Words by Ian Howley | @ianhowley


Last year, as part of our 150th special issue FS surveyed 3,140 gay men and asked them about their current sex lives. Of the men who responded, just under 10% said they were in an open relationship. So here at FS we decided to dig deep into the results to see what sort of sex gay men in open relationships are having.

Who’s in an open relationship?

The myth is the older you are the more likely you’ll be open to open relationship. Our survey results showed the following:

35% of the 35-44 year olds said they are in an open relationship followed by 25-34 year olds with 32%. 17% of the 45-54 years olds said they are in an open relationship with 9% of the 18-24 years olds saying so. Only 7% of the men over the age of 55 said they were in an open relationship.

Of those in an open relationship: 93% said they were ‘gay’ while 5.5% said they were ‘bisexual’ with the remainder stating ‘other’.

77% said they were HIV-negative while 14.5% said they were HIV-positive with the reaming 8% saying ‘not sure’.

We asked the HIV-negative men who are in open relationships: When was the last time you went for an HIV test?

  • In the last month: 15%
  • One to six months: 35%
  • Six months to a year: 15%
  • One to three years: 17%
  • Over three years: 11%
  • Never tested for HIV: 7%

We asked: Are you worried about picking up an STI?

  • Yes: 50%
  • No: 42%
  • Not sure: 8%

Men in open realtionships were less worried about STIs than single men (62% were worried) but more then married/civil partnered (24%) or men in monogamous relationships (25%).

We asked the HIV-negative men: Are you worried about becoming HIV-positive?

  • Yes: 56%
  • No: 38%
  • Not sure: 6%

In comparison with other men who filled in the survey, 64% of single gay men were worried about becoming HIV-positive. Only 27% of married/civil partnered men were worried about HIV. 36% of men who are in monogmous relationships were worried about HIV.

WHat is PrEP?

We asked: Do you know what PrEP is?

  • Yes: 71%
  • No: 20%
  • Not sure: 9%

Gay men in open relationships were the category most clued up about PrEP. About 55% of men in the other relationship categories knew what PrEP is.

We explained what PrEP is and asked: Would you use PrEP if it was available on the NHS?

  • Yes: 71%
  • No: 15%
  • Not sure: 14%

76% of single gay men and 75% of men who are dating would be most likely to use PrEP if it was available on the NHS.

STIs

We asked: When was the last time you had an STI?

  • In the last month: 2%
  • One to six: 11%
  • Six months to a year: 11%
  • One to three years: 18%
  • Over three years: 27%
  • Never had an STI: 26%
  • Not sure if I have/had one: 5%

In comparison with other relationship categories, gay men in open relationships were more likley to pick up an STI. We asked what STI(s) they picked up:

  • Gonorrhoea: 39%
  • Chlamydia: 41%
  • Crabs: 24%
  • Warts: 16%
  • Syphilis: 7%
  • Herpes: 7%
  • Other: 2%
  • HPV: 3%
  • Hep C: 1%
  • Hep B: 4%
  • Hep A: 3%
  • Shigella: 3%

Gay men in open relationships came out on top for: chlamydia, warts and shigella.

Sex it up

We asked: Top or bottom?

  • Top only: 18%
  • Bottom only: 20%
  • Both: 58%
  • I don’t do anal: 4%

Gay men in open relationships are more likely to be sexually versatile but not by much. There wasn’t actually much difference between any of the relationship categories, which tells us that your preference doesn’t really change depending on the relationship you are in.

We asked: When was the last time you had sex with a man?

  • Today: 16%
  • In the last week: 59%
  • A couple of weeks ago: 14%
  • About a month ago: 3%
  • One to three months ago: 4%
  • Three to six months ago: 1%
  • 6 months to a year: 1%
  • One to three years ago: 1%
  • Over three years ago: 0.5%
  • Never. I’m a virgin: 0.5%

Looking at how recently gay men had sex prior to filling in this survey we saw that overall gay men in a monogamous relationship most likely to have just done it. Only just though. Gay men in open relationships came in second, with married/civil partnered men third. Single men were likely to have gone the longest without sex.

We asked: Who was it with?

  • Casual sex partner: 35%
  • Someone I’m/was dating: 4%
  • Sex buddy: 12%
  • Boyfriend/long term 34%
  • My husband /CP: 1%
  • It was a threesome: 8%
  • Group sex: 6%

Gay men in open relationships were as likely to have had sex recently with a casual partner as with their boyfriend/long term partner.

We asked: What did you do?

  • Received a blowjob: 71%
  • Gave a blowjob: 71%
  • Fucked (topped): 60%
  • Got fucked (bottomed): 43%
  • Wanked him: 53%
  • He wanked me: 45%
  • Frottage: 24%
  • Other: 5%

We asked the gay men in open relationships who either fucked or got fucked by someone who is not their partner: Did you use a condom?

  • Yes: 48%
  • No: 46%
  • Yes, but not when I came: 5%
  • I don’t know: 1%

We then asked them: Did you ask his HIV status before you had anal sex?

  • Yes: 15%
  • No: 50%
  • I already knew: 35%
  • I don’t know 0%

Did you cum?

  • Yes: 82%
  • No: 18%

Where did you cum?

  • On myself: 33%
  • On him: 28%
  • On bed/wall/floor etc: 16%
  • Up his arse 23%

We then asked them: Were you drunk the last time you had anal sex with a casual partner?

  • Yes: 16%
  • No: 84%

Were you high/on drugs the last time you had anal sex with a casual partner?

  • Yes: 18%
  • No: 82%

Of the gay men in open relationships who had anal sex with a casual partner, the top drugs of choice were: mephedrone, G and ecstasy.

Overall men in open relationships were slightly more likely to be using drugs during sex. Single gay men came in a close second with 13% saying they were high the last time they had sex.

We asked: How many sexual partners have you had in the last year?

  • None: 1%
  • One 5%
  • Two to four 21%
  • Five to twelve 29%
  • 13 to 29 24%
  • 30 to 99 15%
  • 100+ 5%

Gay men in open relationships were having nearly double the number of sexual partners as any of the other relationship categories..

We asked: Do you think you have enough sex?

  • Yes: 40%
  • No: 51%
  • Not sure: 9%

Gay men who are either dating or in a monogamous relationship were more likley to think they are having enough sex than men in open relationships.

We asked: Are you happy with your current sex life?

  • Yes: 53%
  • No: 33%
  • Not sure: 14%

Gay men who are either married/civil partnered (64%) or in a monogamous relationship (65%) were most likely to be happy with their current sex life. Only 29% of single gay men were happy with their current sex life.

We asked: How important is sex to you? Answers for those who ticked ‘important’ or ‘very important’:

  • Dating: 57%
  • Single: 59%
  • Monogamous: 70%
  • Married/civil partnership: 74%
  • Open relationship: 84%

It looks like sex is a higher piority for gay men in open relationships than any other category, followed by gay men who are married/civil partnered and then gay men in monogamous relationships.


OPEN RELATIONSHIPS AND HIV...

In 2014, over 3,300 gay men were diagnosed HIV-positive in the UK.

About 80% of new HIV infections come from having sex with men who don’t know they have HIV.

About 14% of gay men who are HIV-positive don’t know they have it.

The majority of HIV infections are from sex within a relationship of with a regular sex partner.

Condoms: While the majority of gay men in open relationships did use a condom the last time they had anal sex with a casual partner nearly half said they didn’t. And 50% said they didn’t talk about HIV with the person they had anal sex with.

Using condoms while having sex is still one of the best ways to avoid picking up any STIs, becoming HIV-positive or passing on HIV. Make sure you use plenty of water-based lube too. Stay away from Vaseline and baby oil – they will make the condom rip.

Cum outside: 23% of gay men in open relationships said they came inside their last casual sex partner. If you are someone who doesn’t use condoms and you’re a bottom then it will decrease the risk if he doesn’t cum inside you. However there is still HIV in pre-cum and he may blow his load before he has the chance to pull out, so this is still highly risky sex.

If you are a top remember that HIV can be present in anal mucus (the stuff that lines the inside of the arse), so pulling out will not reduce the risk.

HIV-positive: If you are HIV-positive, on medication and undetectable then the chances of passing on HIV are very low. However using condoms will further reduce the risk of passing on HIV and STIs.

MONOGAMY AND HIV

A recent study in the United States suggests that most gay men who become HIV-positive get it from their boyfriend or regular sex partner. Many people feel that being in a relationship will protect them from STIs and HIV. Unfortunately, people cheat. Some will use condoms and some won’t when they cheat. Many gay men also don’t test for HIV when entering a new relationship. After a month or two they stop using condoms and pass on HIV without knowing it.

You can’t stop someone from cheating, but if you are having sex with someone who is not your boyfriend condoms will protect you and your boyfriend from HIV and other STIs. Also test for HIV and other STIs regularly – especially if you are starting a new relationship.

We at FS have heard many stories about people who think they are in monogamous relationships only to find that their boyfriend has passed on HIV to them. If you are in or want an open relationship then you need to set ground rules around safer sex with different partners.

For more information, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/condoms-and-lube.

PEP is a month-long course of HIV medication that can stop you becoming HIV-positive if started within 72 hours after sex (the sooner you start taking it the better). If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, contact your local GUM clinic or go to an A&E. For more info on PEP, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/pep.

Test for STIs: All sexually active gay men should test for STIs at least once a year. If you are having sex with new partners then you should test more frequently. Test for HIV too when you’re there. It takes about two weeks for most STIs and four weeks for HIV to show up in a test. 


For more information or to find your nearest GUM clinic, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/clinics.


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