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Gay Men’s Health: How Common Are Open Relationships—And What Makes Them Work?

, by San Francisco AIDS Foundation

How common are open relationships in San Francisco?

Pretty darn common, according to results from a text poll at last night’s community forum, “Play Well With Others? Open Relationships and Our Health.” A whopping 98% of participants texted “very common” or “common.”

The next question got personal: “Have you ever been in an open relationship or knowingly played with someone in an open relationship?” The overwhelming majority (88%) answered “Yes.”

(Want to improve your own relationships—open or otherwise? Don’t miss the five tips listed below.)

Moderator Steven Tierney and panelists (photo: Reilly O’Neal)

The forum, part of the Real Talk series hosted by San Francisco AIDS Foundation and STOP AIDS Project, posed these and other intimate questions to the panel and audience members: What motivates a couple to open their relationship—or not? What agreements do gay men in open relationships make to protect their sexual and emotional health? What happens when agreements are broken? Is marriage equality changing norms or expectations about gay relationships? And does “married” mean “monogamous”?

Panelist Geoffrey Benjamin recalled an early experience opening his relationship, at the age of 22, with the man who is now his husband: “It was a little weird the first time he went out to a bathhouse and came home and wanted to tell me all about it….I sat there and thought, ‘Wow, this is odd.’ And then I thought, ‘Wow, this is really hot!’”

Curious to learn more? A summary of the forum discussion is in the works; check back here to learn from the panelists’ and audience members’ experiences with open relationships, and find out what the Gay Couples Study can tell us about how gay men make those relationships work. In the meantime, read on for words of advice that can strengthen your own relationships, whatever form they may take.

Five Ways to Improve Communication in Relationships

“Success in relationships—whether they’re for an evening, or a season, or a lifetime—has a lot to do with communication,” observed moderator Steven Tierney, professor of counseling psychology at California Institute of Integral Studies. Paraphrased below are his suggestions for improving communication in relationships:

  • Know your needs, desires, and expectations (three separate things) regarding intimacy, sex, and partnering (also three separate things).
  • Know what being a gay man means to you. Your definition may include a range of ways to be intimate, to be a partner, and to have sexual relationships.
  • Reduce—and try to eliminate—shame and guilt. These are not useful as you develop your models for love, partnership, intimacy, and sex.
  • Take the time to discuss the agreements you have with your partner—from who cooks or cleans to who does what in bed—and make sure they are agreements, not just assumptions.
  • Know that change happens. Talk about how it has impacted your relationship, and work with it (and know you are not “stuck” if the relationship no longer works).

. . .

Did you attend the forum and want to keep the conversation going? Join Bridgemen, a program of STOP AIDS Project, for their “Continued Conversations” from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on February 5 and 13; call 415-575-0150 (x231) to get the details and RSVP.

For more practical tips and personal stories from the Real Talk forum, keep an eye out for the full summary here on the BETA blog.

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6 Responses to Gay Men’s Health: How Common Are Open Relationships—And What Makes Them Work?

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