Father Tony

Sex on Gilligan's Island

Filed By Father Tony | April 09, 2009 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay sex, open relationship

Dear Father Tony,

I'm writing because yesterday a friend of ours said "They have an open relationship" when he introduced us to someone. I didn't like it. It felt weird.

My "husband" and I have been together for twelve years. Yes, we have sex with other men. But we don't "cheat" on each other. We talk about it. It's not like a "free-for-all" thing. We know what NOT to do that would make each other mad. We don't hide it, but really it's nobody's damn business, and I did not like getting introduced that way. But it got me thinking.

This weekend, my husband is going to LA. He (we) have been emailing someone we both know who lives there. I'm sure they will have sex, but this is different. It's like dating. He's staying with the guy. It's like a possible romance with me out of the picture. Where do I draw the line? Are we trashing each other this way? Years from now will I be alone and kicking myself for being stupid?

King Arthur

Dear King Arthur,

You guys are having what I call Gilligan's Island sex. Even though Gilligan, the skipper, the professor, MaryAnn and Ginger were celibate on the island, if they had each had spouses on the mainland but decided to have a bracketed sexual relationship while being castaways, they would have gone through a mental process of justification similar to that performed by most couples in so-called open relationships. If Gilligan and Ginger had gotten down together, would it have led to romance that would have washed away the strength of their earlier relationships? If the Professor and MaryAnn had surrendered to their desire for each other, would they have remained on the island even when rescue arrived, turning their backs on their earlier involvements? (The Howells don't figure in this for two reasons. They were together, and they were not hot, although perhaps in leather and chains....)

Whenever we go outside our relationships for sex, we are subscribing to some premises (Please note that I am not saying I personally agree with all these).

a) Sex is not love.
b) This activity is manageable .
c) This activity will enhance, not harm our significant relationship.
d) This activity will not devalue our lovers/spouses.
e) This activity will not result in a lowering of self-respect.
f) This activity will not deceive the third person or make him/her feel used.
g) This activity is good recreation.
h) This activity is more expressive of human nature than is monogamy.
i) This activity will not bring resentments into our primary relationships.
j) Love is what we give to one person exclusively (Or, in the case of some polyamorous folks, to a larger fixed number) but all the rest get sex and friendship.

You and your partner need to discuss all of those premises so that you will know which ones you both agree or disagree with. You've probably already done this, so the real question is "Are there unforeseen dangers that you both may eventually regret?"

Yes, King Arthur, when your guy goes to LA, there is the danger that he may fall in love with the man he stays with. There is also the danger that he may fall in love with someone seated next to him on the flight. He may also fall for the taxi driver who keeps checking him out in the rearview mirror on route from the airport.

The world is full of opportunities to fall. The only way to avoid them is for you both to stay in bed forever. Even there, if you are watching TV it is possible eventually that one of you might fall in love with Ryan Seacrest and begin to think of him while you are having sex with each other.

One wonders what parts of us go out to play when we have sex outside our partnerships. Is it just our dicks, butts and lips, or do we bring our hearts into the beds of other men? And even if we do not bring our hearts into those activities, can other men steal them from us? It has been known to happen.

Whenever I get this far into these thoughts, I fold the cards and remind myself that the meandering of our partners' hearts is beyond our control. I would ask you to reframe the question this way: Am I diminishing what I give my partner/lover when I have sex with others? Is he deprived of something by dint of my actions? Is he deserving of something that I am giving to someone else?

That's the great thing about sex. It's so yo-yo-ular. You can give it away on Monday in your backyard, on Tuesday in LA, and it's yours to give away again by Wednesday. The heart? Not so bouncy.

My short answer is don't worry about the guy in LA. Unless you murder all the men in the world, there will always be some version of the guy in LA. In this case, the responsibility for the maintenance of your relationship is more in the hands of your partner. Pack him a nice lunch and be sure the batteries in his ankle bracelet are charged.

PS: Flirting is a whole nother ball o' wax with its own melting point.

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David in Houston | April 9, 2009 11:24 AM

If my husband, and partner of 14 years, EVER had sex with another man, our relationship would be over instantly. We made a lifelong commitment to each other, which includes being faithful.

Dear David,
You've certainly made your stance on this business rather clear, haven't you!
I'd like to remind you that I never judge the rules couples set down for themselves, knowing that different things work for different folks, but I must say that I harbor questions and misgivings about what you've said.
Do you really mean that you would ditch a 14 year relationship with the door-slamming of the wronged Doris Day if your partner confessed to a single instance of sex with someone else?
I would be interested in hearing what you would say about unconditional vs performance-based love.

Do you really mean that you would ditch a 14 year relationship with the door-slamming of the wronged Doris Day if your partner confessed to a single instance of sex with someone else?

Hell, I just claimed I'd ditch a guy on another post if he called me the h-word. It's important to have standards.


So, I guess possibility of your partner of 14 yrs sitting you down and confessing some sexual faux pas that weekend you were away is out of the question now. I mean, if it were me, I'd know confessing anything to you would turn our home INSTANTLY into ground zero. Best keep secrets under those conditions.

And I don't like secrets. Not between me and my love. And I don't like lording over anyone, negating any possibility of making a simple human mistake. The "I was drunk and he smelled good" line may sound weak, and it may be weak, but so are we. Yes, we are all weak sometimes, no matter how strong we think we are.

We all make mistakes, David. Admittedly, I'm closer to the King Arthur school of thought and believe monogamy is an unnatural state that we humans spend our lives struggling with. And using that logic, people who rarely make "mistakes" are success stories in my book.

I just hope your other rules of engagement in love and life are not so absolute.

David - "King Arthur" and his partner are faithful to each other too, even when they're having sex with other men! They just don't consider having sex with another person to be a violation of their faithfulness in the same way that you and your partner do.

There are many different ways to structure a relationship.

David in Houston | April 9, 2009 5:41 PM

I suddenly feel like I have to defend myself for having a committed monogamous relationship, which I find very bizarre. I did not judge any one else's relationship. If a couple agrees to having an open relationship, that's great if it works for them.

My partner and I are 'old school', just like both of our parents (who were married for over 50 years). Both of us consider having sex with someone else, cheating. I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this point.

As for ditching a 14 year relationship over infidelity? I have no idea what I would really do if it happened. I can say it would be very damaging to our relationship. Our bodies aren't available to 'rent out' when a hot guy comes along. The last thing I want to do is have sex with my husband knowing that he just had sex with someone else the night before.

I'm not familiar with 'unconditional vs performance-based love", so I can't comment on that. If it's the '10 premises' that give you permission to sleep around, then I think you know where I stand. I am familiar with Doris Day, whom I adore ;-)

I think the only thing you're having to defend yourself for is having made an ill-considered comment.

It's impossible to make an absolute statement such as "If my husband, and partner of 14 years, EVER had sex with another man, our relationship would be over instantly" without implying judgment of people whose standards are different from yours. If you had stopped to think about it, at the very least, you would have realized that most people would interpret it as a judgment.

Well, sex more than once with someone else is changing the relationship by starting another one with someone other than me. I would have a problem with that. I will not tolerate that. I essentially become a trick or fuck buddy. UNACCEPTABLE. I can be single and do that. I would tell King Arthur to make sure he goes after what he wants by making sure his needs are not secondary to his partners. Don't settle for anything that feels innately uncomfortable for you when it comes to matters of the heart. Nobody i ever met, and i have met a few, was ever worth it when i felt like i was second to someone else. Even worse than that was when i put myself second voluntarily. I will slap myself in the face first and tell myself i am worth it. No more self sabotage for this lonely heart. Fugghetaboutit.

Ewe makes a good point regarding self-worth. It's important to ensure that your needs and values are being considered and respected. I think that's what Ewe meant. However, I frequently see relationships, both gay and straight, in which one or both parties insist upon "putting themselves first" at all times. It makes for a difficult situation, as no one can be first all the time unless someone is second all the time. If being second-fiddle is so terrible and wrong, why would one choose to relegate their partner to that role?

Instead of thinking that one should "put themselves first", perhaps a re-framing of the sentiment is in order. I have found that the majority of the successful long-term relationships I have observed have put the RELATIONSHIP first instead. Sometimes, to help protect and nurture the love that the couple shares, one person's needs will be secondary to the needs of the other, or to the needs of the couple. True love, I think, requires the ability and the willingness to put one's self last in an effort to help facilitate the happiness and success of the other. As long as this is an intermittent thing, and as long as the sentiment goes both ways, then I think second place is not such a bad thing sometimes.

It's very simple for me. If you have to go outside your relationship for anything, then you don't have the right to be in a relationship.

If you have to seek what you don't have outside the bounds of a monogamous relationship then what is it you have to work on to make sure you don't have to live in a "open relationship" model.

To each his own I guess...

"Anything?" Jeremiah, you are putting unrealistic demands on a relationship. No one can be all things to another; it simply isn't possible. And to expect one person—even someone you consider your soulmate—to meet all of your needs will ultimately doom your relationship.

It really comes down to expectations. The most successful relationships are those whose expectations come closest to reality. That means strong, constant, open communication and a willingness to re-negotiate the terms of your "contract."

Sex with anyone is just sex, unless you add meaning to it. That meaning is what can get any relationship in trouble. If you verbally (and not implicitly!) agree with your partner that sex with another is off limits for whatever reason, then monogamy is a reasonable expectation. (And I speak as someone in a monogamous relationship for over 30 years.)

Breaking that agreement isn't about sex. It's about trust and vulnerability. You have to decide whether trust can be regained over time; either way the relationship will change. But it doesn't have to end over such a relatively minor infraction.

There are so many more things much more harmful to a partnership than a one-shot moment of infidelity. How much it hurts your partnership is relative to the level of trust and emotional investment in other areas.

We all make mistakes. We all fail to live up to our partners' hopes and, occasionally, expectations. We all break our contracts at one time or another. Rather than keep score, keep forgiving.

The tightest grip you will have on another is an open hand. He will stay because he wants to, not because you want him to. Give him freedom to be happy, and he will be happy with you.

A. J. Lopp | April 11, 2009 5:58 PM

Historical but irrelevant footnote re Gilligan's Island: Russell Johnson, who played the Professor on Gilligan's Island, had a real-life gay son named David. During the 1980's, Dave Johnson was a well-known AIDS activist in Los Angeles, having been one of the founders of the group Being Alive, the Persons With AIDS Action Coalition. Dave died in the mid-1990's, in 1994 I think.