Are you in or thinking about having an open relationship? Or are you thinking about becoming exclusive? Are you falling in love with someone? There are lots of questions guys might have as they try to make relationship agreements.
Every relationship is unique. Whether he’s a guy you’ve been dating, someone you just met, or a long-term partner, it’s normal to have some expectations about what you get up to sexually with each other or with others, and what sexual health strategies you use, whether you want to be monogamous, open, or polyamorous.
All types of relationships have safety considerations. The beginning of a relationship, whether it’s sexual or romantic, can be a really intense time. Sometimes, when guys are first getting close to each other, falling in love, or feeling really passionate, they make decisions they wouldn’t normally, like having sex without condoms even if you normally use them. Dating and new relationships can sometimes be the moment when HIV transmission occurs, because of those changes in decisions. Guys may genuinely believe they are HIV- negative because their status has only changed recently. Guys who have recently acquired HIV can have a very high viral load, which makes it much more likely HIV transmission will occur if they fuck without condoms.
When it comes to sexual health in open relationships, some guys set up rules or expectations around using condoms, honesty, or what kinds of sex you have with others. There are lots of factors in these decisions. It can be hard to always be honest with our partner about the sex we are having with other guys, especially if something unexpected happens or something happens against your ‘rules’. Here are some questions you might ask each other before getting into an open relationship:
- Do we both know our statuses? How sure are we of our statuses? How often are we getting tested?
- What sexual health strategies are we using? Are we sleeping with each other based on our HIV status? Are we using Condoms, undetectable viral load, or PrEP?
- What are the things you want to do with other guys, and what are the chances of HIV or STI transmission?
- Are we comfortable talking to each other about what we do with other guys? What about if something unexpected happens?
- What are some things that one of us might do with another guy that excite me?
- Do I feel uncomfortable about anything that one of us might do with someone else?
- How would I would react if my partner was diagnosed with an STI?
- How open are we to discomfort? When jealousy comes up, will we work through it together, or will we get too upset?
- What does trust look like for each of you when you’re not monogamous? What would you consider a betrayal of your trust in an open relationship?
A lot of people find books like The Ethical Slut or The Jealousy Workbook helpful, but reading about ideas and putting them into practice are two different things. A lot of learning about how to be non-monogamous comes with experience, and you might find that with time, healthy communication, and security, your rules may change. Here are real-world examples of forms of non-monogamy:
Two guys are in a relationship and haven’t slept with anyone else for about a year. They’ve been tested a few times and are both HIV-negative, so they don’t use condoms with each other. They’ve agreed they want to have an open relationship, but it took a while to figure out what they were both comfortable with. Both thought it would best to use condoms with everyone else when it comes to fucking, but they didn’t mind if they gave or got head without condoms. They talked about the possibility of STIs, and agreed to be honest with each other and to test regularly. They also agreed to tell each other if anything happened with another guy that didn’t fit into this picture, even if it’s hard, and to get tested for HIV and STIs every three months.
A man is married to a woman. He is HIV negative. She knows he’s bisexual, but she doesn’t understand that he wants to have sex with men sometimes. The man doesn’t feel like he can talk to his wife about this, so he has sex with men on the side and doesn’t tell her about it. He takes PrEP and uses condoms so he can be sure he doesn’t HIV and does his best to avoid other STIs.
Two guys are in an open relationship. One is HIV-positive and undetectable, and one is HIV-negative. The HIV negative guy takes PrEP, because he isn’t always sure of the HIV statuses of the guys he sleeps with outside of the relationship. The two men enjoy having sex without condoms, even though they are aware of the possibility of getting other STIs. They get tested for STIs every few months when they are having sex with other people, and if something comes up they get treated right away.
Three guys are in an open, polyamorous relationship. Guy 1 is undetectable, and likes to meet guys at clubs. Guy 2 is HIV-negative, and enjoys cruising sometimes. Guy 3 is HIV-negative, and likes to engage in group PNP sessions every few months. Guys 2 and 3 both take PrEP, because people don’t always have sexual health conversations when they’re cruising or having group sex. All of them use condoms as much as they can, but Guy 1 and Guy 3 don’t always follow through with condom use when they drink or use drugs. They all get STI testing every three months, and keep each other informed about their test results.