Public sex, private intimacy and sexual exclusivity in men’s formalised same-sex relationships

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Abstract

This article revisits the personal stories that younger male civil partners told about their sexual practices, in what most termed their ‘marriage’, to generate insights into the extent to which they succumbed to the dangers that critics of same-sex marriage foretold. It provides a baseline analysis against which the findings of future studies of both heterosexual and same-sex marriages and civil partnerships can be compared. The data we discuss is comprised of joint (n=25) and individual (n=50) interviews with couples. Participants’ stories about ‘public’ ‘private’ and ‘exclusive’ sex can appear to support the predictions of some key critics. Participants tended to make commitments to sexual monogamy, and link their sexual practices to deepening couple intimacy. However, viewed as stories of socio-culturally shaped and biographically embedded sexual practices they offer insights into the more complex relationships between civil partnership, marriage, sexual exclusivity and intimacy. On closer examination they suggest it is not simply the case that civil partnership or same-sex marriage (and marriage more generally) ‘impose’ heteronormative sexual conventions, but that relational biographies are significant in shaping simultaneously conventional and deconstructive approaches to married sexuality. Partners in formalised same-sex relationships do not simply follow heterosexual norms. Rather, they juggle the often contradictory norms of mainstream and queer sexual cultures. Understanding the implications for marriage as an institution requires approaches to analysis that do not pose heterosexual marriage as the ‘straw man’ of queer analysis.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalSexualities: Studies in Culture and Society
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2021