and the other isn't
   interested or doesn't find them attractive, it's fine to go
   home with them. But if we were to meet
   someone that we both found very attractive, it would be rude
   for one of us to leave with that person
   We make sure that neither of us is going to be hurt.

   Courtesy and respect are important. We plan outside sex for
   times when we're not together. Whatever
   we want to do together is first priority. If I've played with
   someone, they need to be courteous
   to Richard. One guy told Richard he was going to take me
   away from him and Richard certainly
   didn't have to tell me not to see him again.

   Although we don't have rules, we do have a norm around loyalty
   When we're out together, we
   won't ever leave with someone else or give up any evening to
   be with a trick, when we could
   be together. It's partly courtesy, but neither of us would
   want to do anything that would hurt the
   other's feelings.

   Jose had to learn how to be honest with me and how to remember
   to keep me in consideration
   when he did things. There are some unspoken norms now.
   You have to take me into account. You
   have to be considerate of my feelings and how it
   will impact me.

   We give each other first choice of time--the right of refusal
   for any reason. We prefer to spend
   time together. The right of first refusal? if you're in the
   mood to fuck someone else, but I'm horny,
   do it with me first.

   We generally try to be courteous and that can be difficult
   logistically. If I make arrangements to
   meet someone and then Dallas doesn't have plans and he
   doesn't have anything to do, I will usually
   cancel. I would feel guilty. We don't just take off to go
   have outside sex when we're spending
   the afternoon together. We try to keep it out of
   each other's face.


We both have to feel comfortable. Either one can call the night.
   We always check. If Ted stops, I
   can continue, providing he's comfortable. I never want to
   have sex if it might make Ted uncomfortable
   or would hurt him in any way. I value Ted and our relationship
   much more than the pleasures
   of sex. If Ted isn't turned on to the guy, but I am and I'm
   getting revved up, I have to throttle down,
   which is uncomfortable, but I have no problem calling it off
   and walking away.

   We're both there whenever we have outside sex and no one does
   anyone or anything they don't
   want to do. We attend events together. If one wants to
   leave, then we would both leave. If something
   is happening and I can't get past it, then I would or could say,
   "Let's stop." But usually we
   enjoy watching each other. We're both insecure individually,
   but together we're confident.

   Be aware of the other person's feelings, especially if a
   3way. If the differences (older/younger;
   thinner/stockier) get in the way then it's just not going
   to work. We just do without, rather than
   have a conflict.

   We go out as a team. It seems natural that some people
   will like one of us; some will like the
   other. We are very comfortable with watching the other play.
   Sometimes I will handcuff Jim to a
   chair and watch others play with him. I love to see
   him 'go for it.'

   Sometimes a person is more attracted to one of us than the other.
   There are times when Raul really
   enjoys watching, but we keep track of the other. He will
   give me a hard pinch and look toward
   the door if he wants to quit.


We're both negative and want to stay that way. I'm not going to
   take the risk or break the rule
   EVER. I've been very cautious since I came out because HIV
   was already an issue. Health and
   emotions--we're saving ourselves for each other.

   Sean's concerns are all around health and HIV. We're both HIV
   negative, but we don't have the
   same intellectual agreement about HIV transmission, which is
   the basis for all our rules.


If things aren't going well between us, it's not a good time to play
   outside the relationship. I've put
   off guys, when John and I are having trouble.

   There have been a few times when we were going through rough times
   in the relationship and we
   made a point not to go out during those times

   Primary commitment has always been clear and is even clearer now.
   Bottom line is: "What's my
   core commitment?" If we were ever in a place where that was in
   question or we were having
   trouble as a couple, that would be a time not to go out. If we
   were having problems, we shouldn't
   being going outside, we should be home tending the relationship.


What Is Most Difficult?

21%   Jealousy
20%   One or both getting too emotionally involved
12%   Becoming comfortable with Non-Monogamy
11%   Challenges that arise in 3-ways
 9%   Dishonesty
 8%   Issues related to Drug/Alcohol Use
 7%   Lack of sensitivity
20%   "Nothing has been difficult"


I can be extremely jealous. Jay tells me what he's done right away,
   but I have a hard time listening
   to it Sometimes I say, "That's enough I don't want to hear any
   details" I get really competitive with
   guys I know that have done him I compare myself to them and
   wonder if they're better sex than
   me Interestingly, I don't get jealous when we do three-ways I
   love to see him having a good time.
   I love to see two guys having at him and sometimes I may just
   watch, although usually not When.
   I see him enjoying himself and having so much fun, I know that's
   what I want. I guess it over-rides
   any competitive feelings--I just don't go there.

   Initially it would bother me to see Brent kissing another man
   We talked about it and he quickly
   agreed not to But over time it became okay with me.

   Occasionally I get jealous when I'm not included I tell
   Barrett when it happens and he's good
   about hearing me and reassuring me.

   He attracts tricks better than me. He's younger. Sometimes
   feelings of jealousy come up. I have
   a pang of jealousy when he's been with someone hotter than me
   and I know he's been getting
   fucked by someone that he's hot for But I don't like to hang
   onto negative emotions I don't like to
   let them spiral out of control. I figure it out on my own
   and drown the feeling with the reminder of
   how great our relationship is.


At one point, I set Miles up with a trick I knew
   he was really hot for. When Miles came back,
   he went on and on about how wonderful
   the guy was and I got really jealous We've
   learned to share what happened without
   the enthusiasm, out of respect for the other
   partner We both can get jealous and feel
   insecure at times. It also happens if someone
   pays attention to one of us more than the
   other. Not feeling equal is a big trigger. And
   it was hard sometimes to see Miles getting
   fucked by someone when it seemed like he
   was enjoying it more than he did with me.


Jealousy has been the hardest issue. If one of
   us had 'too good' of a time or 'gushed' about
   it, then the other one would get jealous and
   feel inadequate or insecure. When jealousy
   comes up, we just talk through it. We don't
   fight about anything else, so we try to listen
   to each other and work it out or take it to
   therapy.


I used to get insecure and worry that Ross would find someone else
   more attractive and leave me.
   It's not really an issue now. At the Baths, I love to see Ross
   get sucked off in the steam room--it
   doesn't make me jealous at all

   Jealousy has been hard. I'm the one that gets jealous--it's
   usually if I see him with someone I
   think is cute. It's not a competitive jealousy. It's more that
   I begin to worry where I stand with David
   At this point, I realize it isn't likely (to lose David) and I
   reassure myself. If it really bothers me, I
   bring it up. David is reassuring. He reminds me it's just
   sex--it's nothing to do with emotional ties.
   It's a lot less now. I'd say it was a 10 and now it's a 3.

   I was more interested in other guys than Lewis was and he had
   this fear that I was going to leave
   him. Ironically, I think being able to include others
   took care of my needs such that Lewis is less
   concerned about me leaving now.


The frequency has been hard Paul goes to
   the baths 2-3 times a month. That seems
   like a lot to me. I really don't understand
   Paul's interest in the baths and outside sex.
   Paul has reassured me that he has no intention
   of falling in love and replacing me.
   I still need to hear that he won't find 'the
   new Mr. Right.'


The most difficult thing was physically
   leaving to go to the baths for the first
   time, knowing that Kurt was at home and
   unhappy about it. I knew I had to do it in
   order to be happy but I had to convince
   Kurt that it wasn't about him. No one could
   be everything I want.


He's hooking up with more guys than me. I'm not jealous. I'm just
   envious that he's getting it and
   I'm not. I realize with time, it balances out, but it's my own
   insecurity.

   At times I would feel envious--he's getting it; he's
   attractive; he's alive and I'm not


Feeling insecure was hard. It helped me appreciate my first partner's
   insecurity.

   Dealing with insecurity. It's more my issue. People are attracted
   to Rick because he's older, bigger
   and has a big dick. It's important to remember that Rick loves me
   enough that he wouldn't leave me.

   Feeling left out and feeling fearful and jealous. It's only been
   intermittent, but there were definitely times.

   Because I'm older, sometimes when we go out together, people will
   look at him before they look
   at me (he's younger and he's better looking than me). So at
   the sauna, I just let him go do whoever
   It doesn't bother me He's younger and more buff

   Pat gets jealous. He doesn't understand why I don't. I tell
   him it's because I trust him. I only want
   Pat here if he wants to be here. I tell him if he stops loving me,
   he should move on. I'm secure
   about who I am and I feel secure in the relationship. I was
   really sick in the hospital and almost
   died and Pat was there for me. I know he really loves me.

   For Jack, "It's just sex" He says it's meaningless, but I feel
   hurt and insecure when he goes out. It
   really affects my self-esteem. I don't think relationships have
   to be monogamous, but I do think
   sex is an important aspect of the relationship and I don't
   take it lightly.


Sometimes it's still hard. I can feel hurt, angry,
   jealous, envious. It was hard for Chuck
   because he knew I would have this big
   emotional reaction and he knows I could
   be happy being monogamous. I try to
   understand my reactions and look at how
   much of it is about self-esteem. I focus on
   things that make me feel good about myself
   like my job, my art. It's more to do with
   how I'm feeling about myself than who
   or what Chuck does. It's definitely easier
   if I've been playing around myself. Sometimes
   I do that prophylactic ally--preventive
   medicine.


The hardest thing for me is knowing that
   it sometimes hurts Dale when I go out
   We changed our 'honesty rule' to 'we only
   have to tell when asked' That's been helpful.
   I think it's hardest for Dale when I go
   out when he isn't feeling particularly good
   about himself. But I still go out.


Sometimes when they were very attractive, I would be thinking '
   Is he a threat to me?' Knowing the
   fact that he was coming home with me--I reassured myself.

   It took a lot of self-acceptance and letting go of my insecurities.
   When I accepted Ron, then I had
   to look at myself--all the reasons I felt I wasn't good enough,
   not cute enough, don't have enough
   hair, not good enough at sex, too heavy. And I came to terms
   with who I am and where I found
   value in myself. This has been really important for me.

   It helps me to understand my own feelings, where they come from,
   and how they affect me--but
   not allow my feelings to take over and control my life. I can
   recognize I'm feeling angry or jealous,
   but then I think, "Okay. Enough of this shit. Get over it".
   I value my relationship and I focus there.

   When I get jealous, we back off from going out for awhile
   until we're both ready to do it again I
   remember that at a very deep level I know we're not going
   to break up, and I also remind myself
   it's not that big of an issue.

   I worry about STDs, but I don't get jealous I like that
   I don't feel the need to 'own' Steven I
   believe that you have to want to be together and that people
   will only stick around if they want to
   I don't believe in 'trapping' each other I don't compete
   with the guys Steven has sex with--I am
   who I am and I'm comfortable with that.

   Ed was very different from my first love--we're much more
   honest and grown-up. Sometimes I
   had trouble knowing what I felt or expressing what I felt.
   It could be me getting close to someone
   or Ed getting too close to someone and me feeling hurt. It
   took a few years to feel more secure.
   We're quite secure in who we are now Why? Therapy and
   practice--realizing it was a different
   relationship; realizing what I was feeling; remembering I
   could express it.

   My first lover taught me how not to be jealous. We lived in
   the Castro and he didn't work at an office
   and he had a notoriously big dick and he was very clear
   that he wanted an open relationship.
   I loved this man so much I decided I couldn't deny this love
   because of jealousy I discovered I
   could have a relationship and have a lot of sex with a lot
   of other people "

   I occasionally get jealous around Jerry and I've learned
   to take that as a signal I need more time
   with him or reassurance Jealousy is a very transitory emotion
   if you don't feed into it.

   I feel secure in the relationship. If someone could make
   him happier through sex & take him away,
   then we didn't have much going on in the first place."

   I just ignore my jealousy. I deal with it and go to sleep and
   the next day it's gone.


Just getting clear at the beginning. It's gotten increasingly
   comfortable. I don't feel any jealousy.

   Talking about it, especially at the beginning. Coming up with
   the groundrules was hard.

   At first, it's getting over the idea of having an open relationship.
   In my previous relationships, we
   were never open. However, I got over this. The first couple
   of times we played alone at a sauna it
   was a little uncomfortable, but it was easier since we
   were both in the same location. Otherwise,
   it's never really caused an issue for us.

   There's still a part of me that feels like I'm doing something
   wrong I can come home feeling
   sleazy. It's not about the couple, but a little voice saying
   "There's no commitment; It's just casual; Is
   this good for us?"

   Being open and communicating and sharing feelings is hard for
   me Sometimes I can do it and
   sometimes Ryan has to guess what I'm feeling and draw it out of me.

   Coming to a level of acceptance. I was raised in a charismatic
   Christian church. Being gay and sex
   outside of marriage were both wrong I've had to realize
   that's not the case for everyone It's taken
   work. I had to change my morals, e.g. I had to decide it's
   okay not to be restricted to one person.

   What's still difficult is Ray sometimes gets emotionally upset
   because I'm going out. He wished I
   wouldn't or that I would do it less often He feels hurt by
   it On the other hand, he's not all that interested
   in sex with me when I initiate it. We've had an agreement to
   be open for 25 years, but it's
   not resolved. I try to compromise or negotiate. Sometimes
   he gets upset and sometimes it doesn't
   bother him.

   It feels like being open is a threat to our relationship -
   it's definitely a source of tension. Right
   now I feel guilty because he's not going out much so does
   that mean he's more invested in the
   relationship than I am? It's a question of weighing the
   needs of each individual with the needs of
   the relationship.


I spend an undue amount of time thinking
   about it and worrying about it I spend lots
   of time on the computer trying to hook up
   and planning it so it won't be in Logan's
   face Logan thought we needed to break
   up We went to a counselor for 5 sessions
   and worked through some of the issues.

   We eventually agreed to have an open
   relationship However, we are still working
   out the rules.


I recognize and remember the good things
   we have It's way too much to throw out
   I chose not to leave the relationship even
   though Connor is strongly committed to
   continuing to go out. Of course, it would
   have been better if we had firm agreements
   on the front-end.


We soon realized that we needed to play separately. Being a mixed
   race couple made it difficult
   to do three-ways. People weren't attracted to me or sometimes
   they would only be attracted to
   me. Stan is more outgoing and people find that attractive. He
   would bring them in, but often they
   would only be interested in him. I was treated poorly. I had to
   come to terms with it and realize it
   was their problem--but it meant playing separately Stan didn't
   realize the disconnect because he
   was into the moment of relating to them. It wasn't that he
   was insensitive, but he was oblivious
   and I had to make him aware. On rare opportunities we find
   someone who is attracted to both of
   us and we can play together. It's a real treat. There's more
   of a connectedness with that person
   and we can share the experience together.

   Learning to make sure everyone is involved. Once in Amsterdam,
   we were doing a 3-way and I
   noticed Wayne stepped outside. I went outside and he
   explained that he felt left out and it was
   okay for me to continue. I told him we started together
   and we will finish together and brought
   him back in I reassured him and I've learned to pay
   attention to how involved everyone feels.

   We have such different types that it was really difficult
   when we only played together. We've also
   had issues when the third liked one of us more than the other.
   They don't need to like us both
   equally, but they have to be respectful and join with both of us.

   It's hard to find guys we're both sexually compatible with. A
   lot of guys don't like 3-ways and it
   might be easier to just play independently We've
   discussed it, but we don't want to dissipate our
   sexual energy elsewhere We're still sexual together and like
   to spend a lot of time together.


Initially, I played around and then lied about it. It really takes
   a long time to regain the trust of your
   partner after you've lied.

   Les not being honest with me early on was very difficult.
   As trust with each other grows, we understand
   each other better, although it's been hard.

   After we opened it up, Skip began to break the rules--on numerous
   occasions We still have rules,
   although I'm not sure Skip always follows them.


Early on, it was insecurity around the relationship If its once
   every few months--no problem, but
   there was a period when Taylor was doing crystal meth and
   having a lot of outside sex. It was a big
   deal. I finally told him it was rehab or the end of the
   relationship. He went into a program and has
   never slipped in the last 6 years.

   We had to end the relationship with the guy when it became apparent
   that he wouldn't do anything
   without being high--not even see a movie.

   We were partying and having group sex when we met We were
   seriously involved with crystal and
   crack, but soon after we met, we both stopped using. Now we
   depend on each other.

   Drugs and alcohol have always been a part of the scene when
   we played outside. We used condoms
   about 70% of the time, but the other 30% of the time
   was terribly unsafe.

   I've been in recovery for 8 years, but it still comes up Sex
   and drugs used to be synonymous for
   me--I couldn't do one without the other I'm still
   re-claiming sex from 'sex and drugs.'


I'm pretty aware of Xavier. If anything I do might hurt him, I
   will stop. I think Xavier is less sensitive.
   He lives in the moment much more than I do.

   Initially Tom saw everything through his own lens and didn't
   include me in the equation when he
   made decisions. He's learning to take my feelings into account

   When Tim got too involved, I had to let him know it hurt me. He's
   more emotionally available than
   me and so it's hard for him to compartmentalize sex. But I'm
   more self-aware. I can tell when
   something isn't the right thing to do I may do it anyway, but it
   won't even occur to Tim that something
   isn't the right thing to do.


Nothing has been too hard. I'd say not being explicitly open for
   all those years was the most difficult
   thing. I always wanted to be open sooner.

   Outside sex really hasn't been difficult. The biggest issue
   is trying to spice up our own sex life and
   keep it active.

   We've never had a big fight about the issue. We may have
   had disagreements about the timing,
   but opening the relationship hasn't been a big source of tension.


65%   Communicating Openly and
      Honestly
65%   Being Truthful/Honest
52%   Trusting (each other and the
      relationship)
34%   Reassurance & Appreciation
30%   Respecting Partner and their
      differences
18%   Learning to deal with Jealousy--
      Building Self-Esteem
18%   Getting Support from Therapists
      or Mentors
17%   Setting Groundrules
6%    Practicing Moderation


Communication! Honesty! Openness! The more we talk the better we
   feel. Knowing there are no
   surprises or secrets makes it much easier. I would have big problems
   if I didn't know who or what
   Elliot was doing outside the relationship.

   Talking about it and being honest. If there's a problem, surface
   it, rather than gunny sacking it. If
   you can talk about this, it makes talking about other issues
   that much easier. It's really important to
   talk honestly, why you want to have outside sex, what it means
   to you, and then jointly decide the
   parameters.

   The ability to communicate effectively We can get pissy and
   childish, but then we pull back and
   work it out. One of our great strengths is we have the
   ability to talk openly about potentially difficult
   things without getting dramatic We hear each other's concerns
   and sometimes we have to put
   it aside and come back when we're calmer, but we always come
   back and resolve it In previous
   relationships, those fractures never got healed We're able
   to resolve things and move on.

   It's important to me that we've stayed connected and in
   good communication with each other
   about outside sex We have grown together in this area
   rather than grown separately This has allowed
   us to incorporate outside sex in a healthy way.

   We're honest about everything, even if it bothers the other
   person. We didn't used to communicate
   well We would argue about doing the dishes, when that wasn't the
   real issue.

   After 15 years, there's a lot more understanding: "Oh, it's
   your back that's hurting; it's not about
   me." It's painful for me to not talk and it's painful for Allen
   to talk. So we've had to learn how to talk
   while trying not to overdo it We've learned how to communicate.
   And when I get really pissed, I
   have to remember how much I love him.

   You have to talk it through. Nothing is off the table--being
   straight-forward and trustful and honest
   even if your first impulse is fear or shame.

   We learned how to communicate with each other 17 years ago. We
   were both from highly dysfunctional
   families, but we learned from our 12-step programs how to
   communicate We have a
   common language

   Being able to talk things out. I will tell Dean if I feel
   he's falling in love with someone. If it's serious,
   Dean will figure it out. And Dean sees my patterns and knows
   what's going on. He helps me
   through these situations.


Being honest. The more I was honest, the less problems we had.

   We've done a really good job of being honest and being honest about
   our emotions. You have
   to be honest to make it work, given our rules. It's the whole
   continuum from "Who do you find
   attractive?" to "I'm feeling very emotionally involved and don't
   want to stop seeing him." Being that
   honest has helped build trust in the foundation of our relationship.

   We're totally honest and that has really helped. We lay out
   the 'warts and all' for each other to see.

   Honesty is the most important. Not just saying everything, but
   understanding the other person's
   feelings and concerns and sharing things in a considerate manner.
   Knowing that I will have to tell
   Walt, keeps me from doing certain things I know whatever I do,
   I will have to tell him, so it helps.
   me draw the boundary It helps me avoid unsafe sex or doing
   someone he wouldn't approve of in
   a public place.

   We both had prior relationships where partners cheated. Neither
   of us wanted that again. We've
   always been open and honest with each other for that reason.

   The thing that supported us and was bedrock was our agreement
   about mutual honesty I knew I
   would tell him and I knew he would tell me, no matter how
   uncomfortable it was going to make
   either of us.


I trust that Pete wouldn't go out on me I trust him 100%.

   I trust in the 'concern for the other' I trust Bill is deeply
   concerned about my happiness.

   We have an absolute trust in each other and in our relationship.
   We trust that we can work out any
   issues that come up.

   You have to build trust in a relationship and ultimately you
   have to let go You can't be insecure
   really or jealous or it won't work I experienced all that
   early on, but it's all about building trust Yes,
   there's a danger that the relationship could end, but if you
   want to have the ability to go out, then
   you have to learn to trust the other person. It takes time and
   a certain commitment to the relationship.

   There's always going to be something else with this issue. Its
   trial and error and you have to push
   the boundaries occasionally and trust that if it becomes
   a problem we will work it out and selfcorrect.
   Trust that it won't jeopardize the on-going relationship
   and the intention for it to continue.


The two times I got too involved, I stopped because Paul told me
   I had to That actually increased
   the trust in the relationship because now he knew I would stop if
   he asked and I became more
   aware and committed to paying attention. The depth of our trust
   wouldn't be possible without having
   gone through that test We've learned to respect each other's
   concerns.

   Opening up the relationship has been a hurdle, but once you work
   your way through it, you know
   you can work through anything and the trust factor goes up
   tenfold.

   Although it was easy to come to agreement, being open from the
   beginning made it tougher to
   build the relationship There wasn't a deep foundation of trust
   to rely on We had to get comfortable
   telling the other person what we had done and we had to get
   comfortable hearing it. But this
   allowed the trust to happen and the foundation to develop.

   We were sure we would stay together, so that helped because we
   didn't worry about that. That
   probably fell in place after about 10 years of being together.

   It's allowed us to be more trusting of each other. You always
   know at the end of the day that the
   other person will be at home there for you. They aren't going
   anywhere. It's actually made our
   relationship stronger.

   We're probably more stable because of the struggles around
   outside sex. It gave us both the opportunity
   to show the other that we had some restraint. I've had 2 or 3
   guys that I was seeing a
   few times, 'propose' to me. I had to tell them that I must not
   have made myself completely clear
   and then ended the connection.

   We feel very attuned. I don't feel we will ever break up.
   We complement each other. Our connection
   is so strong. I think all this allows us to trust each other


We've seen a lot of our friends break up and then wished they
   hadn't. It makes us appreciate what
   we have and so we give each other a little more space because we
   know we value each other and
   our relationship. It helps us trust that we're both going to
   come home.

   We have similar values, a similar sense of integrity. We
   really appreciate who the other person is.

   Focusing on the big picture of the relationship helps. I
   can't imagine ever being happy with anyone
   but Phillip. I've never met anyone else that I would want to
   spend my life with. It puts the outside
   sex in perspective. I know why outside sex is important
   to Phillip, but more importantly is why I'm
   with Phillip and that has allowed outside sex to be relatively
   easy to deal with.

   It probably doesn't get talked about much, but there is the
   reassurance of time passing. We're still
   coming home; we still love each other; we're still going about
   the day-to-day of living our lives
   together.

   The commitment of not ever leaving allowed us to get rid
   of fear. At year #5, I told Taylor that "I'm
   in regardless." From that point on, I was no longer going to
   ever entertain the notion that bailing
   was an option. It laid a foundation and the fear of talking
   about difficulties or being completely
   honest about anything went away.

   We realize our relationship is strong at the foundation.
   The primary commitment has always been
   clear and is even clearer now.

   We always did a great deal together regardless of any problems
   in this arena and that was helpful.
   We had a lot else that was good and that fueled our love
   and trust and commitment


The key for us is we have respect for each other and for each
   other's feelings. We've stayed committed
   and we follow our agreements.

   I had to really respect what he wants or doesn't want. He has
   to take time to process and he
   doesn't like being surprised. He tends to see things in black
   and white--he knows something is
   either right or wrong for him. He won't do something he really
   doesn't want to do. I was pushing
   the boundaries and so I had to make sure he was comfortable
   with the changes. If he's insecure
   or pissed, I will know it and I need to reassure him.

   We both have strong personalities and we've adapted to each
   other. We had to get to a place
   where it is okay to disagree and realize that neither of us
   is wrong, we just have different views.

   I've seen other couples where one person becomes too tolerant
   of their partner. It's vital to speak
   up; to take a stand; "There are certain things I will not
   allow. There are certain things that are dealbreakers".
   Examples? Inattention--being emotionally left out; Not
   being treated as a partner in all
   ways; Respect.

   Both people have to be willing to accept that they are going
   to grow and change. The reason our
   relationship works is because we both want the other to
   grow and experience their dreams Tony
   is very secure and doesn't get jealous. Because he's so
   trusting, it gives me a lot of latitude to
   explore myself.

   Respecting each other's opinions and styles is critical.
   We make a habit of communicating preferences
   in the moment and we consider the other person's feelings a
   lot We check in, "Are you
   okay?"--my partner's opinion matters as much as my own.


Being able to talk with other couples about how they handle the
   issue helps us normalize. Rather
   than demonize the outside sex, as we were raised, they were
   supportive. It helped to hear, "It's not
   about 'infidelity' or 'cheating' which are derogatory terms;
   it's about 'play'. Couples counseling has
   also helped.

   We were lucky enough to have mentors. Our friends supported
   us and talked with us about it
   They said, "Our biggest regret was we didn't allow ourselves
   to explore when we had the most opportunities.
   We waited until we had overcome our insecurities." We tried
   to learn from that and not
   be quite so cautious.

   Having mentors was a big help. We knew them for five years.
   One passed away, but we still have
   Tom and his new partner We used them as a sounding board.
   We could see where we stood in
   relation to them.

   We always knew we really loved each other. I knew Graham was
   the right guy for me. We weren't
   sure we were going to make it in the first few years. Our
   friends certainly didn't think so. But we
   went to couples counseling because we knew we wanted to make
   it work together.

   Couples counseling allowed us or taught us how to communicate well
   and that made a huge difference.

   We did a couple of sessions with a therapist I was seeing
   for school. That was helpful. It gave us a
   foundation and helped us develop communication tools (listening
   and hearing each other).


You need to be with other sex partners, but not 'go crazy' You need
   to know when to stop and
   how to control yourself or you'll ruin your relationship. It goes
   to respecting your partner.

   We use it as a treat when we're out of town. It's a way of
   having fun, as opposed to being on a
   constant quest for sex We see some couples that are constantly
   on the hunt; they have to have a
   third in order to have sex with each other

   I do think that because we're a couple there should be some
   restraint Saying 'No' every once in
   awhile is a way of valuing the relationship. A couple of times,
   I've brought it up, "Look we have a
   relationship, at least say 'No' to going out sometimes."
   Like after he's been away for a weekend
   and going out and then not going out at home the next weekend,
   in addition.

   We don't overtly go looking We enjoy going out with each
   other and being with each other If a
   third person presents themselves and decides they're
   interested--fine. This is partly about courtesy
   and partly about keeping the focus on us as couple enjoying
   the moment.


We haven't had much sex together in the last few years, but we're
   very, very affectionate. We hug,
   kiss and cuddle all the time. With every encounter, we say we
   love each other and let the other one know they look great

   Sex is about chemistry. It either works or it doesn't. Our
   chemistry has been pretty average from
   the beginning. He's attractive--even more so, now. But he's
   very vanilla. Outside sex keeps us
   from wandering. If you can scratch an itch, it feels better,
   and sometimes that's all it takes. If the
   sex doesn't work out, do you throw away the rest of the
   relationship? We threw out the sex and kept the relationship.

   Our relationship is now non-sexual, and has been so for 5 years.
   Our relationship has never really
   been about sex. Jim would like a bottom, but I don't bottom.
   And Jim NEVER bottoms, so we're
   a non-match. We kiss a lot, tell each other we love the
   other, and hold hands. Outside sex has allowed
   us to stay together because it isn't a point of
   contention.

   We no longer have sex together. It's been about six years.
   I'm not a particularly sexual person. I
   always lose interest and there are many things I'd rather
   be doing than having sex. I used to worry
   about what am I not doing right, but I'm comfortable with
   who I am. We don't have sex, but I don't
   feel like we've lost anything in the relationship.

   I haven't had sex in the last three years with Brad, and
   not with anyone outside for two years. I
   don't need outside sex and I have a high level of
   affection, cuddling, kissing, with Brad that I find
   very satisfying. He still goes out and I want him to. I
   don't know if it's physical or emotional, but I
   just don't have the urge

   I used to feel that things weren't okay with us unless
   we were having sex. But we have committed
   to always be together and I trust that. Now, I know it's
   okay to not be having sex together--our
   relationship is much more than just sex.

   I focus on the good we have. We keep affirming that we love
   each other and that we want to be
   together. We don't take each other for granted. When
   my brother was killed, Allan stepped in and
   took care of all of us, including my Mom. That's the way
   he shows me he loves me.

   Sex isn't what keeps us together. Sex is a minor thing.
   I just cherish him and his qualities. He constantly
   keeps me interested.

   What makes us partners if we don't have sex together? In
   my mind, we're lifetime partners. I can't
   imagine feeling the way I do about him with anyone else.


We don't have as much sex together now, which I would want and we
   probably go out more. I'm
   not sure what we can do about that. It changed at some point and
   we talk about it. We probably
   aren't working as hard to have sex with each other because we
   can go out. This isn't the cause of
   why we're not having that much sex together, but it does lessen
   the motivation to work on it. Of
   course, saying we would be monogamous at all costs would be
   much more negative.

   We love each other; we kiss everyday; we snuggle at night.
   As we age, sex becomes less and less
   a primary drive. I'm really glad we have everything else
   together and didn't lose it because of sex.

   I am at a place now where I'd much rather have sex with my
   husband, than anyone else. I don't
   like the idea of a sexless marriage. It makes me feel old.
   Love is spiritual. I'm sad that we don't
   have more drive toward each other.

   We just don't fit together sexually. We keep trying.
   I wish we had it, but it's okay with me that we
   don't. I wonder if being able to go outside is an easy
   way out of working on our own sexual intimacy.
   I hadn't really thought about it until now. But obviously
   we haven't been very motivated--it
   may solely be a 'should' from society that we should
   be having sex together.

   We don't have sex. He told me the numbers he gave
   you and I laughed. I guess he still has some
   Gloria Vanderbilt notion of what we should be.

   We're so much in love with each other, but we know
   that we have separate sexual interests. We
   each have guys we trust that we can play with from
   time to time. But I know what I have in Devon
   and I really value it. We have the same core values
   about family, money, interests in people--the
   things that really matter.

   In my last relationship we were monogamous and after 7
   years, we had no sex. Having this one
   be open, I don't have to worry about that happening. As
   the amount of sex we have together goes
   down, that won't be a reason for us to break up.
   It means we will still be able to have outside sex
   and stay together. It's reassuring.


I didn't want to become roommates. I always kept that in the
   back of my mind. We got into porn
   movies; that was stimulating. When I go to The Club, I usually
   don't get off and so I fuck Barry the
   next morning. Going out seems to stir things up. We have one
   couple we play with who never
   cum with us, but save it for when they go home together.

   We realized we're both still attractive and that makes us more
   attractive to each other--we still
   have something to offer each other. We had become complacent
   about our sex life. We were
   always busy with other things and never made the time. We're
   much more sexual with each other now.

   Terry says he doesn't care how much I get on the outside as
   long as he's getting some with me. I
   make a point to make sure he's getting enough. Periodically, I
   reassess myself. Am I withholding?
   Am I going outside, instead of having sex with Terry?
   Is going out tonight good for us?

   I am sometimes regretful that I find it so pleasurable to
   find sex outside the relationship. I wish
   we could find all the amusement we needed within the
   relationship. I don't attach any value to
   monogamy, so it's not about that. You'd think having the man
   of my dreams would be enough. We
   do make date nights. I'm on a medication that affects my
   erections. If I can't do it, I want him to
   get his needs met and to feel good. I have no qualms about
   that. We had a guy give him a superb
   time--that was hot as all hell for me.

   We both have had previous relationships. We know we have
   to focus on each other and the
   relationship. Gene would probably want more sex since his libido
   is higher than mine. We know
   we have to take time away from our stress and work-lives and
   spend quality time. We set up date
   nights. I also know it's more important to me to have
   the experience with Gene than alone. I've
   done the other.


We're both in our 50's and we're becoming insatiable again, but
   it's mostly with each other. We're
   closer to monogamy than we were

   It's enhanced our relationship, particularly sexually. We
   still have sex together after 20 years and
   it probably wouldn't be as frequent or as passionate. If we were
   monogamous, we would have
   bottled up our frustration and I'm 99% sure we'd be doing stuff
   behind each other's back.

   We are more relaxed with each other and we have seen each other
   in every light possible--seeing
   all sides of each other. We learned a lot sexually by going
   out and we added to our sex play
   together. We've become more appreciative of each other and
   what we have.

   Initially opening the relationship damaged our own sex life.
   We got excited about the three ways
   and found that we were saving ourselves for the weekend when
   we would go out together looking
   for a third. We weren't having as much sex with each other.
   I brought it to Mac's attention and said
   it wasn't okay--we had to put as much energy into our own
   sex life. We talked about it and made
   a point to focus on it. At this point, having outside sex
   has improved our sex life together. We've
   brought back ideas and techniques and energy and brought it
   back into the relationship.


It's made our own sex life better. I don't
   see how you can stay together and still
   have a great sex life without having 'outside'
   inspiration. Your body ages and the
   libido may vary, so it's a matter of keeping
   the interest alive. We work to make sex
   beautiful and interesting. It puts you in a
   good mindset and makes it something to
   look forward to. I would really miss it if we
   stopped.


I find that if things are getting stale, going
   out together for a 3-some or a party will
   bring Rob and me closer. I never have a
   problem with sex; I see it as integral. Rob
   has ups and downs in terms of his sexual
   libido. Outside involvement encourages
   Rob to be more sexual.


Beneficial Impact--Key Themes

(Study participants naming this as a significant impact)

78%   Sanctioned Sexual Outlet
48%   Stimulates Our Sex Life, e .g. titillating, energizing
40%   Different Needs Met
34%   Brought Friends, New Experiences into
      relationship
33%   Encourages & Reinforces Honesty
27%   Provides Variety, Sense of Freedom
26%   Brought Perspective & Greater Appreciation
24%   Encouraged Sexual Growth (expertise,
      repertoire, awareness)
23%   Increased Intimacy & Commitment
20%   Encouraged Personal Growth
15%   Wouldn't Be Together Without It


Having an open relationship is much more satisfying. I hated the
   pattern of sneaking around--it's
   a demeaning way to live. If you're not satisfied being monogamous,
   it's much more healthy psychologically
   to be open. Having a 'secret life' is tough on everybody -
   yourself, your partner, and
   those with whom you play.

   It's just sex. It's an outlet. It's neither positive nor
   negative. But it's important that it's honest.

   Having it open works for us. It's way better than lying about
   it. Thinking it won't happen is a recipe
   for disaster. We're men. It's like "You really don't expect me
   not to get a blow job when I need one,
   do you?"

   It takes so much of the worry and the stress and the jealousy
   away from the relationship. It makes
   the relationship so enjoyable. It's been awesome.

   Sex is really important. I would not have had a happy life
   if I had tried to damp down that part of
   my life to be a dutiful little housewife. We both require a
   lot of sex with a lot of men and we both
   like it so we have to give each other space. It's just
   an element of our lives. The fact that it works
   reinforces it.

   It's been a good thing. It keeps things exciting sexually.
   We still have good sex together after 12
   years. We've made some good friends. If we were monogamous,
   I'd be cheating for sure and if
   I wasn't, I'd become resentful over time. I'd be resentful
   of the lack of trust--that I couldn't be
   trusted to see someone only once. That's what happened in
   my last relationship.

   It's made it much easier for me to handle being away
   from each other. It would have been hard
   not having any sex--I have a high libido. It's helped
   me want to sustain the relationship even
   though we're separated at times.

   It's made us much stronger. It's eliminated the arguing and
   worrying and tension that there's going
   to be someone else down the road. It's basically not an
   arguing point. It takes the pressure off of
   us sexually, especially when I'm travelling. It makes our
   other time together that much more precious

   Being open about outside sex makes it so much more comfortable.
   There's no tension and stress
   of 'playing the game' of being monogamous. It's been very
   refreshing. I know he's going to be
   there for me and so I can play around. I saw him making out
   with a guy at a party. It was awkward,
   but I didn't feel jealous because I knew he was
   going home with me.

   Men are wired to like variety and differences. It's an
   acknowledgement of how we're wired sexually
   that we can go out together. We have an outlet for this
   with clear boundaries that allows us to
   meet those needs honestly and cleanly

   It eliminates the dishonesty and allows us to follow our
   natural inclinations. I don't think it affects
   our emotional intimacy. We're avoiding the deceit, mistrust
   and drama that sometimes comes with
   this territory.


It supplements are own sex life. It adds variety. We're sexual
   beings and it allows for that. It's an
   ego boost--others still find me attractive. It makes me proud
   when others find Robert attractive.
   "He's my man, so that's an ego boost as well

   When you're as horny and provocative as we are, there has to be
   a sexual outlet. It serves as a
   release valve. It's not the most important part of our relationship.
   We have sex together once or
   twice a week. If I didn't have sex with Gary alone, why would I
   want to share him with a third? But
   the outside sex helps break up the patterns that get established and
   it adds to our repertoire. We
   often talk about three-ways during sex. We sometimes watch our
   own movies (with others), while
   we have sex. If anything it strengthens our relationship.

   It helps our sex life to have outside sex. Usually after we're
   done playing with someone, we end
   up playing with each other. It turns us on a lot.

   It's made the relationship more honest and strong and
   sometimes livelier. We're not bored with
   sex. We're not going behind each other's backs. We enjoy
   playing together. It's above board. It
   validates how strong the relationship is and after 20 years,
   you need a little diversity to stoke your
   interest.

   It's improved our sex life. A few years ago, I wasn't as
   excited at home. I'm not into anonymous
   sex so our sex life matters. I'm more interested in sex
   than I would be at this point in my life and it
   breaks us out of our sexual routines and patterns. We bring
   new options back.

   It makes me happy to see him have a smile on his face. He
   draws me in and it draws us closer.
   We're aroused with each other after we've gone out. I'm
   astounded by how many people comment
   on how happy we are around each other. They're surprised
   at how light-hearted we are
   together. They ask, "Don't you ever get tired of each other?'
   But we don't.

   I've learned more about John's sexual needs and I would never
   have found out, which means I
   might never have satisfied him sexually. Going outside augments
   my need for sex. For both of us,
   it increases our own self image and confidence. It's fun.
   It brings more overall sexual satisfaction
   into my life. It's made us stronger and will continue to
   make us stronger. I wish we would both
   have more outside sex. Neither of us is very impulsive.


Prostate problems have taken away my sex drive. It's helped that my
   partner can go out sexually. It
   relieves my guilt and takes off some of the pressure.

   It's been pretty good for us. We don't have sex as often as I
   would want, so it takes some of the
   pressure off of both of us. It makes things easier--makes me
   feel at ease. Thierry is older. His
   libido is less and he has some health issues which affect his
   erections, so it keeps me from getting
   resentful

   We're 28 years apart. My libido is very low and I realize his
   is much higher. The important thing to
   me is he is having fun.

   Having Jimmy really helped take care of Don's sexual needs, so
   that was very helpful to me.

   We get needs met that wouldn't get met. If one person wants
   more sex, they can go get it. If we're
   apart, we can still have sexual lives.

   We used to both be versatile, but I've become a top. When
   we travel, I know it's an opportunity for
   Gil to find a bottom he can top.

   I think the outside relationships have taken the pressure
   off of Jerry. I have fewer control issues
   now. No one person could meet all my needs. Jerry isn't into
   leather so there's no way I could be
   having the type of S/M sex and relationships I have with him.

   It's given us the opportunity to do other things that we
   wouldn't get to do or experience. I have two
   Sons and two Dads. Max is into bondage. I'm into breath control.

   It breaks the monotony of the relationship--it's exciting.
   It allows me to get my desire for raw
   anonymous sex met

   It's an insurance policy. It relaxes things when you can get
   your needs met elsewhere. I don't think
   we can be totally responsible for meeting each other's sexual
   needs. Being able to go out makes
   our relationship more stable, as it allows each of us to be
   responsible for our own needs.


By being open, we experience other people that we wouldn't
   otherwise know. It enriches the relationship.
   Some of our best friends we met through outside sex.

   Playing outside has widened our circle of friends, made
   getting intimate with good friends possible,
   and continually put our own relationship into perspective.

   Having boys allowed us to be parents (a surrogate parenting
   role) and have the experience of being
   a family. It made us closer to each other because we would
   work together as a team.

   Will's roving libido has been difficult. But it also
   brought people and experiences into our relationship
   Morris was an amazing person. I wouldn't have been
   at the sex party last weekend and had
   a fabulously good time if Morris hadn't entered our lives.
   More importantly, Morris was able to
   instruct Will about the importance of playing safely. Will
   couldn't hear that from me.

   The reason I wanted an open relationship is because I
   was exploring S/M and the leather world.
   It wasn't having sex per se, but I wanted to be able to
   get naked and experiment. It became a big
   part of both our identities for a number of years. We
   got better at communication because of the
   outside leather sex. We learned to say what we want and
   don't want, to set limits and to respect
   boundaries.

   We've got some really good friends we have sex with and
   we've met really neat people through
   them. It's widened our circle.


It's made us honest with each other. We're doing what we want. If
   we weren't honest about what
   we wanted, my head would explode

   It's also created a much more honest and trusting environment. Our
   communication has improved
   tremendously. We say what we really feel and are comfortable
   doing it.

   It has caused us to look at ourselves and our relationship in a
   more honest and real way. If we can
   be honest about this, it makes other stuff easier to be honest
   about.

   Because we opened up the relationship, it makes it stronger. The
   honesty that's required strengthens
   our relationship. We've learned to be honest about our needs
   and to talk more openly about
   desires toward others without taking offense.

   One couple we spoke with waited 24 years before addressing the
   fact that they were both going
   out. They described it as a watershed moment and when we
   spoke with them two years later,
   they were still excited about how this had changed their
   interactions. They found themselves being
   much more honest and open with each other--not only about
   sex, but also in sharing their
   respective inner experiences--thoughts, feelings, goals. This
   level of sharing was new to them and
   encouraged a much greater intimacy.

   It was romantic and monogamous at the beginning. Then we fell
   into having outside sex, but neither
   of us ever talked about it. A couple of years ago, we
   decided to be brutally honest with each
   other It's improved because we never used to talk about
   anything Now we talk more as individuals
   Advice I would give to a new couple: It's better to be
   honest from the start and just accept
   someone Sit down and put your cards on the table Talk about
   what you need and don't pretend
   Start now, rather than wait 26 years. It's a very
   freeing experience. When it's not in the open, you
   know something is happening in the shadows and that's
   what fuels the insecurity and jealously
   You have to realize you can't meet all your partner's needs -
   you have to meet your own needs.


I still find Charles very attractive and we have plenty of sex
   together, but it would have been hard
   for me not to have sex with anyone else I would have felt trapped
   It would have been like a prison I would have been able
   to comply, but I would have been resentful--like there was something
   out there I wasn't getting to experience.

   It's been positive Although we are devoted to each other, we want
   to maintain our individuality It
   gives us some freedom We don't want one person to be controlling
   or dominant And this goes
   along with not limiting the other person Love is about opening
   up to someone, not controlling
   them.

   It's given us a release valve. Having a life partner doesn't
   necessitate denying the desire for others.
   By having permission, you recognize the desire and work together
   with your partner to accommodate
   outside sex in a way that is respectful to each other. By having
   a release valve, it allows us to
   be closer It's also helped us loosen some inhibitions.

   It gave us wiggle room Wiggle room to have a little bit of
   freedom and not be solely dependent
   on each other.

   Having the option to play has allowed us to not feel trapped or
   caged in the relationship We
   haven't had to feel limited or give up the possibility of ever
   going out. Clark doesn't want to feel
   controlled or on a leash and this gives him a sense of freedom.
   And that's true for both of us.

   We like variety I love sex with Will and love making love to
   Will, but I also like variety It spices up
   our sex life.

   It relieves frustration. If I'm in a rut, I can go get laid and
   come home happy. If I come home happy,
   it helps the relationship. Letting Robert have outside
   sex makes him bearable. He's so intense;
   it makes him easier to be with.

   On my night out, after outside sex, I can't wait to come home
   and sleep with Robert


It's helped me realize that there are many aspects to relationship
   and sex isn't and shouldn't be
   the primary aspect Sex may be a relatively minor element in some
   primary relationships.

   I learn a lot by contrasts Going outside makes me realize what I
   have in my relationship. Over
   the years, it's allowed me to see aspects of our relationship
   and the whole of our relationship and
   where sex fits in. It's no longer the forbidden fruit.

   On the whole it's been positive We handle each other better. We
   learned to ask each other more
   questions--to pull each other out. It carried over beyond sex.

   We became more aware of each
   other's needs and became more sensitive Over the years it
   helped us appreciate each other
   more Sometimes fucking someone else just put things in perspective.
   Coming home to Dennis
   was the best thing of the evening.

   It continues to strengthen our bond and our appreciation of each
   other.

   It has a positive effect. It adds some life to things;
   takes you outside the ordinary. It brings variety -
   like going on vacation It makes me appreciate the sex and
   the relationship I have with Max.

   It makes us realize the grass is no greener

   It makes us appreciate our relationship, physically and
   emotionally It keeps us from being distracted
   by others It's a release valve If it wasn't open, we'd
   probably both be cheating.


It's helped me become less repressed I feel like I'm healthier
   sexually--I'm more relaxed, adventuresome and happier.

   Over time it allowed us to experiment and evolve sexually I was a
   total top and I've become more
   versatile.

   It's allowed us to be honest about who we are and what we want.

   I used it as an opportunity to explore what I had always fantasized
   about--BDSM I've learned
   about myself I've had a lot of interesting experiences that I
   wouldn't have had otherwise.

   It's made me more aware of my body and my own sexuality.
   Outside sex is a healthy thing for us
   and doesn't have any downsides It has led to our growth as
   individuals and to the growth of our relationship.

   I like to get to walk the world as a sexual being I like that
   I haven't had to give that up Having
   outside sex and the possibility of outside sex brings excitement.

   I'm more comfortable with my sexuality I had never been to a
   sex club before We've gone twice.
   Once was really good and once was really boring I don't have
   any judgments about that kind of
   thing now. I did before. I'll try new things and I have
   freedom and also a sense of relief


It's allowed a deeper intimacy and a deeper relationship To
   really be this open requires an enormous
   amount of integrity, self-confidence and deep honesty. Our
   experience of having this freedom.
   is indicative of a healthy relationship, not unhealthy Friends
   often don't understand the depth
   of our love and the depth of the relationship because they
   see us going out and think that that
   somehow means we care less.

   It has helped solidify our relationship It prompted deeper
   conversations than we even knew we
   were prepared to have It required more sharing at
   a deeper level.

   It encourages us to be more honest about our thoughts and feelings.
   We're closer with each other
   I'm more willing to share 100% of myself with him and there's
   much less 'mine/yours' & more
   'ours'. I find myself more generous--even with finances. I
   think that's because there's greater trust
   and I'm happier about the relationship so I want to be more
   generous.

   It's another step on the ladder, another defining point of
   our commitment. Something we can do
   together and enjoy doing together that has built our relationship
   further and made it stronger.

   It's enhanced our intimacy We can have variety by going outside,
   but it makes me appreciate what
   we have at home. I equate it to filet mignon. I want to have rib
   or sirloin, but when I do it makes
   me appreciate I have filet mignon at home. It's reassuring to
   be desired. It helps my self-esteem.
   We're still sexual, a part of the community, feel vital.

   We currently have a beautiful man we've taken under our wing.
   It keeps that fire burning in us. It's
   amazing how life can open up and what the universe has to show
   us when you're as connected
   and in love as we are.


It's created better dynamics in our relationship I'm more honest
   with my emotions and able to
   communicate them Tom is more self-aware and able to acknowledge
   that he's made a mistake.
   He would never have said he was sorry before I would not have
   expected it, but being open is far
   better than it was before It's made me more in touch with Tom
   and made me a better person.

   We're both on different paths and learning new things. We share
   with each other what we've
   learned and we experience the ways each of us has grown I
   think eventually we will come back
   and be more focused on each other sexually with everything we have
   learned I would like that
   and want that. It's made us continually define our relationship -
   which keeps it alive and growing.

   I've asserted myself more in the relationship as a result of
   having to stick up for the 'rules'. Friends
   tell me how much I've changed It's caused us to be much more
   open and honest.

   If we hadn't opened the relationship, I wouldn't have found
   S/M and that let me grow and become
   more confident. And my ability to express it and have James
   support it and support me, increased
   our intimacy together. James was encouraging and non-judgmental.
   It's brought us closer.

   It's been transformative, although it's a constant balancing
   and juggling. I've discovered things
   about myself I've become connected to new people It's opened
   me to new worlds It's not all
   positive, but it's made me wiser and I understand that
   relationships can operate on multiple levels.

   It makes us more loving toward each other It's like exercise.
   When I'm with someone I'm practicing
   being loving and I bring it back The more love I give away
   the more I have to give

   Outside sex has helped me grow as a person--psychologically,
   spiritually and lovingly.


It's allowed us to stay together in a great relationship, even
   though we're not sexually very compatible
   If we didn't go out, we'd get frustrated. I'm certain we would
   break up.

   If it hadn't been open, our relationship wouldn't have become
   long-term. I like variety. "I love you,
   but there's lots of men out there." Barry is more nurturing and
   wouldn't have needed outside sex. I
   needed a long leash and this relationship allowed that.

   It has kept us together I don't want to be celibate or have
   severe limitations I'm glad that there are
   alternatives and I can get my needs met without threatening the
   relationship.

   The relationship wouldn't have survived without it We like sex
   with other guys It's something we
   both really enjoy I love to watch him with someone and he
   loves to watch me with someone.
   We don't have sex with just each other that much--maybe once a
   month We like to have others involved.


Years Together   Number of Couples

      8                 10
      9                 11
     10                  3
     11                  3
     12                  6
     13                  5
     14                  2
     15                  1
     16                  6
     17                  4
     18                  5
     19                  2
     20                  8
     21                  1
     22                  1
     23                  2
     24                  1
     25                  4
     26
     27                  2
     28                  1
     29                  3
     30
     31
     32+                 3

Note: Table made from bar graph.

5%   7%   11%   7%   23%   7%   14%   14%   7%   5%

1    2     3    4     5    6     7     8    9    10

We avoid discussing                      We process
if at all possible                       ad-nauseum

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Percent of sex with partner

Number of participants reporting

 0%    20
 5%     9
10%    10
15%     3
20%     4
30%    16
40%     9
50%    21
60%     2
70%    10
80%    21
90%    23
100%    8

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Percent of sex with partner and others

Number of participants reporting

 0%    59
 5%    32
10%    26
15%     8
20%    16
30%     7
40%
50%     4
60%     4
70%     4
80%
90%
100%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Percent of sex independent of partner

Number of participants reporting

 0%    30
 5%    16
10%    14
15%     7
20%    17
30%     6
40%     8
50%    11
60%     6
70%     8
80%     9
90%    15
100%   15

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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