X-rated Skype calls, saucy pictures and dealings with a catfish — newly single Martin Ahearne on his dating dos (and don’ts)
Wanna Skex…?” The message comes up on my screen on sexpandemic…Remember – Stay at home save the NHS…” I say.
How little I knew. Skex, it turns out, is what sexting is to texting, but refers to Skype, and has emerged as a popular lockdown activity.
Covid has put an end to casual sex – so what alternatives are emerging?
Before the pandemic I had newly returned to the dating scene, all online.
I’m 41 and started using Grindr five years ago. In fact, I met my last partner on it. Given that we were together for more than three years and fell madly in love at first sight, hope remains for more Grindr success. I am still in the residual grieving stage of my last relationship, working out what I want.
Before the pandemic, it was sex – as a friend jokes, “you can get a delivery on Grindr faster than Deliveroo”. But since we have all become confined to our houses, chatting on Grindr has been a lifeline. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Covid has meant that use of the app has ramped right up and I have been struck by how readily we are sharing with strangers online.
Sleeping with other people: how gay men are making open relationships work
A new study says non-monogamous couples can actually be closer, even as critics of open relationships argue humans are unable to separate love and sex
“We wouldn’t change a thing,” says Allen, who lives in New York City with McIntyre. “We get to fulfill our desire of having sex with other people. We avoid cheating and the resentment that comes in monogamous relationships when you can’t pursue sexual urges.” Their relationship is not unusual among gay men. In 2005, a study found that more than 40% of gay men had an agreement that sex outside the relationship was permissible, while less than 5% of heterosexual and lesbian couples reported the same.
McIntyre and Allen say the strength of their bond is built on clear and open communication. And while that assertion will be perplexing or even taboo to many monogamous couples, a new study into gay couples in open relationships suggests that this skepticism is unjustified. In fact, the study says, non-monogamous couples can actually be closer than their more faithful counterparts.
In June 2015, Christopher Stults, a researcher at the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior, and Prevention Studies at New York University, launched a qualitative study of 10 gay couples in open relationships. He conducted 45-minute, individual interviews with each of these men and their partners, who ranged in age from 19 to 43.
The study, funded by the Rural Center for Aids/STD Prevention at Indiana University, had multiple aims. “We wanted to see how these relationships form and evolve over time, and examine the perceived relationship quality, relationship satisfaction, and potential risk for HIV/STI infection,” says Stults, who finished coding the interviews this week at NYU and hopes to have the study published early next year.
So far, Stults says his finding is that non-monogamous relationships can lead to a happier, more fulfilling relationship. “My impression so far is that they don’t seem less satisfied, and it may even be that their communication is better than among monogamous couples because they’ve had to negotiate specific details,” Stults says.
And open relationships “don’t seem to put gay men at disproportionate risk for HIV and other STDs,” Stults says. “To my knowledge, no one contracted HIV and only one couple contracted an STD.”
But despite Stults’s findings, there’s stigma associated with these kinds of relationships. In 2012, four studies from the University of Michigan found that participants’ perception of monogamous relationships were “overwhelmingly more favorable” than of open relationships.
“Gay men have always engaged more often in consensual non-monogamous relationships, and society has consistently stigmatized their decision to do so,” says Michael Bronski, a professor in the department of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard.
McIntyre and Allen say they’ve experienced the stigma themselves but that an open relationship is the most honest way for them to be together. “We’ve run into gay and straight people who have assumed our relationship is ‘lesser than’ because we’re not monogamous. I think that’s offensive and ridiculous,” McIntyre says.
So what makes an open relationship work? Participants in Stults’ study emphasized that success is predicated on creating rules and sticking to them. For McIntyre and Allen, two rules are key: “Always tell the other person when you hook up with someone else, and always practice safe sex,” Allen says.
For David Sotomayor, a 46-year-old financial planner from New York, sticking to specific rules is fundamental to the success of his open marriage. “They’re built to protect the love of our relationship,” he says. “We can physically touch another man and have oral sex, but we can’t kiss, have anal sex, or go on dates with other guys. We attach an emotional value to kissing – it’s special and unique.”
But sticking to the rules isn’t always easy. Sotomayor has broken them multiple times, which has caused conflict. “It creates a sense of doubt of whether someone is telling the truth,” he says.
Brian Norton, a psychotherapist who specializes in gay couples and an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s department of counseling and clinical psychology, says: “Sex is an emotional experience. There is emotion at play, and even in the most transactional experience someone can get attached.”
Norton believes that going outside the relationship for sex can lead to emotional insecurity. “I think it is a difficult pill to swallow that we cannot be all things to our partners,” he says. “A relationship is a constant balancing act between two conflicting human needs: autonomy and the need for closeness.” Allen says: “It’s true that love and sex are intertwined, but they aren’t the same thing. Love is about so much more than sex. [There’s] intimacy, friendship, mutual care and respect.”
That gay couples are leading the way in sexually progressive relationships shouldn’t be surprising, according to Bronski. “Because they’ve been excluded from traditional notions of sexual behavior, they’ve had to be trendsetters and forge their own relationship norms,” he says.
Norton believes the facility with which gay men engage in open relationships may be related to a fear of intimacy. “The experience of coming to terms with your homosexual identity can often be associated with emotional abandonment, shame and rejection,” he says.
“So our experience with love and intimacy at an early age is often broken and compromised, so when someone tries to get close to us as an adult, defenses go up,” he says. “It’s human nature to avoid revisiting feelings of abandonment, and open relationships may be a way of keeping a distance between another man.”
But Allen says that being open has strengthened his relationship with McIntyre and brought the couple closer together. “I feel a greater sense of connectedness with Hugh because I get to see him explore his sexuality with other people and I feel gratitude to him for giving me the same leeway,” he says.
All the experts in this story say they believe open relationships can work when they are built on honesty and communication.
Best lgbtq+ apps
Co-founded by Made in Chelsea’s Ollie Locke, Chappy is backed by Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe. It features a chappy scale, offering Mr Right as well as Mr Right Now, and puts a focus on safety, with users verified through Facebook.
Originally launched as “Grindr for girls”, Robyn Exton’s LGBTQ dating app has grown to be the biggest community for lesbian, bisexual and queer women worldwide. The app mixes dating and social networking, with a timeline to read the news, find out what’s happening in your city and make connections.
Taimi is the world’s largest LGBTQ+ social platform, with almost nine million users and social features from chat-based networking to video streaming.
Use this app to find relationships and friendships within the full spectrum of LGBTQ sexual orientations and gender identities. Its paid-for rainbow subscription lets you browse users who liked you and see if your match read your message.
10 common gay dating obstacles and how to overcome them
We all know how difficult it is to date and meet the right guy, which is why when you meet someone you truly care for, you can’t let certain obstacles get in the way. Yes, of course, if the differences between you two are too large, the relationship isn’t going to work out. But often times, we give up prematurely. Here are 10 common barriers that gay couples encounter, as well as ways to overcome them.
1. you differ in level of “outness”
When you’re dating someone who’s not out to their family, friends, coworkers (or any combination of), you, yourself, become re-closeted. You become worried about what you can and can’t post to social media. You start to feel insecure. You begin living your life like you did when you were a closeted teenager. You cannot date someone who is closeted for a long period of time. You need to tell your partner this. Coming out to his family is terrifying, but he will need to do it. They may reject him completely, but who knows? They may not. Or, they may come around to him years later. The false relationship that he currently has with his family isn’t real. It’s a relationship founded on lies. He needs to come out to his family in order for you to be with him. Give him time, and give him support, but make it clear to him that coming out to his parents in the future is non-negotiable.
3. you’re not the most sexually compatible
Now this can mean a number of different things. One of you is into kink. The other is more vanilla. You’re both bottoms (or tops). You have a mismatched sex drive where one of you wants to have sex twice a day, and the other one is more than satisfied having sex once a week. This relationship can still work (although it will be tough)! The best solution may be to indeed open up your relationship. If you’re not interested in that, you need to make some compromises. Have sex (more or less). Or try topping even though it’s not your thing. You also will have to realize that the sexual component of your relationship won’t be the most fulfilling. You both have to be okay with that.
5. there’s a large age gap
While gay men are much better than straight couples when it comes to disregarding the age gap between partners, there are still some challenges that come with dating someone who’s 15+ years older or younger than you are. The key here is focusing less on the actual age of your partner, but rather, focusing on what stage both of you are in your lives. If both of you are still party goers who enjoy going out drinking and dancing, then odds are, you’ll be fine. But if one of you is more of a homebody and is over that scene, it’s going to be difficult. Similarly, if one of you is in college, and the other one is the CEO of a company, you both are at two very different stages of your life. If it’s a daddy/baby dynamic, that’s completely fine, and your relationship can work out. But if you’re trying to share a life together, it will be tough when you’re both doing different things, and have different priorities. So focus less on age and more on where you are/what you’re doing in your life. Remember, age is just a number.
7. you have different values
In my opinion, this is a dealbreaker. You can come from different backgrounds, be of different races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, socio-economic statuses, and even planets, and the relationship can absolutely work out. But if you value different things (especially in this political climate), you should not date this person. You need to date someone who views the world the same way as you, and values the same things about humanity and relationships that you do.
10. you’re the jealous type and he’s flirty
If you have a green-eyed monster living deep in your gut, this can become problematic. The gay community is so small that you will inevitably run into your partner’s exes. Additionally, many gay men are very flirty and touchy. We kiss on the lips to say hello. We grab butt cheeks. All that jazz. If this is something that bothers you immensely, you need to first look inward. What are your fears? What are you insecurities? Are you worried he’ll cheat on you? Are you worried he’ll leave you for someone else? What is it about this that bothers you? It could be you don’t trust him. You know he’s cheated on past guys and don’t want him to cheat on you. Whatever the reason is, discuss it with him. Be open about your insecurities or your lack of trust, and see what you two, together, can come up with in order to make you feel more secure in your relationship.
Of course, there is Skex too but it’s the chats that are keeping me going. I don’t know where they’ll lead but they represent the promise of something beyond this stay-at-home existence.
There are the encounters where you chat. Build a rapport. Talk about the pandemic and how you’ve been coping. You exchange some pictures – not necessarily nude ones, images of their dog, their houseplants and dinner preparations. You swap numbers and continue to chat on a less sex-based platform. Before Covid, people didn’t divulge their digits (phone numbers that is) unless meeting up was a certainty, but that has changed.
In fact, getting off Grindr to chat on WhatsApp or iChat has become a kind of “second base”. Almost like “going steady”. As the restrictions on our freedom have stopped us from meeting for casual sex, moving the chat onto an alternative platform is the alternative.
We can’t have random sex now, so why torture ourselves and continue to chat on an app which previously so readily delivered it?
As for actual physical dating, well, one person is allowed to meet another outside – and we have all the time in the world to do that.
I went on a dog walk with a fellow pet owner I was courting online that made me reconsider how the pandemic has changed my approach to dating. We met on Hampstead Heath and I recognised his tan cocker spaniel from the pictures.
But the man behind it looked less familiar. He was a total catfish who looked absolutely nothing like his image. I immediately felt duped as I said hello and could only fake a smile momentarily before diverting my attention to the dogs. I tried – the pandemic has made me less judgemental and he was smart and funny but I did not want to kiss him.
Would I have been more likely to go for a kiss in the good old days of vodka-saturated nights out? The answer is probably yes. Not only because the booze goggles work so very well – but because the likelihood of kissing someone who had lied about how they look is simply a non-starter in real life.
After that awkward date Skexing seemed a far safer, less arduous way of dating. As lockdown continues with no end in sight, I feel as though I’ve completed close-quarters Grindr.
Sure, I’m still chatting to the few golden nuggets I’ve found but with travel restricted and no new arrivals within the proximity of home, I am searching further afield, broadening my horizons.
In a moment of genius, or so I think, I moved my search field to Land’s End in Cornwall. A friend has recently moved there and I will visit when we’re granted free movement again. The talent seems to be either 60 and married or 20 and horny – neither, unfortunately, my bag. In another inspired thought, I try the North-East of England because I love the Newcastle accent, made real to me by Christopher Eccelston and Daniel Craig in the Nineties BBC series Our Friends in the North. I decide to watch it again as the pandemic has forced me to “complete” Netflix as well as nearby Grindr talent. As things stand, I’m currently searching for an Eccleston or Craig type circa 1996. Thankfully, the talent there is very good and Northerners have the best sense of humour. Banter flows freely, even more so than with the pool of Londoners.
My revelation is that even in these restricted times, there’s a whole world of gay men out there to explore, albeit virtually, and we have technology to thank. NYC here I come…