One of the benefits of being gay is that we haven’t been forced into traditional notions of what defines a relationship, allowing us to decide and agree on what kind of partnerships we wish to have.
There are endless variations and we all have the freedom to decide what works for us and within our relationships.
Therefore, cheating itself does not necessarily happen simply because someone is having sex with another person outside of a relationship. It’s instead an issue of honesty and mutual respect.
Psychiatric nurse and human sexuality consultant Delene Van Dyk agrees. “It’s about the rules in a relationship. If you have a fling or sex or whatever outside the relationship without the permission of the other person, then it’s cheating. That’s how I see it,” she says.
In other words, if you and your partner decide to see other people on the side, then doing so on the terms you agreed upon is not cheating. But if you both vow to be monogamous and faithful to each other, or even if there is an understanding of this, and you are sleeping with other guys in secret, then you need to think twice.
Why do (gay) men cheat?
A friend of mind once told me that he thinks that all gay men cheat. That’s it’s a natural male thing – hardwired into our genes. There’s a lot of debate about this but I personally know a number of couples that have been monogamous and remain so, so it certainly is possible for gay men to remain faithful.
“Some men are inclined to want to have sex a lot, but I don’t believe that men are born cheaters. We are all human beings and therefore sexual beings. A healthy sex drive should not be a reason for cheating,” says Van Dyk.
Interestingly, a study by Alliant International University in San Francisco found that gay couples in the US appear to be more monogamous today than they were in the past.
The researchers compared couples interviewed in 1975 to couples in 2000. Among gay men, they found that the percentage who cheated on a partner they lived with dropped to 59% from 83% in 1975; for lesbians it declined to 8% from 28%.
The authors speculated that the emergence of HIV in the 1980s may have impacted on this but there could other reasons, including a more healthy sense of self among gay men; growing acceptance by society of gay relationships; and the rise of same-sex unions, marriages and families.
Nevertheless, many of us have at some point been cheated on or done the cheating.
Van Dyk says that there are hundreds of possible reasons why we might cheat: “We could even just drink too much! But it’s usually ultimately connected to our relationship with ourselves, our sense of self-worth for example, or then our relationship with others.”
According to her, here are just a few possible reasons why we might be unfaithful:
Internalised homophobia: Society has told us that our sexuality and our relationships are not fully legitimate and we may end up believing this, even if we’re not aware of it. In turn, we may not value our relationships and we may also not truly believe that we are worthy of love and trust.
A sense of shame: We’ve been led to believe that gay sex is something dirty and shameful and we may act this out in our behaviour; avoiding honesty and communication with our partners in favour of secrecy and the thrill of illicit sex. We may struggle with sex within a relationship, which involves much more than just lust, and feel more comfortable expressing ourselves sexually with strangers.
Over-sexualisation: Our community and the rest of society often see gay men as being hyper-sexualised and we may place excessive value in sex and expressing this over other areas of our lives. For many men a great deal of their self-worth is in feeling desired and wanted and this may be heightened in the gay community.
Relationship dissatisfaction: Some men may be unhappy with aspects of their relationships but may be too lazy or fearful to try to repair or end the relationship. Many of us have a fear of change and may choose to cheat rather than confront relationship issues.
Immaturity: Do you have a strong sense of self and of your values? Are you able to make decisions based on what’s important to you and how you see your life, or do you act on your mood and the here-and-now?
Should I tell my partner?
Many of us rationalise why it’s okay to cheat by claiming that by not telling a partner, we’re simply avoiding hurting them; that it’s for their own good.
Some of us may have cheated and may feel terrible but are afraid to let our partner know out of fear of it possibly causing the end of the relationship or of feeling exposed as being dishonest. You may feel that the cheating was or is a mistake but that it should not be the cause of further misery and stress. Ignorance is bliss, right?
We also all avoid disappointing others or appearing different from how we want others to see us.
There’s no simple answer as to whether you should tell your partner; it’s a decision that you need to make. You need be honest with yourself and rely on your own sense of what is the right thing to do.
What about cheating and HIV?
One of the most important things to consider if you are cheating on your partner is the increased risk that you may become infected with HIV and then pass it on to your partner.
Studies have shown a strong link between having many sexual partners and becoming infected – and that risk is carried through to those you sleep with. When you’re in a relationship it’s not just your health you hold in your hands, but also your partner’s health.
If you are having sex behind your partner’s back, your best bet is take action as soon as possible. Here are some tips.
â€¢ Use condoms and water-based lubrication when having sex. This goes a long way towards protecting yourself and your partner from HIV.
â€¢ If you’ve had unsafe sex recently, you have 72 hours from the time of your encounter to get PEP; a course of medication which can dramatically reduce your chances of contracting HIV. You could not only secure your health but also that of your partner.
â€¢ If you’ve had unsafe sex in the past and/or continue to do so, then make sure you get tested regularly. If you know you are infected, then you can take action to safeguard your health and that of your partner. The longer you and your partner live unaware of being positive, the more damage could be caused.
â€¢ If you are HIV positive and your partner is not, it does not have to mean the end of your relationship. Today, there are a number of strategies for couples with different HIV statuses to continue to have sex and to stay healthy.
For more information about your sexual health needs, including getting PEP and HIV screening and treatment, contact OUT on 012 430 3272 or visit www.men2men.co.za.