For a long time, the concept of monogamy and gay relationships has been one for hot debate. A lot of this stems from the fact that, for some time, gay relationships were not considered the norm. Some gay men felt that, if their relationship wasn’t a “societal norm,” then they didn’t have to conform to what society viewed as a “normal relationship”— i.e. one where monogamy was an expectation. While not all heterosexual relationships are monogamous- and not all gay relationships in the past were non-monogamous- there seemed to be a shift in thought when gay marriage was legalized. More specifically, once gay marriage was legalized, some in the gay community felt it imperative to show the heterosexual world that gay relationships were like the heterosexual ones; meaning, marriage and monogamy went hand in hand. While not every gay couple who got married felt this way, it seemed to be more the norm that gay couples and monogamy were more prevalent than they were before.
In the past few years, another major shift in the community has happened. Gay couples have begun having kids more often, both through surrogacy and through adoption. Due to this, heterosexual and homosexual family units are starting to look more or less the same. The idea of the white picket fence, the happy marriage, the two kids, and the dog is no longer just a heterosexual thing gay couples wish they could have; rather, they’re attaining the same vision quite frequently. In my community, we live amongst many families with children, almost all with heterosexual parents. The only thing that sets us apart from them in our household is two homosexual parents; aside from that, we look like everyone else does here, and no one has ever pointed out our being “different” aside from them including us in a “moms night out” that other men are not included in.
With the societal changes of gay couples being able to get married and have children that have occurred in the past few years, a new question has fallen into place. Do gay couples who are married with kids all stay monogamous? More specifically, if a gay couple was not monogamous before kids, did having children change their viewpoints on this? If they aren’t monogamous, how do they operate that while also having children to take care of? And, if they are monogamous, do they feel a societal pressure to be such due to their view of a heteronormative family, or is this just something they decided was important to them from the get-go?
To answer the questions posed, it was clear that it was imperative to talk with gay couples with children and see where their thoughts stood regarding this issue.
“My husband and I have been married for over nine years,” John, a married father with kids told us. “We have two kids, the oldest of which will be five in the summer.”
“We have been open for almost our whole relationship,” he continued, “but we only play together. To us, it’s just a way to have some additional fun.”
John went on to detail ground rules he and his husband have set forth, explaining that, “With a very rare exception, we stick to friends with benefits rather than random hookups, and have never brought anyone home that we just met. It was also never something we did like weekly or even monthly.”
So has this changed since having kids? John explained that “We have continued to play around since having the kids; nothing has really changed. The friends we hook up with are also people we hang out with generally, so the kids know them and vice versa. The kids are good sleepers and the friends do not spend the night, so as far as the kids are concerned we have company when they go to bed and then no one when they wake up.”
“We know we’ll probably have to cut back when the kids are older and more aware (and there’s a greater chance of getting caught),” he added. “But we never felt having kids meant we had to stop entirely.”
But what about family and friends? Does John feel judged by them, or by others in the gay community?
He explained that “Our best friends (a straight couple) know we’ve had the occasional hook up but they don’t know the extent of it and I’m not sure they know it’s continued past having kids. She tends to be a bit judgmental, so I never was planning on telling her all of it.”
“Family doesn’t need to know,” he added.”I know they wouldn’t get it. (And it’s not like I’d discuss my sex life with them even if it was traditionally monogamous anyway.)”
“As for feeling judged within the community itself, I never really felt judged about it until reading some of the comments on various posts in the gay dad’s group (on Facebook),” he added. “I’ve run into one or two guys on the apps who looked down on it, but they were few and far between. We’ve been able to create a great friend group over the last four or so years that includes friends with benefits and other gay friends, and it’s nice to be open with them.”
Another couple we spoke with, Kip and Bill, had a different viewpoint from John. “We’ve been together 24 years and… we have always been monogamous,” they shared. “It was the only way for both of us.”
The couple, who are raising a 13-year-old daughter, further elaborated that, “It was never an option or discussion to NOT be monogamous. Combined, we have five siblings, all married with kids, and we just always wanted and expected to have what they each have.”
So what do they think about gay married couples with kids that are not monogamous?
They shared with us that, “I guess that’s their business and if it works for them. Just, to us, that seems risky and causes potential problems. Seems sneaky… At some point, the kids are old enough to wonder where you are sneaking off too. And if it’s that ok, then why not tell the kids?”
Another person we spoke with, Nick, had similar thoughts.
“My husband and I have been married for over a year, together since 2013,” he shared. “We have a 7-year-old we raised together and a current 20-year-old we got at 15 or 16.”
“Monogamy was never really a question for either of us,” he continued. “We know that sex was important to intimacy and intimacy is key to a withstanding relationship. We didn’t have time for trust issues, or secret dating lives or any nonsense. It’s a lot of extra that creates even more variables to the success of a relationship. We stand united. We raise kids, create successful businesses, remodel many homes, overcame obstacles most couldn’t imagine.”
Nick went on to ask a question of couples who are married with kids but choose not to be monogamous, stating, “The only thing I would say to people that don’t live in a monogamous relationship, to those that are happy, not the ones who think or pretend to be, the ones who truly are, what tricks are you using to maintain the intimacy needed, to not get lost in the ‘Marriage Job?”
We also spoke with a man named Daniel who had an entirely different perspective from the others, explaining to us how he and his husband have been exploring potentially adding a third person to their relationship and becoming polyamorous.
“We have been together 11 years,” Daniel began with explaining. “We are legally married and have three children, ages 13,14, and 2. We’ve had all the kids since birth so parenting is not new to us.”
“Though we haven’t had an ‘open’ relationship per se we have always been open to the idea,” he continued sharing. “For us, it’s not a necessity to go out searching for it, but rather, we would welcome the idea if we happen to meet someone. Joining a poly Facebook page has recently been our first real intentional and purposeful effort.”
“Here’s why I think poly relationships make sense to us,” he went on to explain. “First I’d like to point out this is not a new concept. In fact, it was the very idea that communes were built on back in the ’60s and ’70s with the hippie movement. For us, we actually first started talking about it in a kind of joking way. It was when we got our daughter, the youngest child. We were struggling trying to meet all the emotional needs of all three kids, juggle our jobs, housework, yard work, etc. There just weren’t enough hours in the day!”
Daniel went on to explain that, “One day I said, ‘God! Can you imagine how much smoother we could make this (our family) work if we had one more parent/husband!?’ I laughed, but as soon as I heard my words I realized the pure logic of it.”
“It’s so funny to me when I hear the heteronormative argument against polyamory in so far as it being seen as immoral or unnatural because the idea of monogamy is primarily grounded in a conservative Christian narrative,” he elaborated. “I love the ‘it’s not natural’ argument because the reality is, many, many animals in the wild rely on other adults in their species to not only help raise their young but also engage in same-sex relationships. The red fox, for example, will have other female foxes in the area who didn’t breed that year help the mother fox while the father is out hunting for food; they are a community.”
“Lastly,” he added, “I LOVE the idea of teaching my kids that they do not need one spouse to ‘complete’ them or be their soulmate. That notion is a myth and co-dependant. Rather, we teach them what it looks like to choose their families, just like we chose them. Love is not something so linear and simplistic that you can only share it with one person.”
Daniel also explained that “On an interpersonal level, I also think that a poly relationship really takes the pressure off. Many people feel obligated to choose a spouse who meets ALL their criteria- a good listener, totally sexually compatible, etc. Having three (or more) people who share a variety of these qualities feel much more realistic. Do we NEED a third in order to have a fully functional relationship? Not necessarily at the moment, but it sure would be nice and most certainly is not something we are threatened by.”
We couldn’t help asking Daniel if he was concerned about things changing if he entered into a polyamorous relationship with his husband, such as issues like jealousy arising.
“Jealousy is a possibility, sure,” he shared. “I am a psychotherapist so, communication about those sorts of things is something we have always valued.”
And how does he think their kids would react if they added a third person into their relationship?
“In terms of the kids, we have always normalized the idea with them since they were toddlers,” he shared. “Would it be a big adjustment? Oh, I’m sure! But our boys are pretty open. My one son is dating someone who is non-binary, so we are already pretty well versed in non-traditional relationships.”
Analyzing just these few responses seems to drive home the following:
Some gay couples with kids are choosing to be stereotypically heteronormative in the sense that they are strictly monogamous and that is how they view relationships.
Some gay couples with kids were non-monogamous before children and have chosen not to change that behavior post having children.
Some gay couples view having kids as an opportunity to expand their relationships into polyamorous ones for a breadth of reasons and even use this as a teaching point to show children that there are many different types of relationships.
So where does this leave things?
The biggest teachable point from this is the following: stereotypes don’t work. Based on our conversations with various couples, some felt that monogamy was important to them in any relationship. Some felt that being non-monogamous worked for them and had benefits to their relationship. It’s interesting to note that there are certainly heterosexual couples who also have open relationships, even though that’s not typically discussed as the “norm.”
It’s also clear from our conversations that a shift in dynamic- namely gay couples shifting in thought from open relationships being acceptable, then no longer being acceptable if kids enter the equation- isn’t necessarily happening.
Overall, what works for some in one relationship may not work for others in another relationship. A couple- regardless of sexual orientation- must have strong communication and discuss what works for them in a healthy relationship. In an ever-evolving world, respecting what others choose to do in their relationship- and expecting the same respect from them for what you choose to do in yours- is a healthy response. As long as you’re healthy and happy with your choices- and you’re two consenting adults making those choices- that’s really all that should matter at the end of the day regardless.