What Are the Differences Between Gay and Straight Relationships?

Gabrielle Applebury
Co-author Kirsten Schuder
Photo of a lesbian couple embracing at the beach

Although there are similarities between heterosexual and same-sex relationships, there are a few differences that are interesting to explore. Though everyone's situation is different, same-sex relationships tend to be highly influenced by the fight for social justice and acceptance, noted Scott A. Kramer, LCSW-R, ACSW, a therapist specializing in LGBTQ relationships.

Meeting a Partner

According to Kramer, there are numerous factors that influence the way those who identify as gay individuals 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 same-sex relationships because of the stigma and consequently sought to meet other individuals at social gatherings held specifically for those interested in same-sex relationships.

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. Kramer explained that individuals who identify as gay 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 an individual 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, those who identify as lesbians generally meet each other through friends. Usually, everyone knows each other in the community, so it's not uncommon for people to date each other's exes.

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

Online Dating

More people have been meeting through online dating services. The online dating sites for those in the LGBTQ community have exploded in terms of availability. "I hear more clients telling me they met through an online dating site such as OKCupid, which support gay relationships," said 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 and allies have been fighting for equal rights for many decades. This struggle has affected the nature of long-term relationships. As Kramer described, "(In the past) when gay (individuals) 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." With the supreme court ruling in 2015 that legalized same sex marriage, acceptance and support of same-sex relationships and marriages has grown to about 61 percent as of 2019.

Wedding couple dancing

Permanent Gay Relationships More Accepted

Kramer notesd 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."

That's not to say that all same-sex relationships look the same, but neither do heterosexual ones. For the most part, all people whether they are in same sex or opposite-sex relationships typically want to feel loved, have meaningful relationships, and feel accepted.

Marriage Legalities

As of 2015, same-sex marriages have been legal in all 50 states making for a steady rise of acceptance for same-sex relationships. Legalizing same sex marriage has played a significant role on same-sex relationship acceptance in the United States and internationally. With around 26 countries legalizing same-sex marriage around the world, LGBTQ rights and laws protecting those who identify as LGBTQ have increased profoundly, although there is always room for improvement.

Satisfaction and Happiness

While some may argue that same-sex 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):

Happy, laughing couple
  • Marital patterns are similar for both same-sex and heterosexual couples.
  • Same-sex couples show lower rates of divorce than heterosexual couples.
  • Same sex couples resolved conflict with less physiological arousal that their heterosexual counterparts, meaning they were able to remain more calm during arguments or mishaps.

Comparing Divorce Rates

Same-sex couples tend to divorce at lower rates than heterosexual couples. In a study, research noted that same sex couples divorce at a rate of about 1.1 percent, while heterosexual couples divorce at a rate of about 2 percent annually.

Families

The APA states that parents in the LGBTQ community are just as capable as heterosexual 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 from heterosexual couples.

Family celebrating a birthday

Common Issues

All relationships face issues. In both same sex and opposite sex relationships, couples may face problems with communication, as well as disagreements over whether to have kids and how to raise them. Other common issues include disagreements over religious and political beliefs, money handling issues, as well as miscommunications regarding needs.

Sex

Sex can be a major issue for both same-sex and heterosexual couples. A poll conducted by the New York Magazine, showed that in both heterosexual and same-sex 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 heterosexual couples may have to do more with differences between male and female perceptions and attitudes. Unwanted pregnancies may cause more issues for heterosexual couples.

HIV and Same-Sex Male Relationships

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

  • Whether 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 noted 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

Coming out is a hugely personal process that is unique to each individual. In a relationship, one partner might be completely out while the other may be in a different area on the spectrum of out-ness.

Couple having an argument

Sometimes, a person's coming out is not greeted with open arms. As Kramer observed, "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 that some lesbian relationships may encounter is emotional infidelity, where one partner is emotionally relying on another girlfriend for support and shutting out her partner. This can create tension in the romantic relationship and mistrust between partners.

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. Discrimination can compound these issues causing even more stress for the individual and couple.

Finding a mental health professional who is well-versed in same-sex relationships can help same-sex couples build long-lasting relationships, especially if they are facing issues that feel insurmountable. Some mental health professionals, such as Kramer, 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?