What are gay relationships like?
Just as heterosexual relationships vary greatly so too do gay relationships. There are many stereotypes surrounding gay relationships, fueling homophobia. Not only are stereotypes harmful, but they are largely inaccurate. As with heterosexual couples, gay relationships can be short-lived or long-term, and although gay men can have multiple sexual partners, many choose to be in monogamous relationships. Regardless of sexual orientation, everyone has their own preferences when it comes to sex, and a person's sexual and emotional needs may alter over time.
Both heterosexual and homosexual men can enjoy a wide range of sexual activities, including kissing, massaging and rubbing each other, masturbation and mutual masturbation, giving and receiving oral sex, using sex aids, penetrating with fingers, and anal intercourse. The common perception that gay relationships always involve anal sex is incorrect and many men in gay relationships do not have anal sex at all.
In heterosexual relationships, it is a common expectation that it is the male role to push for penetrative sex and the female role to resist until she is ready. Young people naturally believe that there must be equivalent roles in gay relationships; that one man is dominant and the other submissive. In fact, this need be no more true of gay relationships than it is of heterosexual relationships.
Anal sex in gay relationships
Some people presume that sex between men will involve anal penetration. This is often not the case and many gay men don't see anal sex as a necessary part of their sexual relationship. A national study carried out in Britain in the 1990s discovered that between a quarter and a third of homosexual men have never had anal sex as either the penetrative or receptive partner.
Research with young gay men carried out in the early 1990s revealed a strong belief that anal sex would be a large element of any gay relationship. However, many of the participants said that this was not what they wanted, and found that it was not necessarily an expectation of the other person.
"I definitely thought that anal sex would be a big element of a gay relationship. Every time you met a new partner, you'd think, oh f**k, here we go ... I didn't think that men actually kissed each other or held hands or in any way touched each other, other than to turn each other on to have an orgasm" Jason
However whilst many of the gay men participating in the study were pleased to discover that anal sex wasn't an expectation in their early relationships, they were usually very clear about the particular circumstances under which they would agree to penetrative sex. Much of this seemed to be based around a concept of the 'right' time and included notions of trust, respect, 'saving it', sharing yourself and 'doing it with someone special'. Anal intercourse appears to be seen by many young gay men (at least before they start having penetrative sex) as a similar marker of a 'committed' loving relationship that is encouraged in young people when there is discussion of (vaginal) sexual intercourse.
"If I was to have anal intercourse I would want to have it with someone who I really appreciated and liked, and not just anyone. Like losing your virginity, say. A lot of people would want to lose their virginity to someone who they were with .. someone special." Dean
These same notions, however, do not protect young men from being infected with HIV. In reality these notions can directly contradict safer sex messages, which may be vital for young men to act on:
"I think there is almost a sense that sex is safe as long as you've been with a person for a certain amount of time. Or if you've been seeing somebody for quite a while, that if you insist on using condoms, then you don't really love them. You're letting them down somehow and it's not as close." Rob
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