Can straight couples learn from same-sex relationships?
May 17th, 2012
12:01 PM ET

Can straight couples learn from same-sex relationships?

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex weekly on The Chart. Read more from him on his website, GoodInBed.

With the recent vote against gay marriage in North Carolina and President Obama’s support of marriage equality, same-sex relationships are making headlines.

But my colleagues and I have less political concerns: We’re focused on helping our gay, lesbian, and bisexual clients navigate their way through many of same relationship hurdles that heterosexual clients face.

Couples of all orientations find themselves struggling with the same issues, from mismatched libidos to sex ruts to infidelity. “The underlying dynamics are identical,” says Emily Nagoski, sex educator and author of "A Scientific Guide to Successful Relationships."

“They may play out differently because of the differences in gender or because of external social pressures, but the rules are the same – and there's some clear indications that gay couples are actually better at following those rules than straight couples!”

Nagoski pointed me to a 12-year study of same-sex couples by eminent marriage therapist Dr. John Gottman, which concluded that all couple types - straight or gay - have many of the same issues and the same paths to staying happy together.

But Gottman’s research also indicated that gay/lesbian couples are more upbeat in the face of conflict and, compared to straight couples, use more affection and humor when they bring up a disagreement.

"When it comes to emotions, we think these couples may operate with very different principles than straight couples,” says Gottman. “Straight couples may have a lot to learn from gay and lesbian relationships."

Studies suggest, for instance, that gay male couples tend to have sex more often than any other type of couples, while lesbian couples tend to have the least amount of sex. Since women often value emotional intimacy over sexual intimacy, low sex drive may not be a concern.

Likewise, two men who have strong libidos may be able to accommodate their sexual desires within an open relationship.

“A number of my gay clients prefer to be sexually open but emotionally monogamous,” says sex and relationship therapist Joe Kort. “They can have lovers on the side and not have it be a threat to the relationship.”

It’s a type of male coupledom that sex columnist Dan Savage has famously termed “monogamish” - but it’s not necessarily unique to gay relationships.

“Overall, men are good at compartmentalizing sexual and emotional feelings,” explains Kort. “It’s a guy thing, not a gay thing.”

At the same time, gay and lesbian couples can have unique concerns that just don’t exist in straight relationships. For example, “each partner may be in a different stage of coming out,” says Kort.

“If one partner is more ‘out’, he or she may push for things that the other partner might not feel comfortable with yet, like meeting one another's families or being physically affectionate in public.”

Gender can also play a big role in the way couples relate to each other, in and out of the bedroom, and same-sex couples are no exception.

In general, says Kort, women tend to focus on emotional intimacy, while men can be more emotionally distant. Lesbian and gay couples may benefit from counseling when both partners strongly have these characteristics. In other words, a female couple may be so closely bonded that they want to work on nurturing their individual selves, while counseling can help a male couple learn how to better open up to each other.

If you’re considering counseling, it pays to do your research.

“Your therapist doesn’t have to be gay or lesbian, but he or she should be absolutely be gay and lesbian-informed, not just gay and lesbian-friendly,” explains Kort.

That includes having deep insight into the often-subtle differences between same-sex and heterosexual couples, from concerns about discrimination and being ‘out’, to childhood influences, to sexual issues.

soundoff (72 Responses)
  1. Portland tony

    This article is probably offensive to both straight and gay couples.

    May 17, 2012 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • EyeMinded

      No, YOU are...

      May 17, 2012 at 12:55 | Report abuse |
    • Nodack

      Doesn't bother me.

      May 17, 2012 at 14:33 | Report abuse |
    • steve

      Gay men have the most sex...Id be shocked if they did'nt! The more I think about it, gay men have it made-they also should have the right to get married but should never do it. Think about it guys.
      I would imagine the only down side is men can have fist fights instead of just screaming matches. No coming back from a fist fight.

      May 17, 2012 at 15:55 | Report abuse |
    • RB

      to Steve – I guess it depends on where they're placing their fists.

      May 20, 2012 at 10:22 | Report abuse |
  2. HZD

    So...what we learned from this article is that gay men act like the guy in straight relationships, and lesbians act like the woman? Amazing!

    May 17, 2012 at 12:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ant

      Believe it or not, some people in this country would find it hard to believe that gay and straight people have anything in common because they're too busy telling everyone how bizarre and alien gay people are.

      May 17, 2012 at 13:30 | Report abuse |
    • Big Monkey

      No kidding! Boys will be boys no matter who they're sleeping with!

      May 17, 2012 at 15:21 | Report abuse |
  3. Jowl

    Gross I clicked the article I didnt expect it to lead off with a pic of two men preparing to have sex. You got me CNN.

    May 17, 2012 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Presto88


      Ok CNN enough of the "Gay" articles already. CNN acts like it is the most important issue in the world...when its not even in the top 100.

      May 17, 2012 at 13:33 | Report abuse |
    • Zach

      Oh get over yourself! We gay folk have to see straight couples "preparing to have sex" all the time, all over the place. Please!

      May 17, 2012 at 13:59 | Report abuse |
    • Presto88

      Well you can thank your straight parents for preparing to have sex the night you were conceived.

      The other way around is still Gross, and you arent going to convince me otherwise.

      May 17, 2012 at 14:10 | Report abuse |
    • Nodack

      If you don't like reading bat stories then why click on a gay story, read it and then comment on it. You could have just not clicked on the link.

      May 17, 2012 at 14:36 | Report abuse |
    • Techsupport

      Looks to me like maybe there was a back massage in progress. But you immediately thought of them having sex. Very telling.

      May 17, 2012 at 16:07 | Report abuse |
    • lolita from rhode island

      @presto. I would suggest reading something else or turn the other way. If you're reading it and actually commenting, there might be something that tickle your pickle when u read this info

      May 17, 2012 at 17:21 | Report abuse |
    • Lulu

      Golly – I just thought they were cuddling. Guess it's in the eye of the beholder?

      May 18, 2012 at 16:50 | Report abuse |
  4. KitKa10

    I think every relationship can learn something from other relationships–regardles of whether it's a same-sex or opposite-sex relationship....even if they're learning "what not to do".

    May 17, 2012 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NC

      True.....we can all learn something from each other.

      May 18, 2012 at 13:53 | Report abuse |
  5. lila

    I'm a happily married straight women with many gay friends, male and female, who are married or in long term relationships. They are all different in their relationships just like straight couples. Their biggest issue seems to be from family and society who don't understand their relationship vs the love they feel for each other as a couple.

    May 17, 2012 at 13:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. jeepers

    is this b s

    May 17, 2012 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. palintwit

    I just finished reading "Not Afraid of Life" by Bristol Palin for about the sixth time. It is thoughtfully written, relevant and riveting all at the same time. Once you pick it up you won't want to put it down. And such a bright young woman! We can all learn from her. (I bought 10 copies and passed them out to friends). Keep up the good work, Bristol ! Hope to see you in the house or senate some day !

    May 17, 2012 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tony

      ... and this has what to do with the article?

      May 17, 2012 at 14:48 | Report abuse |
    • Think for your self...

      I really hope you are gay...we don't need people like you procreating.

      May 17, 2012 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
    • Techsupport

      Oh, she'll be in the house some day. Penthouse.

      May 17, 2012 at 16:09 | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      Just. a sales rep doin his or her job...trolling for Palin?

      May 17, 2012 at 16:27 | Report abuse |
    • Ehren

      Does she have any good birth control advice?

      May 18, 2012 at 11:00 | Report abuse |
    • momma grizz

      she's afraid of her mother.

      May 18, 2012 at 13:37 | Report abuse |
  8. Billdo

    This entire article is gay!!

    May 17, 2012 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Billbo lover

      You're cute, let's date. We can marry in my state. Bonus!

      May 18, 2012 at 13:39 | Report abuse |
  9. crcka1123423


    May 17, 2012 at 18:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jeffision

    Ok, all you h etero male complainers...your se x uality is disgusting to us to. So how about you stop bringing the conversation down a 14 year old immature boy's level? Try to act like a responsible adult instead of an animal...you can do it, dudes...try, try, try.

    May 17, 2012 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leafy

      Does this mean that you, as a gay man have figured out that most heterosexuals don't want to hear about your bedroom exploits? and in fact they really make one gag? 😉 Have a nice day.

      May 18, 2012 at 02:40 | Report abuse |
    • m0rtis

      Leafy: Only one thing makes me gag... anything over 9"

      May 18, 2012 at 08:19 | Report abuse |
  11. Jeffision

    Once again we hear what all gay men and nearly all str8t men know...gay and str8t men are alike. Only a small minority of immature and insecure str8t men think that not. All men are dogs...gay or str8t.

    May 17, 2012 at 20:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. be

    I've always said that straights have a lot to learn from gays: (1) Marriage should be more about what is in your heart than what is between your legs....and (2) Family should be the product of the union of people in a loving nurturing home rather than just the union of a sperm with an egg.

    May 18, 2012 at 00:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John

      Best post ever. Thank You.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:19 | Report abuse |
    • NC

      Very True!

      May 18, 2012 at 13:56 | Report abuse |
    • Lulu

      Thank you for a healthy response.

      May 18, 2012 at 16:52 | Report abuse |
  13. Charlie

    I'd say the article is fairly accurate. From the looks of the comments, I'm sensing a lot of insecurities from the males in our heterosexual community.

    May 18, 2012 at 08:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • chuck

      It isn't insecurity. It is anger at the constant bombardment about your (gay people's) sex lives. WE DON'T WANT TO KNOW!

      May 18, 2012 at 08:40 | Report abuse |
    • Charlie

      @ Chuck – And we're not bombarded by what goes on in your sex lives? What pretty much any drama on tv or any movie and it's right there in your face!

      May 18, 2012 at 08:48 | Report abuse |
  14. jp

    i want to see the union of sperm and sperm produce a life

    May 18, 2012 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • chuck

      lol I don't

      May 18, 2012 at 08:41 | Report abuse |
    • m0rtis

      Stop using the pretext that marriage and being a couple is exclusively for procreation and/or raising children. Men and women don't have sex -only- for procreation – they do it other times too and not with the intent -every time- to create "life". If that were the case, your creator would have only allowed offspring to be created when officially married, and the only time to have sex is when the creation of said offspring is required.

      May 18, 2012 at 08:45 | Report abuse |
  15. Mazzata

    A lot of guys I know would screw just about anything they can poke their johnson into.

    May 18, 2012 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Don

    Promiscuis sex between gays is what caused the aids epidemic. Has no one learned anythng?

    May 18, 2012 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joscar

      There are a variety of factors that contributed to the AIDS epidemic but to say that gay promiscuity caused it is absurd. Yes, it did spread through the gay community rapidly but because people in power turned it into a 'Gay' disease efforts to study and erradicate it were largely ignored.
      If this disease would have started spreading in middle aged war veterans there would have been unlimited money and resources poured into finding the cause and cure. Are you old enough to remember the Legionnaires Disease mobilization and that was only a handful of victims. NOTE – I am not saying that Legionnaires didn't deserve this attention, just that any epidemic deserves the same treatment.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:45 | Report abuse |
    • Lulu

      Oh, sweetie – you are so misinformed.

      May 18, 2012 at 16:54 | Report abuse |
  17. audreydegrey

    Educational article with a good, unoffensive perspective.

    May 18, 2012 at 12:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. tjp44

    the AIDS epedemic was spread by gays and straights, but it originated by human sex with an chimpanzee or ape in the African continent.................stick to the facts no matter how much you want to be correct!

    May 18, 2012 at 12:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rbnlegend101

      no, it originated from eating tainted meat from a primate.

      May 18, 2012 at 16:23 | Report abuse |
  19. Victor

    So...the lesson is that men tend to get along better with men and women tend to get along better with women and both genders want completely different things from the relationship. I guess this explains why, given their choice, most men hang out with other men and women hang out with other women. It all seems pretty logical to me.

    May 18, 2012 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. backlove

    IThought this article was going to be about hetero-buttsecks.

    May 18, 2012 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. ron

    As a Gay man I am offended by the assumption that all of us have OPEN relationships. While there are many that do, there are just as many that do NOT have open relationships. It's only the gay men that want open relationships that say this as it makes them feel better about themselves. Most of the gay couples I know do not have open relationshilps.

    May 18, 2012 at 14:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Alon

    This is one of the craziest pieces CNN has posted in a long time. I would never follow the ways of the Sodomites.

    May 18, 2012 at 16:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Political Grunt

    Finally openly admitting that gay persons are very promiscuous. They justify it by telling couples to cheat on their spouses? CNN has reached a new low. I'm done with them. They can't afford to lose many more viewers, either. They're on an 11 year low.

    May 18, 2012 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Me


    May 18, 2012 at 18:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Christine

    Monogamish?!!! Hello! You're either fully commited and faithful to one person or you're not. It is NOT okay to cheat. Nor is it appropriate to suggest that straight couples should try this type of arrangement.

    May 19, 2012 at 04:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • boring

      you sound boring!!!!

      June 6, 2012 at 14:50 | Report abuse |
  26. Anonymous

    Open relationships are just another excuse to cheat. The Gay Agenda sure seems to be pushing for polygamy & promiscuity.

    May 20, 2012 at 03:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Chyng

    The smell of crap and Vaseline is the best aphrodisiac. If you find this post repulsive you may be normal

    May 20, 2012 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply

    Studies suggest, for instance, that gay male couples tend to have sex more often than any other type of couples, while lesbian couples tend to have the least amount of sex.

    Duh – women don't like sex as much as men. Guess that explains all the straight guys on here; they aren't getting any.

    So keeping on complaining about gay sex straight boys; maybe it breaks up your monotony of having sex with yourself.

    Gotta go – time for some more man lovin'.

    May 22, 2012 at 19:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Me Mariah Ann Edmondson at 18 years old

      No the thing is is that there are plenty of Promiscuos men and women out there not just sexual men but women who are physical like men to. For example all of the women characters on sex and the city are very sexually physical. The difference is that women have a deeper emotional connection to their sexual partners. The more sex the more emotions can be created! Men are viewed as being unemotional and a lot of times unresponsive! A number of Wommen are afraid to give their hearts to someone who could be a sexual partner. The reason is because women are afraid to give their partner sex if that man is going to break up with them or cheat on them. Because men are more prone to having SEX BECAUSE THEIR UNAFRAID OF HAVING SEX WITHOUT EMOTION. Men will go on to the next partner easier and faster without an emotional connection!

      July 18, 2013 at 22:33 | Report abuse |
  29. JP

    Same-sex relationships can be pretty straightforward. Men understand men. Women understand women. They don't need a crystal ball to understand what their partner is thinking or why their partner is acting a certain way. Unfortunately it's not something which can be taught or learned, it's just a fact of being the same gender. This is why most of our friends are the same gender as us, because we understand each other better.

    May 29, 2012 at 01:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. shawbrooke

    A number? That means the researcher found one? Another stab at encouraging "open" relationships – how quaint. We've been there and done that a couple of times since the sexual revolution, and found each time that it does not work. Agenda, anyone?

    June 6, 2012 at 01:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. charlie

    then, I am not crazy to think I may become gay?

    September 24, 2012 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. straight man says

    my wife and i don't have to learn from them.

    September 27, 2012 at 17:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. aljun Selorio

    well waterer the most important is love.............

    November 28, 2012 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Mariah

    Well what if a girl emotionally really loves her best Female friend with all her heart but the best female friend is straight with a boyfriend? Then what could you do? If two women or girls really love eachother with emotions and all could that mean that your a lesbian? If your emotionally in love with someone of the same sex with way too much emotion and abundant happiness can that mean that your gay?

    July 18, 2013 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
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