This article was published on January 13th, 2016
It’s accepted by many gay men that having a committed, exclusive, partner is the best way to protect against STIs. After all, if two guys are free of STIs and only sleep with each other, it’s impossible to get an STI. That is perfectly true… In theory. But as with many things in life, once a theory is put into practice, the results tell a different story.
It may come as a surprise to many gay men, but when it comes to that big STI they worry about most, HIV, most infections are not because you are being a slut at the bathhouse. In fact, 68% of HIV transmissions between gay men are from primary sex partners. This is due to the higher number of sex acts between primary partners, more frequent receptive roles in anal sex with main partners, and lower condom use during anal sex with primary partners. In other words, you’re more likely to get HIV from your main squeeze because you’re doing it more, bottoming more, and not using condoms.
How does one of the partners get HIV if they are monogamous? That’s not really a conundrum. Cheating. Adultery. Whatever you want to call it. One study found a quarter of monogamous partners had sex outside of their relationship, most of who indicated that their partner did not know about their infidelity. This study was on both opposite- and same-sex relationships. It is possible to hypothesize the rates of infidelity would be higher amongst gay men due to the higher availability of casual sex with other men. This same study found those in monogamous relationships had the same rate of STIs as those in non-monogamous relationships, particularly as those in non-monogamous relationships are more likely to take steps to reduce their risk of contracting an STI.
This is not an attempt to put blame on guys who cheat. Guys who cheat aren’t bad people. Guys who cheat are human. If wanting to have sex with other people wasn’t so normal and natural, the Bible and other books wouldn’t need to threaten you with death to prevent it. This is also not an attempt to make you constantly mistrust your partner. The last thing gay guys need in their lives is more fear and anxiety when it comes to having sex and finding love. This is an attempt to provide information and to promote honesty and discussion.
You can only cheat if you are dishonest. And people are usually dishonest for a reason, often to get what they need in order to be fulfilled. Of course, many want this 50s-style Leave It To Beaver existence (albeit a little more homo). But you need to live in reality, not a fictional world. Monogamy promotes dishonesty. And if you insist on monogamy, and your partner loves you but has other sexual needs, you’re creating the conditions for both dishonesty and potentially poor sexual health. It’s fine if you only want to have sex with your guy, but don’t impose that on him. Of course, if you’re both certain that you want to be monogamous, then that’s great. However, if one of you is not certain or sure he doesn’t want to be, it still can be great.
Once you’ve given your guy permission to go have hanky panky with other guys, it’s time you start talking how you’re going to best protect one another from STIs. Talk about the sex you want. Talk about strategies to reduce risks. Maybe your partner only wears condoms with other guys. Maybe he only tops other guys. Or maybe one or both of you decides to go on PrEP. Make sure you are both honest about the type of sex you want. Many guys will agree with their partner to always use condoms with other guys outside their relationship, even though they really want to bareback. That’s another great reason for seeing whether PrEP is a good choice.
Be honest with yourself and with your partner. Recognize that you’re both human and that life isn’t cookie-cutter perfect. Because being honest with each other is the best form of sexual health.