Life Relationships Infidelity and the gay community: Do gay men struggle to be faithful? Words by Stuart Haggas | @GetStuart | Photos: © Shutterstock/Mavo Has a boyfriend ever cheated on you? Have you ever cheated? If either answer (or both) is “yes” then you’re in the majority. The latest FS survey of almost 1,000 readers asked about their thoughts and experiences with extra-curricular activities outside of a relationship. 58% said that a partner has been unfaithful in a relationship, while 51% admitted that they’ve been unfaithful in a relationship. What does ‘infidelity’ even mean? What is considered ‘cheating’? And can even open relationships be betrayed? We find out... Infidelity is the fuel that powers tabloid gossip columns and celebrity websites. It’s a topic that fills the inbox of agony aunts and provokes outrage on daytime talk shows. It provides lyrical inspiration for heartbroken popstars and extra drama in soap operas. Perhaps it’s no big surprise that infidelity is also commonplace on Britain’s gay scene. CAUGHT IN THE ACT How do you know if he’s cheating? Some of the men we surveyed cited suspicious behaviour, others heard via friends. Some admitted to surreptitiously browsing the mobile/laptop of their spouse, while some simply caught them red-handed. “I saw my then boyfriend kissing another guy in the toilets of a gay bar,” says Carl, 26. “They then went into a cubicle together.” “He started seeing another person behind my back,” says Paul, 36, “and he was stupid enough to tell a mutual friend, who then told me.” “He slept with multiple people behind my back and bragged about it to people who I thought were mutual friends,” says Andy, 38. “I found out that my boyfriend of three years was having an affair with a younger man for six months while working away,” says Jordan, 45. “He denied it until I showed him the evidence that I’d found: a bundle of love letters from this man and a load of pictures. Needless to say I dumped him and asked him to move out.” “I was in a very serious relationship with a guy but then I started a new job where I had to work nights. He was working during the day so we didn’t really get to see each other much, except at weekends,” says Daniel, 46. “He met someone else and they became lovers. I suspected something was going on but he denied it. I think he felt so guilty about it that he went into extreme denial, telling me that I was paranoid or delusional, when in fact I read the situation exactly the way it was.” “We were together for eight months, and I was cheated on numerous times,” says Adam, 32. “Then I found out that I was also an ‘other guy’ as his boyfriend had moved abroad but they hadn’t split up.” Tiago Brandao is a counsellor at Terrence Higgins Trust. THT offers low cost counselling for gay and bisexual men, covering a whole range of issues including relationships and fidelity. “I have come across a number of gay men that crave connection and deep intimacy but struggle with the vulnerability needed to create such a connection,” he says. “This leads them to look for intimacy and connection in all the wrong places.” APP INFIDELITY Dating apps provide fresh opportunities for gay and bisexual men to interact and hook-up – and it’s up to each individual to choose which ‘relationship status’ box to tick. “My boyfriend at the time was secretly using hook-up apps,” says Cian, 32. “A few times, when we were out together in bars, he would be approached by guys. He would try to usher them away but while my boyfriend went to the toilet, a guy approached me and asked how I knew my boyfriend. He told me that they had met at a group session the week before.” “My ex used hook-up apps to meet guys for sex, went to saunas, and arranged a group sex session while I was out one afternoon,” says Steve, 34. “He lied multiple times about where he was and who he was with.” “My boyfriend was living with me in my flat and was messaging other people asking for sex,” says Martin, 24, “and referring to me as his flatmate.” “He kept going out all the time without me, telling me he was meeting family,” says David, 22. “Then a friend told me that he was using hook-up apps to go cruising for other men, and not actually meeting family.” In some instances, being intimate with someone online without actually hooking up is enough of a red line. “I was in an exclusive relationship with a man, and after we broke up but were still hanging out, I found that he had been chatting to other guys online and having online video liaisons with random guys from sites like Craigslist and Chaturbate,” says Michael, 22. “My partner drifted away from me, physically and emotionally,” says Daniel, 38. “All the time he was engaging in online emotional relationships, sharing pics, intimate thoughts etc. It made me feel that I was not enough for him. He denied it repeatedly and it nearly drove me insane.” OPEN RULES Men in open relationships are likely to have agreed “do’s” and “don’ts”, such as always using condoms for casual sex or never bringing casual partners home – hence rules can be broken and things can break down just as they can in any relationship. “Our relationship was open. My partner started seeing the same person regularly but kept me in the dark about what was going on,” says Kevin, 56. “People started asking me if we’d split up after photos and comments about my partner and the guy he was seeing started appearing on social media.” “My partner continued seeing a particular sexual partner again and again, despite our rule of having sex with people besides each other only one time,” says Paul, 31. “I caught HIV when breaking the rules of an open relationship,” admits Chris, 45. “I was much younger and my valuation tool was the conquest and sex. I didn’t pass it on to my partner, but it was the end of that relationship and I went into self-destruct mode – self-medicating the pain of being poz away, and all the guilt and lack of self-worth.” ACTS OF INFIDELITY The definition of infidelity is ‘the action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or other sexual partner’, but in everyday life it’s not necessarily easy to define. If you’re in a monogamous relationship and one of you secretly has sex with someone else, then that’s infidelity – but what if it’s cybersex with a stranger, is that infidelity? And if you’re in an open relationship, what’s the red line between open and unfaithful? Ultimately, what actions do readers of FS consider as infidelity? 79% - ANAL SEX 76% - A BLOW JOB 74% - A HAND JOB 68% - BREAKING THE RULES OF AN OPEN RELATIONSHIP 66% - KISSING 62% - EMOTIONAL INTIMACY WITH ANOTHER PERSON 55% - USING HOOK-UP APPS 43% - SHARING SEXUAL IMAGES 34% - SENDING PRIVATE MESSAGES 18% - FLIRTING TRUST AND RESPECT It appears the majority of gay men in Britain won’t tolerate infidelity, because of the men we surveyed 61% say they would break up with a partner/husband if they were unfaithful. 13% said no, and 26% were unsure. “I expect a certain level of respect in a relationship,” says Alex, 30. “Any of the above would be things I wouldn’t do in a relationship out of respect for my partner, and I’d expect the same in return.” “If someone is in a serious relationship then they shouldn’t do any of those things behind someone’s back, or should at least discuss it,” says Pete, 33. “Relationships are about trust and respect,” says Joe, 24, “and by doing those acts you’re worthy of neither.” “It would devalue our relationship,” says Steve, 29. “If they’re being intimate with another person I’m not OK with, I don’t want to waste time on them,” says Cole, 18. “It is a breach of trust,” says Joe, 26. “They are showing that they do not care for or respect your relationship.” “Once there is distrust because of the other person’s actions, there’ll always be distrust,” adds Jamie, 36, “meaning you can’t maintain the relationship moving forward.” “If someone is unfaithful to you, it shows a lack of respect for you and your relationship with them,” agrees Cal, 20. “They’re breaking your trust and you can’t be sure of their word any more if they’ve already broken the rules of your relationship.” “Cheating’s cheating. I’ve never come across someone who said they’ve only cheated once. It’s a learned behaviour and once someone’s gotten away with it once or twice it becomes a habit,” says Daniel, 32, “as well as a repeated reason for subsequent relationship breakdowns.” MONOGAMY PRESSURE “In modern culture monogamy is seen as the norm, which comes with its own pressures and expectations,” says Terrence Higgins Trust’s Tiago Brandao. “The participants in the survey who talk about infidelity as a betrayal and breach of trust are good examples of that pressure and expectation. Some gay men don’t conform in the same way, which allows them to form open or polyamorous relationships, free from some of the pressures of monogamy. But, of course, those relationships come with their own set of challenges and difficulties. That kind of relationship isn’t for everyone. “The decision to stay or leave a relationship after infidelity is a very personal one,” Tiago adds. “Processing what has happened will help you to move forward in the relationship, or to resolve any issues or scars that the relationship has left behind.” FORGIVENESS Some of the men we surveyed were willing to forgive. “I have certain red flags,” says Jez, 48. “But I would listen to the reason before automatically ending it.” “I would initially have to communicate my frustrations and feelings with my partner before I decide what to do,” says Peter, 22. “If they were open to change/working towards the same goal, I could find it in myself to forgive them.” But forgiveness is rarely an unlimited deal. “It depends on the circumstances,” says David, 38, “but I’d find a continued pattern of that behaviour difficult to ignore.” WEAKER OR STRONGER? Couples who choose to stay together will most likely find that their relationship has changed. “I struggled to get over it,” says David, 23.“I didn’t want to end the relationship as I was still in love with him. As the relationship continued it was evident I couldn’t regain that trust in him, and then the relationship fell apart.” “I had no trust left,” says Chris, 33. “We were arguing. Not being able to believe anything that the other person says is not nice.” “I don’t have any trust in him any more,” admits Freddie, 33. “I know I can’t bring the subject up or we will break up. It’s difficult. Either way I lose. Stay with him and I have constant mental torture, leave him and I lose the love of my life.” “We keep trying to make it work but trust, security, insecurity and honesty are making it very difficult,” says Mark, 47, “together with his refusal to be totally honest about what really happened and why.” “I stopped loving him,” says John, 26. But it can occasionally have a positive impact by making a relationship stronger. “For a time it made things very tough as there was a lack of trust,” says Barry, 45. “Ironically though, the split helped us realise how much we meant to each other and we started to talk much more openly and honestly. In the end our relationship was stronger, but it was tough and took a lot of work.” “The initial shock of discovery was soon thought through, discussed, and if anything it made our commitment to each other stronger,” says BJ, 63. “Sex doesn’t define our entire relationship.” “I struggled to deal with it for around six months to a year – not necessarily the cheating itself, but the lying,” says John, 35. “But we got through it, and I feel a much stronger person as a result.” TAINTED LOVE Having an unfaithful partner can affect your mental health and well-being. It can also taint future relationships. In fact, 57% of those surveyed said that infidelity impacted their future relationships. “It made me question my ability to please my partner,” says Josh, 25. “It made me question my self-confidence and drained me emotionally.” “I continually question my new partner’s real motives,” says Daniel 38, “and I am beside myself with anxiety most of the time that he is cheating or will cheat on me.” “I now have issues trusting men,” says Tyla, 20, “and while I never have, I often have urges to check their social media and phones to see that they’re being faithful in all respects.” “I don’t trust anyone,” says Daniel, 32. “It seems like everyone on the gay scene around here has a story about how they’ve cheated but follows up with ‘but things hadn’t been right for a while’ – that doesn’t excuse the behaviour!” “It made me more cynical unfortunately,” says Donal, 44, “but also more careful in future prospects.” “I haven’t had a secure long-term relationship since. It’s hard to see my own worth after feeling so replaceable,” says Ezekiel, 21, “and knowing that someone is capable of cheating doesn’t make me optimistic for future relationships.” “I was scared of entering new relationships,” says Harry, 21, “and decided to have casual sex with strangers so I couldn’t be hurt.” THE UNFAITHFUL ONES Why are we unfaithful? Some cheat when we’re drunk, or when we’re away from home. Some of us can’t resist sex with an ex – and some just can’t resist sex. “There are a range of ‘reasons’ why people cheat,” acknowledges THT’s Tiago Brandao. “In psychology it is widely accepted that if people have feelings that they have not dealt with, those can manifest in self-destructive behaviours. Shame is an extremely toxic emotion that I see quite often among gay men who come for counselling and can lead to a range of damaging behaviours, including infidelity.” But it’s not always because we’re horny. Sometimes it’s because we’re unhappy or lonely or simply bored. “It was out of boredom,” admits Vincent, 29. “Getting no attention from a partner for more than two months. It didn’t end up well.” “I felt unwanted and unhappy,” says Janos, 36. “My partner preferred drinking and taking drugs instead of spending quality time with me. Someone else showed interest in me, and it felt good.” “We were going through a bad patch. His drug addiction left him rolling around the floor on G for hours everyday,” says Cian, 32. “I needed an escape from it all. Trying to work full time to live, and having to go home to an unloving environment was taking its toll. I went on a night out with friends and was shocked to realise a guy was flirting with me! It had been ages since I was hit on by someone. I went back to his and we fucked for hours. It made me feel alive again.” THE BLAME GAME Although it takes just one partner to cheat, it’s important to remember that it takes two to make a relationship – and both contribute to its success or its failure. “Relationships are co-created, which means that both partners contribute to them, in one way or another,” explains THT’s Tiago Brandao. “We all have a tendency to see things as black or white, good or bad, right or wrong – but, in reality, relationships are always more complicated than that. It is very important to avoid turning infidelity into a blame game and understand the motivators behind these behaviours – even if you disagree with them, if you want to move on and learn. We all make mistakes and we all have flaws.” THE FINAL WORD We asked HERO - Health Equality and Rights Organisation’s Chief Executive, Ian Howley, for his thoughts on this issue. “What’s clear to us from the results of the survey and what gay men told us about their experiences is that some gay me are making the same mistakes regarding communication, trust and boundaries. “There’s huge issue of gay men not being able to talk to one another about what they want sexually. We grow up in a very heterosexual society where ‘cheating’ is enough to end relationships and long standing marriages because that’s what society has taught us to do. And it’s not shocking to find that these standards are also put on gay men - from within the gay community too might I add. “Your relationship is yours and no-one has any right to form judgement on it. If you want an open relationship (whatever that is for you) then talk with your partner about it. If he doesn’t, then you know where you stand. If he does, then work with him to form a trusted partnership. It’s vital that rules and boundaries are put in place so both are OK with the terms at the beginning. “However, be prepared for some of those rules to change over time. Why? Because it happens. What you need to be comfortable is being OK to discuss when rules have been broken and how to move forward. Relationships are meant to be people coming together to share experiences, emotions and working together to form a better life. What happens is that many men fall into relationships without knowing exactly what they want and how best to meet the emotional needs of a partner. This can lead to many gay men self-sabotaging their relationships rather than having an honest conversation with their partners about what they want. Ian adds: “I’ve met lots of gay couples who are perfect for each, emotionally, but sexually they didn’t work, or it just fizzled out but rather than work together on this, one or both of them cheats on their partner leading to the eventual breakdown of their relationships. “Now ‘cheating’ may start with flirting with a stranger or sliding into someone’s DMs on Twitter, but it only takes a few conversation exchanges before thoughts are put into action and then you have an issue that might bring the end to your relationship. “Of course sex is important for any relationship to work but you can not and never will be able to meet the needs of someone 100% of the time. And we are foolish to put that pressure on ourselves. “Communication is vital for relationships to succeed. If you are in a relationship and it’s got a bit stale, then you need to communicate this with your partner. He maybe thinking the same as you and by having the conversation you can hopefully avoid ‘cheating’ - whatever that means for you - and get your relationship back on track. “If you are lucky to find someone that does it for you, is there for you emotionally, physically and treats you with the respect you deserve, then you must work on the relationship. Letting a relationship die because of sex is silly. More often he will work with you and you can work together to explore options that will keep your relationship tight. “However, if it’s over, then it’s over. We all must learn to know when a relationship is done and show respect for the person you are with. They’d much rather you broke up with them than hurt their feelings.” INFIDELITY SURVEY RESULTS WE ASKED: HAS A PARTNER EVER BEEN UNFAITHFUL? 58% said yes 25% said no 17% said they weren’t sure WE ASKED: HAVE YOU EVER BEEN UNFAITHFUL IN A RELATIONSHIP? 52% said yes 46% said no 7% said they weren’t sure WE ASKED: DID YOUR PARTNER FIND OUT? 45% said yes 45% said no 10% said they weren’t sure WE ASKED: IF YOU'VE BEEN UNFAITHFUL, DID YOU EVER GET AN STI? 17% said yes 79% said no 4% said they weren’t sure. WE ASKED: IF YES, DID YOU INFORM YOUR PARTNER? 39% said yes 61% said no. SUPPORT: Terrence Higgins Trust offers low cost counselling for gay and bisexual men. For more information visit www.tht.org.uk/connect.