How can someone be gay and still marry a straight partner? Most members of the gay community can’t really understand why or how this could conceivably happen. As more and more gays leave straight marriages and enter into the realm of LGBT parenting we are now beginning to develop some answers, based on what we know from psychological research regarding this topic.
An article from Czechoslovakia in 1965 discouraged gay men from marrying women, because most would fail. Another researcher reported in 1971 that, back then, marriage counselors in Belgium, who were mostly drawn from the priesthood, also strongly dissuaded gay men from marrying. Despite such cautions, studies conducted in the US, the Netherlands, Denmark, and West Germany have reported that about 20 percent of gay men have been married heterosexually at least once.
Why does this happened, and why does it still occur? There are several reasons provided by researchers who have studied this topic by finding out from gay men who have had the experience. The main reasons include: Internalized homophobia around the time of marriage; Belief that there would be negative societal reactions to being gay; It seemed natural; Having family-centered values and/or a desire for children and family life; They were in love; Belief that marriage would eliminate homosexual desire; Perceptions that there is a lack of intimacy in the gay world; and Social and family pressure to marry.
Other reasons less commonly cited were (a) the wife had become pregnant, (b) pressure from the girlfriend, (c) everyone else was getting married, (d) acting on advice from a doctor or priest, and (e) work/ occupation reasons, and (f) loneliness.
There are certainly cultural, societal, and/ or religious reasons that also explain why a number of gays enter into straight marriages. For example, Jerry, a recently divorced father of three children explains “Getting married was an expectation in my Muslim country (not to mention that homosexual behavior is punishable by death in my country).” Most religions, such as Orthodox Judaism, fundamentalist Christianity, and Islamic faiths are opposed to same-gender behavior. Samuel, a 45 year old Orthodox Jewish single father parenting his son, explains opposite-gender behavior was the only viable alternative for him to become a parent for most of his married life.
The general consensus is that most mixed-orientation marriages will eventually end in divorce, but it is understood that some mixed-orientation marriages do, in fact, survive. Many admit that most of these marriages are sexless, mind you, and sexual problems are common within these marriages as well. Expecting heterosexually-married gays to abstain from having sex with other gays is just often very futile, as few of these gays will keep these agreements.
For these mixed-orientation marriages to work, it is usually necessary that the couple reach a mutual agreement to allow the gay partner to have extramarital sex. Other critical ingredients for success include honesty, open communication, receiving support from peers, receiving counseling, and also taking time to decide what is right for the marriage. In effect, the gay partner needs to be empathetic to the straight partner and the straight partner needs to be flexible.
A recent study of gays married to straight partners suggests that these gays did not see their homosexuality as having any effect on their ability to fulfill familial responsibilities, with one exception: their sexual relations with their partners, if they were still occurring, were negatively affected.
It is often surprising to many heterosexual and homosexual individuals alike to find out that most gays are capable of having sex with with a straight partner. Sexual behavior can be engaged in for many reasons, and sexual desire is not required for gays to become excited, bodies are bodies – they respond to physical stimulation, whatever might be causing it.
Unfortunately, it’s the straight partner who often ends up having to sacrifice the most when mixed-orientation marriages do continue. Having sex is an important part of marriage, and when it is less than satisfying or nonexistent, it creates a strain for most people who have an active sex drive.
Most straight partners have a hard time letting their gay partners be sexual with someone else- whether male or female. To do so successfully, the straight partner is going to have to think more like their gay partners. By this, it is understood the partners will need to clearly separate love and sex. Furthermore, and also sadly it should be added, some gay married partners are going to fall in love with another gay person. Then, the situation becomes especially difficult for both the straight partner and the gay partner.