Are Same-Sex Couples Just Like You?

“We are loving, committed and faithful couples just like anyone else.” If you’ve paid the slightest bit of attention to the same-sex marriage debate, you’ve heard this very statement in some iteration. It’s not true by some important measures though.

  1. Same-sex male couples are dramatically more likely to be unfaithful than heterosexual couples.
  2. Committed lesbian relationships are more likely to break up than both male-male and opposite-sex couples, by dramatic margins.

Those are two very important differences, unarguably judging the “we’re no different” dogma incorrect. What support is there for these stark differences?

First, it should be noted that the research is strong and numerous enough that a recent and very provocative Atlantic cover story on what straights could learn from gay marriage couldn’t ignore it. Liza Mundy, the article’s author, doesn’t appear to have a conservative bone in her body, yet she is fair and straight-up honest with the research on the nature of committed same-sex relationships.

More Fragile – Mundy explains that studies have found “higher dissolution rates among same-sex couples” in Scandinavia – one of the world’s most gay-friendly cultures — than married heterosexual couples. This study, published in Demography, found that even though same-sex couples enter their legal unions at older ages — a marker related to greater relational stability – male same-sex marriages break up at twice the rate of heterosexual marriages.  And the break-up rate for lesbians? A stunning 77% higher  than the same-sex male unions! When controlling for possible confounding factors, the “risk of divorce for female partnerships actually is more than twice than that for male unions.”  Mundy did not give her reader these important specifics from this study. Other studies show the same things.

A study of two generations of British couples (one born 1958, the other 1970) in same-sex cohabiting, opposite-sex cohabiting and opposite-sex marriage relationships found the same-sex relationships dramatically more likely to break up than the opposite-sex cohabiting and married relationships. The probabilities of the various relationships surviving to the 4 and 8 year anniversaries are dramatic (p. 981):

Reaching Anniversary Same-SexCohab Opposite-Sex Cohab Opposite-Sex Married
4 years 37% 67% 88%
8 years 25% 60% 82%

 

The author explains the magnitude of his findings “are consistent with previous research in other countries.” (p. 984) There were no significant differences between the two generational cohorts, indicating that issues of past social stigma and growing social acceptance had no meaningful effect on relational longevity.

Other studies – conducted by celebrated lesbian scholars – find notable instability in lesbian homes, even those with children. The current National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS) found “a significant difference” in family dissolution rates when comparing lesbian with mother/father headed families, 56% and 36% respectively. (p. 1201)

Another research study by two celebrated gay-friendly scholars, highlights a major comparative study between hetero and lesbian homes where, in the 5-year period of the study, 6 of the 14 lesbian mother-headed homes had broken up compared to only 5 of the 38 mom/dad headed homes. (p. 11) These scholars creatively explains that this stability imbalance is likely due to the “high standards lesbians bring to their intimate unions…” (p.12)

It is likely that women tend to be more relationally intense. It’s one thing when half a partnership feels the need to “talk about our relationship” and the other not so much. It provides a helpful and healthy balance. It is another when, as Mundy admits, “Lesbians…tend to discuss things endlessly.” Few relationships can endure such relational intensity and it appears as if they don’t.

And Mundy points something else predictable in lesbian relationships. In fact, its consistency has earned it a name in the LGBT community: lesbian bed death. Seriously.  This is the truth that sexual interest and frequency in many long-term lesbian relationships tends to decline considerably and even die over the years. However, she puts a positive spin on it with this “increased-relational intensity-among-lesbians” motif, explaining, “Lesbians may have had so much intimacy already that they didn’t need sex to get it.” As if one type of intimacy can fulfill one’s desire for all others.

So what about the guys?

More Infidelity – Men in same-sex, long-term relationships are dramatically more likely to be unfaithful to their partners. But that depends on how you define “fidelity”.  It is common in male-male relationships to differentiate between “fidelity” and “monogamy.” Monogamy is having sex with only one person: your partner. Fidelity however is often living according the rules made about how extra-relational sexual hook-ups will take place. A partner who runs afoul of this extracurricular agreement will be deemed unfaithful. How many hetero couples do you know who have such an agreement worked out in their marriage? We’ll see in a moment.

A noted 2010 study on non-monogamy in long-term gay relationships by two gay-affirming scholars — the Couples Study — observes in their report’s first sentence: “…non-monogamous relationships are very common in the gay community…” Their data showed that of the non-monogamous, long-term couples in their study, 42 percent made an arrangement for outside-sexual relationships within the first three months of the relationship’s beginning and by the end of the first year, that number increased to 49 percent. At the seventh anniversary mark, an additional 24 percent of gay couples adopted such agreements. So such agreements are increasingly made as these relationships grow longer.

The Atlantic piece is notes this as well; explaining that after the AIDS crisis, “gay male couples are more monogamous than they used to be, but not nearly to the same degree as other kinds of couples.” One study Mundy cites asked those in various relationships whether they had any agreed-upon rules permitting extra-curricular activities. The differences were astonishing. Only 4% of male/female couples had them compared to 40% of gay men in legally recognized unions and 49% in long-term cohabiting unions.

Another widely respected investigation, found that only a third of gay couples had monogamous agreements and truly honored them with no outside sex. In fact, it found that in the openly nonmonogamous gay relationships, the frequency of extra-dyadic sex from its start ranged from 2 to a whopping 2,500 separate incidents. The median was a remarkable 41.5 extracurricular incidents since the relationship’s beginning. Frequency in the last year was startling was well, ranging from 0 to 350 occurrences of outside sex, with a median of 8 incidences in the last twelve months. Even those who pledged true monogamy, the range was from 1 to 63 “slip-ups” with a median of 5. Five “slip-ups” are not slip-ups. The corresponding numbers for men in heterosexual marriages are microscopic in comparison.

In 2010, the New York Times highlighted the commonality of such agreements among serious male-couples explaining, “none of this is news in the gay community, but few will speak of it publicly.”  (On the “let’s keep this secret to ourselves” nature of this issue in the LGBT community, carefully read the soul-bearing note at the bottom of the CouplesStudy homepage.)  And the older gay relationships get, the more likely they are to have such relationships, likely contributing to their duration.

It is proposed by some that gay male relationships last longer than lesbian relationships because they are able to meet two primary interests simultaneously: 1) having a primary partner to share their life and home with, while 2) also having an outlet for exploring greater sexual diversity and opportunity. This is distinct in the undisciplined masculine nature. We find the basic female nature working against the longevity of lesbian relationships: her relational intensity. It is harder for women to work out an agreement beyond their primary relationship to get the greater sense of relational connectedness they seek.

By any measure, these are very different kinds of relationships compared to those of long-term heterosexuals. As such, it is difficult to say with honesty that serious gay and lesbian relationships are just like heterosexual relationships. A substantial body of research and articles written in idealistic support same-sex relationships makes this consistently clear, beyond any honest debate.

About the Author

Glenn T. Stanton is the director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family and the author of six books on various aspects of the family, his two most recent: Secure Daughters Confident Sons, How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity and Femininity (Multnomah, 2011) and The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage (Moody, 2011).

25 Comments

  1. Justin Dillehay Reply

    Great article. But I think I saw a couple of typos:

    “A substantial body of research and articles written in idealistic support [OF] same-sex relationships makes this consistently clear, beyond any honest debate.”

    “These scholars creatively explains that this stability imbalance is likely due to the “high standards lesbians bring to their intimate unions…” (p.12)

  2. I’m troubled by this article. Don’t misunderstand. I probably agree with the author theologically and philosophically. I agree with the conclusion that same-sex couples are not “the same” as opposite-sex couples. And I thoroughly appreciate the informed research that I’m sure will be dissected and debated vehemently between the LGBTQ and conservative Christian communities.

    What bothers me is what happens in me when I read it. My gut says, “Alright! More proof that I’m right!” And that’s the problem. The problem is in me. It’s in my pride. It’s in my approach. It’s in believing that if the stats stack up in favor of my opinion, I will be able to more fully persuade people that they’re wrong.

    It’s a good article and I’m thankful for it, but I’m praying that I see it as information that compels me to further compassion for those trapped in the sin of homosexuality rather than ammunition in a cultural cat fight. Make sense?

    • I really appreciate your comment. Every so often, I fall for that same trap. This info should really motivate me to compassionately worry about those who want to enter this lifestyle, rather than use it to attack opponents.

  3. LWC Reply

    It doesn’t appear Stantan gives any thoughtful consideration to the fact that gay Americans (let alone gay American couples) are subject to prejudice, hostility, ridicule, bigotry, violence and ostracism (just to name a few). Depression, addiction, promiscuity (among others) are not altogether unforeseeable consequences of such an environment. I personally know several Christian gay couples who have lived together to celebrate 5, 10, 15, and some working on 20-year relationships. Their union is no less devoid of the ordinary troubles of ‘opposite-sex’ couples. It is merely compounded by the prejudice that often envelopes their lives. Before making any bold assertions from these state ‘observations,’ I’d give careful consideration to the environment in which they are quantified and not simply ill-informed specious conclusions. It’s often difficult to hold a true sense of a man when you’re looking at him as opposed to when you’re not.

    • Joe Reply

      He briefly addresses both the cultural bias (and it’s changes) as well as the differences in acceptence in other (non USA) countries. I had to re-read it to find the reference:

      The author explains the magnitude of his findings “are consistent with
      previous research in other countries.” (p. 984) There were no significant
      differences between the two generational cohorts, indicating that issues
      of past social stigma and growing social acceptance had no meaningful
      effect on relational longevity.

  4. Larry Couch Reply

    I agree with Brandon that it would be easy for the members of the Christian community to sense pride in saying I was right all along. But the truth really is much deeper than that on two fronts: 1. Why is this true? Sin has negative consequences. Because same-sex marriages (even relationships) are outside of God’s intent, it will end badly. The same thing is true of heterosexual sex prior to marriage. 2. In a nation that damages children’s lives because of high divorce rates and the instability of co-habiting heterosexual couples, this is one major argument to add to the reasons why same-sex couples should not adopt children. It is going to continue to just multiple damage in multiple lives.

    • Tom Reply

      Of course – it can’t be the fault of living a life completely at odds with God’s plan for humans and human body – it’s all the fault of everyone else.

  5. Scott Rose Reply

    In August, 2011, before Mark Regnerus had done data collection for his notorious anti-gay study, he and his funding agency representative Brad Wilcox traveled to Colorado on Regnerus’s funders’ expense account. In Colorado, they met for a full day with Glenn Stanton, discussing promotions for Regnerus’s anti-gay “study.” That’s how ethical Glenn Stanton is, when it comes to the scientific study of gay people. He was planning how to promote a study, allegedly about gay people, before the data for that study had been collected.

  6. John Walker Reply

    Don’t like gay marriage? Then don’t do that.

  7. I saw a lot of errors. For example, I noticed that Stanton parsed when talking about the monogamy studies of gay couples. And I have just one question – were the couples in the studies MARRIED?

    And another thing. I looked at the “Couples” study and it SPECIFICALLY said they focused on gay couples who were NOT monogamous. There was no comparison between gay couples who are monogamous vs. non-monogamous gay couples.

    I have a feeling that Mr. Stanton is being deliberately untruthful regarding the data he chose to highlight in this piece.

  8. Bose in St. Peter MN Reply

    The photo at the head of this article is identical to one which appears in a slideshow of the home page of http://biancaweddings.com/

    (For confirmation that it is hosted there, see it at http://biancaweddings.com/images/lesbian-destination-wedding.jpg )

    No suggestion is made that it has been used with permission of the photo’s owners. Wouldn’t it be both ethical and Christian to either confirm that the photo wasn’t stolen for use here by crediting its source, or to remove it and end the exploitation of people who had no desire to be a part of this piece?

  9. Clint Reply

    What’s your point? I read all of these attempts to demonize gay people as unworthy of receiving the same human dignity as everyone else, and I wonder, whatever happened to the Golden Rule? In fact, of course, GLBT Americans are living ordinary, productive lives in every part of our society, and are defending us with their lives in the military. They are our friends, relatives, co-workers and neighbors. Yes, their relationships ARE like everyone else’s, with the same benefits and challenges. Hateful homophobic bigotry is unbecoming of alleged “Christians.” Certainly, nothing whatsoever that you have said justifies using our laws to treat gay people as second class citizens. Get a life. The existence of gay people doesn’t affect you and is none of your business.

    • Diego Reply

      Yes, their relationships ARE like everyone else’s, with the same benefits and challenges. Hateful homophobic bigotry is unbecoming of alleged “Christians.”

      Typical tired old attempt to characterize the truth as “hate.” The truly hateful thing is to affirm behavior that leads to an HIV rate 40-50 times that of normal people, astronomically higher rates of other STD’s, higher suicide and depression rates, etc. If you see someone walking toward a cliff with a blindfold on, the loving thing is to tell them the truth about the dropoff that awaits them.

  10. What you fail to understand is that this isn’t a PR Campaign. Saying “gays don’t have the same relationships” isn’t going to make a gay person seek out a member of the opposite sex. If Christians were serious about morality, they would encourage and equip people to be the best they can be with how God made them. But of course, this isn’t really about morality – it’s about being “right” and following SOME Bible verses literally and not others. Someday – the scales will fall from your eyes – only then will you grasp that gay people are a part of the beautiful variation of God’s creation. Someday.

    • Ricardo Reply

      You don’t know what we teach then. We believe that we are all fallen creatures, condemned and degenerate due to the sin of Adam. If we want you to be how God created you, we would require your conversion, which is your regeneration and your putting away of your previous sins. (Though, we all still struggle with them. We do not teach sinlessness, only against living willingly in sin.)

      We do not think in these terms of “lovely” creations and peace with inherently dysfunctional relationships. We do not acknowledge your relationships as equal to that of a committed marriage between a man and a woman who have sworn to honor and protect each other. We see homosexual relationships as another symptom of a fallen world, and you falling with it.

      This is a declaration of war against your entire worldview. It is incompatible. To us, we are alive, we have breath and air, but you do not. How can we ever accept your relationships when we might as well be aliens to each other?

  11. Shirley Swanepoel Reply

    Honestly, let the gays do what they want. I could care less about them. I am just so happy to be a heterosexual woman and have the most amazing husband who hugs me when things are good or bad. And I am his helper in strengthening his role as head of our family. Sex is unbelievable and I can never be like this with another man. I am so grateful to God. I don’t know about gays because I do not associate with them.

  12. Chudster Reply

    “The Gay HIV Epidemic Is Increasing in All Nations – The upward trajectory of HIV infection trends among gay men worldwide points to a dire future for that demographic, even as overall HIV incidence rates in the general population have been steadily dropping, aidsmap reports. Kevin Fenton, MD, PhD, the national director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, presented a report on the epidemic among gay men to the British HIV Association fall conference.” http://www.poz.com/rssredir/articles/MSM_global_761_24845.shtml

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