What Are the Differences Between Gay and Straight Relationships?

Kirsten Schuder

In an exclusive LoveToKnow interview, Scott A. Kramer, LCSW, ACSW, a therapist specializing in gay relationships, shared numerous insights on gay couples, from how they meet to common issues they face. He notes especially that while everyone's situation is different, gay relationships tend to be highly influenced by the fight for social justice and acceptance.

Meeting a Partner

According to Kramer, there are numerous factors that influence the way gays meet each other, not the least of which is the history of social acceptance, (or lack thereof) of same-sex relationships. This lack of social acceptance means that many people did not explore openly gay relationships because of the stigma, and consequently sought to meet other homosexuals at social gatherings held specifically for gay people.

Gay Bars

While it's true that heterosexual people can, and do, meet at social events and bars, it's not necessarily their primary way to meet other people to date. Scott A. Kramer explains that homosexuals meet in a variety of ways such as sport events or in gay bars. Furthermore, in the gay bar scene, there are bars dedicated to specific types of guys. For example,

  • Bears refer to big, hairy guys. If a gay man has a preference for big hairy guys, they can go to a "bear bar" to meet men with this physical attribute.
  • Twinks are young skinny guys.
  • Jocks are athletic guys.

A guy can also go to a more general bar that doesn't cater to a specific subtype, Scott stated, if they would like to meet a mix of different types of men.

Tightly-Knit Social Communities

According to Diana Cage, lesbians generally meet each other through other lesbians. Usually, everyone knows each other in the community, so it's not uncommon for people to all know each other and date each other's exes.

As with the gay men, social events, often geared towards the LGBTQ community, are common places for women to meet someone.

Online Dating

More people have been meeting through online dating services. The online dating sites for gay men and women have exploded in terms of availability. "I hear more clients telling me they met through an online dating sites such as OKCupid, which support gay relationships," says Kramer.

Also, other interesting applications are Grindr and Scruff which are GPS-based and cater to gay men. "You can go on Scruff or Grindr and chat with and locate a potential hook up with GPS using these applications," Kramer stated.

Long-Term Relationships and Marriages

The LGBTQ community has been fighting for their rights and trying to gain acceptance in society for many decades. This struggle has affected long-term relationships. As Scott A. Kramer describes, "(In the past) when gays had long-term relationships, they hid their relationships so they would not experience rejection from their families and friends. Often, life partners were presented to families and friends as their roommates or friends, without going into the nature of the relationship."

Permanent Gay Relationships More Accepted

Scott A. Kramer notes that because of the gay rights movement, it's easier now for gay couples to envision having a relationship rather than being on the outskirts of society.

"Heterosexual relationships and gay relationships are becoming more similar as gay relationships are assimilated into heterosexual culture. Gay couples want the same things heterosexuals do. They want to find a partner, love, and happiness. They want a family, whether it consists of two or more people, to buy a house, and go on vacation."

Marriage Legalities

In June 2013, the federal courts struck down California's Proposition 8 banning same sex marriages as unconstitutional, a milestone for same-sex marriages. Now, at least a quarter of the states allow same sex marriages.

While the political environment is becoming more accepting of gay marriages, many gay people are still not allowed to form a legal union like heterosexual couples can in the rest of the states. This creates a social stigma on couples and added stress, as well as life partners not being able to be recognized as an equal partner.

Satisfaction and Happiness

While there is sometimes the notion that gay relationships will not be as fulfilling or satisfying as heterosexual relationships, research suggests that this is not the case. According to studies reported by the American Psychological Association (APA):

  • Committed gay couples resolve conflict as well as their heterosexual counterparts and better than inexperienced couples.
  • Gay males and lesbians are not less satisfied with their relationships than heterosexual couples.

Families

The APA states that homosexual parents are similar to heterosexual parents in terms of being capable parents. According to research done by the University of Virginia, kids of same-sex couples are no different in terms of school performance or peer relationships, than kids of heterosexual couples.

However, the APA notes that because gay marriages are still banned in many states, this has a negative psychological effect on gay families.

Common Issues

All relationships face issues. However, not many studies have focused upon the similarities in relationship issues between gay and heterosexual relationships. However, there are many influences on homosexual relationships that do not exist with as much force in heterosexual relationships. Conversely, there are issues in heterosexual relationships that do not exist in same-sex relationships.

Sex

All relationships deal with sex, and many times it is a major issue in one form or another. For example, a poll conducted by the New York Times, showed that in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, if there isn't any sex after a month of dating, both men and women might lose interest. Also, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a concern for all populations.

However, the sexual issues in dating that arise for heterosexuals have to do with differences between male and female perceptions and attitudes. There is also a double standard for women and pregnancy that is not an issue for same sex couples.

HIV and Homosexual Relationships

According to Kramer, AIDS is most prominent in the homosexual community. Although HIV is an ongoing concern for all populations, no community has been hit harder with the HIV epidemic than gay men. Kramer notes that in his practice, he sees a variety of issues arise:

  • Whether or not to bring up HIV status (positive or negative) and when it's appropriate to talk about it
  • The experience of rejection out of the fear of HIV
  • Reluctance to share HIV status out of fear of losing someone important
  • Keeping negative HIV status if your partner is HIV positive

Kramer notes that the medication Truvada is making a positive impact. "A person who is HIV positive can take Truvada as part of his regimen and decrease his viral load to almost zero so he does not infect his partner. Also, men who are HIV negative can take Truvada and it will help prevent acquiring HIV. Taking Truvada to prevent HIV infection is called PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis)."

Coming Out

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, men and women from sexually-oriented minority groups may be at different levels of awareness and comfort, which can cause conflict in a relationship. One partner might be "out" while the other may not have reached that level.

Also another big issue is how alienated each partner is from his family. Sometimes, a person's coming out is not greeted with open arms. As Kramer observes, "There is a great deal of homelessness for young gay people, because when they come out to their family members, they are rejected and kicked out of their homes. Experiencing this kind of rejection from one's family can create issues in later relationships."

Emotional Infidelity

An issue in lesbian relationships that has come to light is called "emotional infidelity," where one partner is emotionally relying on another girlfriend for support and shutting out her partner. This is seen as a relationship issue because like sex, the emotional support should come from the partner and not another female outside of the relationship.

The Forces of Discrimination Are Real

While the political and social climate is changing for the better, same-sex couples still experience a great deal of discrimination, which can impact a relationship at any stage. Also, there are interpersonal factors that can impact relationships of any kind, such as past childhood issues, exposure to abuse, traumatization, and trust issues. At times, discrimination can compound these issues.

Finding a mental health professional who is well-versed in same-sex relationships can help gay couples build long-lasting relationships. Some mental health professionals such as Scott A. Kramer, LCSW, ACSW build their entire practice upon helping same-sex couples find happiness and love and are very educated in helping the populations they serve.

What Are the Differences Between Gay and Straight Relationships?