Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Somewhere over the Rainbow: Love, Trust and Monogamy in Gay Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Somewhere over the Rainbow: Love, Trust and Monogamy in Gay Relationships

Article excerpt

Anthony Giddens argues that late modernity is characterized by a democratization of intimate relationships and that gay men and lesbian women appear to be an expression of that movement. This paper is based on interviews with 20 New Zealand men--representing 11 gay couples--who discussed issues of monogamy, trust and sexual behaviour negotiations in their relationships. Overall, they had conventional notions of relationships, romantic love and monogamy that prompted decisions to discard condoms for anal sex as proof of their love for each other. They simultaneously believed that monogamy was not sustainable. Generally, the relationships were marked by `infidelity' anxieties and a reluctance to disclose sexual encounters outside the relationship and to discuss or negotiate their possibility. These experiences serve as reminders to not assume that gay relationships are necessarily as democratic and open as Giddens suggests--pertinent when regarding the development of programmes aimed at reducing HIV transmission within relationships.

Keywords: casual sex, gay relationships, intimacy, monogamy, trust

I'd like to say gay men are different. I'd like to say they've cracked the codes of masculinity and are more caring, more intimate, and more significant than straight men in their handling of love ... I have to say the reality was, and is, different. (Edwards, 1994: 110)


Anthony Giddens (1992) and others (Solomon, 1994; Weeks, 1995) describe the characteristic movement of modernity as towards the creation of internally referential systems. In The Transformation of Intimacy, Giddens proposes that this general movement has wrought radical changes, at some essential level, to the nature of intimate relationships. Sexuality has become the property of the autonomous individual: expressive of both the constitution of the self and of intimate relations with an `other'. Indeed, the adequate expression of sexuality is central to an injunction to self-actualization--the peculiarly modern burden of autonomous individuality. At the same time, the couple relationship--liberated from external prescription and sustained on the basis of reciprocal satisfaction--is increasingly a matter of `sexual and emotional equality' grounded in the openness and trust of mutual disclosure (Giddens, 1992: 2).

According to this account, in modernity's closure we are witnessing the emergence of a new kind of relationship that combines sexuality, love, equality and autonomy, and is formed on the basis of attributes intrinsic to the bond itself. Within such a relationship, intimacy is a `transactional negotiation between equals' (Giddens, 1992: 3). This `pure relationship' is subject to no overarching structure, and constitutes a primary site of meaning in, and of, itself. Giddens associates this new self-contained and democratized intimacy with the ascendancy of `plastic sexuality' and `confluent love'. In high modernity, sexuality is not only a defining trait of the self, but also plastic in that, freed from the exigencies of reproduction, it has become multiple and flexible. Confluent love is a dynamic and reciprocal bond, based on a regard for the uniqueness of the other, contingent upon mutual self-disclosure--and viable only for as long as it gives pleasure to the individuals involved. (Both Giddens [1992] and Weeks [1995] contend that same-sex couples are at the forefront of the democratization of intimacy.)

Lynn Jamieson's (1999) critique of Giddens' notions of the pure relationship is largely reliant on reference to mechanisms deployed in the disguising of inequality within heterosexual relationships. However, it does serve as a reminder of the extent of wider cultural and structural influences and the implausibility of any relationship being simply shaped by pleasure, and remaining untainted by external social and economic circumstances. …

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