Main | Friday, July 16, 2010

Gays And Monogamy: Here We Go Again

NOM is already happily tweeting the link to another story about gay men and open relationships. You may recall the brouhaha that erupted in January when the New York Times published a story about a study which reported that 50% of gay male couples are non-monogamous. While the truth of that study seemed self-evident to me, many questioned its methodologies and conclusions. From today's San Francisco Chronicle about the same researcher, who has now published her study:
They call them "San Francisco relationships." A term coined by the local gay community, it's defined as two men in a long-term open relationship, with lovers on the side. A new study released this week by the Center for Research on Gender & Sexuality at San Francisco State University put statistics around what gay men already know: Many Bay Area boyfriends negotiate open relationships that allow for sex with outsiders. After studying the sexual patterns of 566 gay male couples from the Bay Area for three years, lead researcher Colleen Hoff found that gay men negotiate ground rules and open their relationships as a way to build trust and longevity in their partnerships. "I think it's quite natural for men to want to continue to have an active and varied sex life," said 50-year-old technology consultant Dean Allemang from Oakland, who just ended a 13-year-open relationship and has begun another with a new boyfriend. "I don't own my lover, and I don't own his body," he said. "I think it's weird to ask someone you love to give up that part of their life. I would never do it."
Hoff has received a $3.5M grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to continue her research for five more years. (Cue wingnut outrage!) According to Hoff, of the male couples surveyed, "47 percent reported open relationships. Forty-five percent were monogamous, and the remaining 8 percent disagreed about what they were."

Obviously our enemies will once again leap on these statistics as "evidence" that gay people are undeserving of marriage equality. And once again, some gay men will decry non-monogamy in general and rip apart Hoff's research as unscientific. Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin is first out of the box in the the latter regard.
[B]ased on the pattern of the stories and my communication with the authors, I have a new conclusion: When the news repeatedly and consistently reports conclusions that cannot possibly be determined from your data, it’s not because you’re trying to correct them. Huff has, in all occasions I’ve seen, made broad generalizations about the nature of gay relationships – not just those in her study – that lead me to wonder if her research is little more than an attempt to provide talking points to support her presumptions. And Huff’s study – which does, at least, seem to have structure – now leads to press reports about a “study” which has almost no validity whatsoever.
My own opinion is unchanged. Regardless of the methodology in which Hoff arrived at her conclusions, my gut tells me she is not only correct, but that her estimation of the percentage of gay male couples in open relationships may even be low. I've been out for almost 35 years, and yes, that's a purely anecdotal conclusion, but I've known thousands of couples over these decades and most of them were non-monogamous. Of course, the places I've lived and my chosen social circles have surely influenced that perception.

But we shouldn't really care, whatever the number is. I think we do the truth about our lives and our unique culture a tremendous disservice when we try to deny aspects of our world just to buy a few meager points on some marriage survey. We should happily and proudly own all of the ways in which gay men build their lives, even if some of those ways seem alien to us personally.

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