Thursday, February 4, 2010

Open relationships? HELL NO

One of the complaints about GLBT relationships by our enemies is that we don't understand monogamy. So stories like this in the NY Times don't help:
A study to be released next month is offering a rare glimpse inside gay relationships and reveals that monogamy is not a central feature for many. Some gay men and lesbians argue that, as a result, they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships. And while that may sound counterintuitive, some experts say boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage — one that might point the way for the survival of the institution.

New research at San Francisco State University reveals just how common open relationships are among gay men and lesbians in the Bay Area. The Gay Couples Study has followed 556 male couples for three years — about 50 percent of those surveyed have sex outside their relationships, with the knowledge and approval of their partners.
Here are my problems with it:
  1. They studied men exclusively.
  2. If those were urban men, in the ├╝ber-gayborhoods of San Francisco, they are not representative of people elsewhere.
  3. If I think of my gay friends, I have a hard time coming up with any who fit this model--most of them being together years longer than my wife and I have.

Of course the NY Times article also points out other examples:
Open relationships are not exclusively a gay domain, of course. Deb and Marius are heterosexual, live in the East Bay and have an open marriage. She belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and maintained her virginity until her wedding day at 34. But a few years later, when the relationship sputtered, both she and her husband, who does not belong to the church, began liaisons with others.

“Our relationship got better,” she said. “I slept better at night. My blood pressure went down.”
But what do you want to bet that our enemies will ignore that example.

Look, people can do what they want in the privacy of their own relationships. That's fine. but don't DARE extrapolate this study to all of us, any more than Jeri Ryan's relationship represents all straight marriages. UpdateSome people may try to justify this for their particular choices, but I believe in fact that most people (including gay men) are monogamous. Maybe "open" works for some fraction of couples, but to assume this means everyone is non-monogamous would be wrong. In an article in the Advocate, as self-styled "sexologist" lauds open relationships including his own, but it is clear from the comments and even his own description that these do not account for the "majority" of relationships. And while these may be relationships, they aren't marriage.

I'll be crystal clear and honest. I believe marriage is about fidelity and monogamy. I don't believe in "open" relationships. I think they debase something that I have worked very hard to earn and continue to fight for. And I'm angry as hell if this study, released at this precise time, and directed at a group which is in no way representative of all GLBT people, is used to throw mud on the most precious experience of my life: marrying my beloved wife.

Update Turns out my concerns were valid. The Box Turtle Bulletin takes on the misleading Times reporting, with information about the study.
To be eligible participants had to have been at least 18 years old, have been in a their current relationship for at least 3 months, have knowledge of their own and their partner’s HIV status, be fluent in English, and be residents of the San Francisco Bay Area.
As the research was not applied separately by relationship structure or length, this study says nothing about gay marriage or even domestic partnerships. And any use of the results which makes (or even implies) a comparison to straight relationships is bogus and irresponsible.
NO KIDDING. Someone in a relationship for 3 months gets equated to "marriage"? TOTALLY BOGUS.

Field research staff reached potential participants either by handing out study postcards or placing flyers and postcards in gay-identified social venues such as bars, clubs, and cafes, as well as in community health and HIV and AIDS service organizations and by placing advertisements in gay-oriented publications, Web sites, and listserves.

Recruitment materials contained text describing the study as “one which examines important relationship dynamics associated with HIV.” Recruitment strategies were designed to produce a diverse sample in terms of race or ethnicity as well as serostatus.
Recruitment in bars and clubs and on listserves skews the sample towards those who are actively seeking sexual connections. While some gay people go to bars solely for social interaction, monogamous couples that do not regularly go to bars or look at Craigslist were far less likely to hear of this study.

Additionally, this study was more likely to attract those who were interested in how relationship dynamics impact HIV transmission. I think it is a reasonable assumption that, on average, couples committed to monogamy might not have the same interest level as those who have open relationships.
Again, this study was focused on a subset of MEN who participate in the bar scene. That is, places where people are looking for relationships--and not one noted for a high fraction of married folks.

And then there's this:
For two of the studies, 41% of the participants were HIV positive (Study 3 had 32%). While this may be advantageous to a study which seeks to look at sexual agreements, it is not representative of the population of San Francisco, and has almost no reflection of the gay male population at large. Only about 12% of gay men in the United States are infected with HIV.
Put another way: Populations with a higher fraction of HIV-positive members are more likely to have sex with multiple partners. Given that HIV is sexually transmitted, this is not a surprise.

The BTB concludes:

But in my opinion, Scott James’ statement that “New research at San Francisco State University reveals just how common open relationships are among gay men and lesbians in the Bay Area” may be among the most irresponsible reporting I’ve ever seen. The study says nothing whatsoever about lesbians and it tells us little about “just how common open relationships are” among anyone. It’s pure sensationalism and shoddy journalism.

But the real culprits are those who saw this study and decided that it says something about, for example, gay couples marrying in Iowa or New Hampshire. This was either lazy response or a deliberate attempt to fraudulently demonize gay couples for political gain.

In short, those reporting on this study got it wrong.

Update 7/20/10
The study and another have reared up again and Box Turtle Bulletin again nails the fatal flaw: these aren't a well-designed, open studies at all.
.... based 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. Hoff 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......

Hoff, Lowen and Spears want to believe that gay men are non-monogamous. It fits their preconceptions. But they didn’t study that.

Hoff did not conduct a study of gay men to see who is monogamous; she studied how HIV-positive men negotiate communication and agreements. And Lowen and Spears did not conduct a study of gay men to see who is monogamous; they sampled non-monogamous couples to see if they liked it.
Biased, in otherwords, based on an artificially and inappropriately limited sample.


Jarred said...

The thing is, what some -- or even most -- gay people (or specifically men) do should be irrelevant. This is about marriage equality and civil rights. Even if a mere one tenth of one percent of gay couples want marriage -- let alone monogamous marriage -- that mere one tenth of one percent of gay couples should be allowed to get married. What the other 99.9% do is irrelevant to their rights.

Simply put, rights are not determined by whether the majority want to exercise a particular right. If that were the case, we as a nation would have cut the right to assemble in protests years ago, because only a small percentage of people actually engage in such protests.

Erika Baker said...

The post gay brigade is particularly bad in this respect. They spend their lives in the most promiscuous gay set-up and then escape into a monogamous marriage as though that was the only alternative.

It's a bit like citing Hugh Heffner as evidence for the inability of straight people to live moral lives!

Dennis said...

I'm eight years into a monogamous relationship and wouldn't want to share. And my two previous relationships were monogamous, too.

Call me bourgeois or middle America or whatever, these things don't bother me, I'm happiest being with my partner. It means something to me that we are loyal to each other. We didn't "escape" into monogamous marriage. We fell in love and wanted to be with each other.

And the funny thing is of all the couples that I know who have lasted more than three years, all are in exclusive monogamous relationships. It seems to work. When gay couples start trying out being "open" (in my experience) they are usually months from breaking up. And though this is just my biased perspective, I've been out and about in the gay community since 1987 in multiple states and in small towns and in big urban areas.

The thrill of sex with new partners doesn't hold a candle to getting to spend time with someone that I love and I would never want to gamble with what I have to find the thrill of a few minutes with someone who means nothing to me.

Maybe I'm biased but that's fine with me. I don't need to be trendy and really don't want to be.

And I suppose that I must agree that articles like this don't help the cause.

IT said...

Dennis, that sums it up perfectly.

Cathy said...

I know one gay couple who have been together a decade and do regularly invite other men into the relationship for casual sex. They have always done this and their relationship has still lasted. However, it also has to be said that it's only one of the couple who really wants to do this. The other one is just going along with it because he wants to keep his man happy. He doesn't violently object, obviously, but he doesn't really want to either.

My observation would be that with a monogamous couple it's easier to keep a good balance in the relationship, where both people are getting their needs more or less met, as long as both partners are actually trying to make the other happy. If you "open" the relationship the balance becomes much trickier and it's likely that one of the original partners is going to be less happy than the other. Which doesn't seem right.

JCF said...

Great post IT...

...except lay off Jeri Ryan! [She stars in---so to speak---Janeway/Seven fanfic SO HOT it burns! ;-D]

Seriously, fine reporting/editorializing, IT.


I will admit, though, that I'm troubled by the notion of polyandry and the Church (that it's not marriage according to the state---even Utah!---is a given).

There's a deeply conservative part of me that doesn't want the Church to EVER bless it...

...and yet---in terms of what the Church does/SHOULD bless---I can't find a rational reason for it NEVER to do so.

Call it my own "Ick Factor".

IT said...

Well, JCF, poor Jeri married a scumbag, and them's the facts. I'm not harping on her to point this out.

It's interesting to juxtapose Cathy's comment with yours. I don't think that polygamy (polyandry being multiple husbands, polygyny multiple wives) can be considered the same, for some of the same reasons that Cathy's acquaintances point out: you can't achieve absolute equality with more than 2. How would you do it? If they divorced, would only 2 divorce the third, or would the whole thing be dissolved?

It's actually very revealing with the whole marriage issue to think how many changes to laws you would have to make in dissolving a marriage.

For a same sex couple, NONE.

For a polygamous grouping, you'd have to write an entirely new code.

As for your personal "ick" factor, I agree. Perhaps it is because by nature, I am just unwilling to share. ;-)