CHEST Research Spotlight: Alternatives to Monogamy: Reconsidering "Commitment" in Same-Sex Male Relationships

Published: February 5, 2013

Dr. Jeffrey T. Parsons, director of Hunter College’s Center for HIV Educational Studies and Training (CHEST) worked with a team of researchers to investigate a relatively unexplored area of social research, by surveying over 800 gay and bisexual men in the New York City area.  Dr. Parsons and his CHEST colleagues were curious to see the extent to which psychological and physical benefits were conferred in same-sex relationships, especially given the notion that gay and bisexual men demonstrate considerable variety in how monogamous they are. Parsons explains, “We first needed more information on the various types of relationships that gay men enter into to better understand the impact of relationship choice on their sexual and mental health.”

Dr. Parsons pointed out that “the diversity in types of non-monogamous relationships was interesting, and something that hasn’t been explored very much in research studies. Typically gay men have been categorized as monogamous or not, and our data show that it is not so black and white.”  CHEST’s survey indicated that about 60% were single.  Of those partnered, about 58% were in monogamous relationships.  Of those that were non-monogamous, 53% were in open relationships, and 47% were in “monogamish” relationships (i.e., couples that have sex with others as a couple such as “threeways” or group sex).

Men in fully monogamous partnerships showed significantly less illicit drug use and significantly reduced sexual health risk when compared to all other groups of men (single, open, and “monogamish”), suggesting a benefit to monogamy. But CHEST’s findings also indicated that non-monogamous partnerships provide other types of benefits to gay and bisexual men. Men in “monogamish” relationships indicated lower rates of depression and higher life satisfaction when compared to single gay men. Researcher Dr. Tyrel Starks adds that “Often people may assume that being in a relationship equals monogamy, or that non-monogamous relationships are inherently ‘less healthy’ in some way.  Our results suggest that there is substantial variability in the agreements that governed these established relationships, and each agreement had some unique mental and physical health correlates.”

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