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What's Monogamy Got to Do With Marriage?

Study Notes and Anecdotes From LGBT People in Committed, Non-Monogamous Partnerships

June 25, 2013


Kirk Grisham

Kirk Grisham, Project Director, You & Me Study; New York City

What kinds of messaging do you come across regarding non-monogamy in public health work, and how have you seen those messages challenged in your work?

Research hasn't caught up to exploring the ways that particularly MSM engage in relationships. I'm interested in thinking about people's motivations for monogamy. Historically we've largely been taught that you're just supposed to be with one person and that's just how things work. But for gay or same-gender-loving men, I think because of the relatively unique impact that HIV/AIDS has had on them, it's kind of seeped into how public health, the media and culturally we think about these relationships -- it's safe to say that public health typically encourages fewer partnerships, because statistically you're at less risk with fewer partners; however, I don't know that that's necessarily a good thing -- we don't necessarily tell heterosexual men and women to have less partners because that means less risk -- so I'm really interested in how that translates.

I hear a lot from couples who often associate HIV risk with casual sex, or sex outside of their primary relationship -- they often don't want to have sex outside of their dyad because that means risk for HIV. Choosing monogamy is not necessarily always an issue about intimacy or possessiveness or reflecting traditional ideas of what a relationship "should" look like, but it's a way that I think fear around transmission of HIV has been ingrained into the ways we think about what kinds of relationships men should have, and what can be safe. I think a lot of people in public health will say, "Well that's fine" -- but that's why I'm a little bit more wary about the ways people make meaning of their relationships, and the need to be monogamous just to avoid HIV; it warrants more dialogue and inquiry.

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