Q&A from "Gay or straight, what's the difference?"

Wise Readers,

Why do gay and lesbian couples fight more fairly than straights?  Why do gay men usually stay together longer than lesbian women, and what can everyone else learn from that?  How do fairy tales hurt the straight people?  What’s happening with global attitudes towards homosexuality?  And really, is sexual orientation a choice at any point in life?

Read on!


From Gillian: How Did G/L Couples Learn Fair Fighting?

Very interesting - great article. Maybe G/L’s are just smarter than the rest of us? If not higher IQ’s, then definitely higher *emotional* IQ’s, which has been generally my observation over the years. Probably most G/L’s were raised by hetero parents and those hetero parents likely fought. And they probably didn’t fight fair. The G/L’s saw it. They decided consciously or subconsciously: “I’m not living like THAT. Screaming and yelling doesn’t work. I will try something else.” (??)

Duana’s response: 

Dear Gillian,

Do G/L couples have higher emotional IQ’s than the rest of us because they rejected the heterosexual mode of fighting? I don’t know, but it’s a good question. My guess is that’s not really the crux of the matter, though; everyone has the option to reject poor modeling, and I can’t think of a compelling reason why gay and lesbian couples would be any likelier to have rejected a bad parental example. (Not saying I’m correct. Just a guess.) I am surmising, instead, that—based on research showing that gender is one of many powerful influences on our psyche—when you have two folks of the same gender, their thinking is already a bit more aligned to begin with. There may be a more similar style of interacting when, for instance, two men are inclined to ignore relationship problems (as research shows men are inclined to do in general; gay male couples often ignore many issues without discernably harming their relationships), or when, for example, two women wish to discuss problems in detail (as research shows lesbians are likely to do, and as many straight women would like to do). 

Put very simply, it can help a lot to have someone who might be more inclined to see the world the same way you do, and being the same gender can be part of that.  Similarity:  In study after study, it breeds content(ment).  

From Rchapman: What About When Straight Families Reject Their Straight Kids’ Choice Of Partner?

Have there been any studies done about heterosexual couples who experience rejection from their families about their choice of mate, and how that compares to the homosexual couples’ data?

Duana’s response: 

Dear Rchapman, thank you for your question. There are several studies about homosexual couples’ families rejecting them/their mate choice, and it’s painful reading. For instance, although rejection of the gay/lesbian family member is common, the pattern is based in part on how traditional the family of origin is, plus their race. White families are least likely to reject a gay/lesbian child or his/her mate, but the divisions are very deep for members of many other ethnic groups, including Asians, blacks, and Hispanics. I’m working on an article about that.  

Unfortunately, if you’re wanting articles that compare the impact of the rejection of straight and gay/lesbian orientations/mates, I don’t know about the existence of such studies. But family rejection of a straight person’s mate can have interesting and sometimes unexpected results.

To wit, the ‘Romeo & Juliet Effect’ is a form of reactance where couples say they’re even more deeply in love if, during the early part of courtship, the family disapproves. So open disapproval of a dating partner frequently backfires. That was research only on straight couples.

And in Gottman’s research on mothers’ disapproval of daughters-in-law (far more common that mothers’ interference with the son-in-law), the only solution to the problem was/is for the man in the hetero couple to side with his wife against his mother!  

Here’s an article about that: http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/love-science-media/mommas-boys-the-good-bad-and-ugly-of-loving-a-guy-who-adores.html. Upshot? Don’t try to please two women; you’ll merely enrage both. Instead, pick the one you picked: your wife.


From Mocha’s Mom:  Does The Soulmate Hype Make It Tougher For Straights?

Is it possible that one reason G/L couples have better communication about sex and better skills for having disagreements is that we straights have been sold a bill of goods that they haven’t?

Our western media culture is just crawling with images of ideal, soul-shaking, endless love, and the overwhelming majority of those images are of straight couples. Straight couples who have perfect sexual chemistry, who “get” each other, and who, instead of talking out issues, have dizzying romantic story arcs leading to revelatory moments after which they live happily ever after.

In other words, if you anticipate that the “right” person for you will just *know* what to do sexually and will just “get it” when it comes to dealing with disagreements, does your ability to communicate go to heck?

Conversely, if you understand that communication, sex, and all the rest of the stuff that makes your relationship is always in an ongoing experimental phase, are you going to communicate better?Long term G/L relationships are, after all, something our culture doesn’t really provide a set pattern for, so maybe expectations are just different enough to make actually talking about stuff less threatening.



Duana’s response:  Fairy Tales Are For Straight People

Dear Mocha’s Mom, do heterosexuals have more modeling of Perfect Love than G/L’s do—images of passion and devotion so flawless that merely mortal activities such as Talking About It seem passé?

Great question.  And from preschool on up, the answer is Yes. Fairy tales are about straight people, after all. And Disney’s movies sell happily-ever-after for the heterosexual set; they’re silent about ideal love, or any love at all, for G/L’s. So Kudos, Mocha’s Mom, for finding one more reason why G/L couples might be willing to work harder at real love, which takes real effort.

Still another contributor to G/L’s better sex and communication could be the breaking of taboos simply being gay can involve. As one gay man told me, “Once you’ve come out even to yourself, you’ve already broken the mainstream rules just by being you; you’ve already incurred wrath from half the world. So why not have fabulous sex while you’re at it.”



From Vincent: Why Do Gay Men Stay Together Longer Than Lesbian Women?!

Dr. D.,

Although straight, I loved the article and learn so much from your writings. I truly owe great thanks to the G/L couples who are teaching how to make love intimately and not like a chore. My wife and I have been practicing taking more time, teasing more, and just doing more to obtain that “scintillating sensation”. Can you see my smile?

On another note, I do find it sad that with so much superiority on the sensitivity and pleasure front, that G/L couples don’t have a higher ratio of staying together (“30% of the lesbians and 20% of the gays broke up in a 5-year timeframe—compared with 13% of straight couples.”) But I can also see how society stresses can undermine things.

Also, is there a reason that more lesbian couples break up than gay couples? You mentioned that “Physiologically, a high heart-rate when arguing *benefits* G/L’s investment in their relationship”. I would have thought that women would have a higher heart rate when arguing then men would, thus having better staying power. And, of course with men being hunters and wanting new conquests that they would add to a higher breakup ratio too.


Duana’s response:  Open Relationships, ‘Lesbian Bed Death’, and Ahhhh—Acceptance

Dear Vincent, thank you for those insights.  With straight couples, working towards effective communication and having better sex is associated with much longer, happier relationships than those where criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling eventually create a rift so wide, straights drift apart.

So why don’t great relationship skillz necessarily keep people together when they’re of the same gender? And why are *lesbians* the most likely to break up of all?

I’ve gotta say, this is one of those times where the science just floors me. In my preconceived notions, gay *men* were the ones who would break up soonest—not lesbian women. I figured that women would be more patient, more egalitarian, more…committed. I figured they’d be in this for the long haul. I also figured the gay men might drift apart due to sexual boredom or men’s well-documented lesser desire for commitment to begin with.

But I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong.

Turns out, more than one study shows that more gay men stay together considerably longer than lesbian women. It’s still conjecture why this is so, but here are some possibilities:

1. Men and Open Relationships

Turns out, another difference between various orientations is the desire for casual sex while a primary, committed relationship is going on. As you may recall from other LoveScience articles and the research of Shirley Glass, straight men are not only much more open to casual sex than straight women are, but straight men actually report being *happier* in their marriages when the guys are getting some on the side. Straight men not only don’t necessarily have affairs because they’re dissatisfied with their marriages; they may even stray in order to stay happily wed. 

This is something few heterosexual women want to hear, but it’s true.

And if straight men are more open to casual sex than women are, gay men are even moreso. But unlike straight men, gay men somehow manage to keep their jealousy under wraps, giving *both* partners freedom to explore the sexual terrain with others—no double-standard.

Scientists aren’t sure how gay partners are controlling their jealousy. But it does seem that one way many gay men are keeping their primary relationship going is partly via having sex with their partner…and some more casual others.

2. ‘Lesbian Bed Death’

While gay men are having a lot of hot sex in and often out of their primary relationship, women are organizing things a bit differently.Lesbians in established relationships have the least sex of anyone—less than gay men, less than heterosexual couples. Although lesbians’ sex lives are usually extremely high quality, they are known to become low on *quantity* over time. Sometimes, the quantity dries up altogether in a phenom known on the streets and between the sheets as Lesbian Bed Death. And people who don’t have sex together tend not to stay together. 

As with straight women, lesbians are much less Open to having or allowing their partner to have new sexual partners while still together than men are. So if women’s sex evaporates altogether and the ethic is one where sex with others is also forbidden, it’s predictable that at least some lesbian women will end the relationship they’re in to find another.

3. Accepting Problems Vs. Fixing Problems

Vincent, it’s still a mystery how a high heart-rate during arguments could help G/L’s when the same thing is associated with harm to straights’ relationships.  But how men and women think about relationship problems is much less mysterious.  And it could give us a clear window onto why men stay together longer. 

One of my favorite things about men is the grace with which they usually accept their sweetheart, warts and all.  Regardless of orientation, men typically take their partner as-is. 

(We pause here to note that “Just The Way You Are” is written and performed by Billy Joel and not Beyoncé Knowles.)

It’s not that guys perceive no flaws; they just aren’t as into believing the flaws can, should or must be fixed.    Straight or gay, men usually stop obsessing about the issues they’re never going to solve; they accept that differences are part of the deal and they go on with their love-lives, being happy anyway. Gottman knows gay men *can* discuss thorny issues, and discuss them well.  But outside the lab, I’ll bet they aren’t beating the dead horse of unsolvable problems too often. 

Women—lesbian or straight—tend to have a different take, believing not only that they should solve all the problems, but that they and their sweetie should be everything to each other.  In a straight relationship, this translates to numerous female-initiated discussions—talks which are in fact necessary because women usually can’t be happy without some level of relationship mechanicry, and unhappy women leave.   

But as we know from Gottman’s research, all couples—happy or not— have perpetual, unsolvable problems. To the extent there are *two* women in a relationship, it’s possible the unrealistic expectations of relationship perfection can be double-jeopardy, leading women to give up on a perfectly good relationship when issues remain despite best efforts. 

Which brings us back to you, Mocha’s Mom. I think that despite the much more intensive modeling of straight than G/L bliss, women of all orientations are prone to buy into the fairy-tale image that everything can be worked out—that happily-ever-after will happen.

And many couples of all orientations *are* happy. Ironically, though, the happiest are not the couples who lack problems, but those who accept that many of their problems will be perpetual and that the relationship has value anyway.

To the extent that those couples have two men, that acceptance may be more forthcoming.

Thanks again for terrific ideas and queries.


From Carmen:  Fear That Became Tolerance That Became Acceptance

…Our daughter Ginger’s first babysitting job was in New Haven, CT in the early ‘90’s…..She’d had the job for many months before she revealed that the parents were a lesbian couple…both highly-educated, successful professionals with a beautiful home. Ginger was a small-town girl from Oklahoma; her world opened up and changed dramatically during her years in New Haven. Her understanding of Human Sexuality deepened during those years, far outstripping mine.

One of my closest friends in college [in the 1960’s] revealed to me our senior year that she was gay…scared me to death, as I realized her love of me held more connotations than I had ever imagined. I had no idea how to handle that information. I was so uninformed and naive.

Her family never accepted her sexuality. I learned years later that she had suffered from severe bipolar disorder since birth, and no treatment was successful. After entering an experimental program in Dallas, she finally found relief from a *cocktail* developed there. When I once told her how glad I was that she was Well, she reminded me…”my illness is bipolar disorder, not being gay. It’s not so bad being gay.”

….The problems involving gay women who are called to ministry in the church are enormous. So many spiritual gifts to share, so difficult to find work in the Church. Several of my college girlfriends left the Church because of its position on homosexuality…they love Polly as much as I.

My journey to understand sexuality has taken me on many twists & turns in the road…but I never, ever believed one’s sexuality was a Choice. Thanks to Ginger’s experiences at Yale Divinity School and her sharing her revelations with me, I now have a much fuller understanding. And thanks to Dr. Duana & her research, my journey continues. I especially enjoyed the info regarding Making Love…not so determinedly goal-oriented in gay relationships. Thanks for this information and for your support of Loving relationships.


Duana’s response: How Far Has Acceptance Come?  And Is Sexual Orientation A Choice? 

Dear Carmen,

Thank you for sharing your journey towards a greater understanding and acceptance of G/L orientations.  Just as knowing Polly helped you to open your eyes and heart, and knowing Ginger’s employers helped her, research indicates it’s often friendship with an Out person that alters attitudes.  As the world becomes more open, more people feel free to come Out; as more people come Out, the world becomes more open.  It’s harder to fear or hate ‘them’ when we find that ‘they’ are actually ‘us’. 

So although bigotry against G/L/bi/transgendered folks still exists in appalling abundance, much of the first world’s understanding and acceptance of homosexuality has taken a quantum leap forward in the past 20 years.  To wit, consulting firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner found in 2008 that gay marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples are now viewed as acceptable by almost 60% of American white evangelical Christians age 18-29.  Other well-conducted surveys indicate that if America’s under-40 set voted on marriage for everyone today, it would become law—and it already *is* law in most of the first world.  As you know, our U.S. Supreme Court is even now ruling about whether open bigotry against marriage equality for G/L couples is legal.  

Increasingly, people of all orientations support rather than denigrate the desire for committed love in people of all orientations. 

And as we’ve both implied, sexual orientation is not a choice. But is that true?  Yes.  Copious research points towards a number of factors influencing sexual orientation, but all of them occur *prior to birth*.

Whether we’re talking in-utero exposure to hormones, the ‘older brother effect’ whereby Mom’s body might form antibodies against male fetuses the more males she gestates, or genetics, it’s clear that men’s sexual orientation is not a choice. The research on lesbian orientation is mighty scarce, but observations of extreme gender nonconformity in childhood, plus interviews with women of every orientation, also indicate that nobody—gay, lesbian, or straight—feels that their own orientation is something they could choose for or against. It just is what it is.

Not only is there zero element of choice before birth—there’s none afterwards. Despite rigorous ‘reprogramming’ classes and therapies, nothing done after birth significantly effects or impacts orientation one way or another.  Again, this research has mostly been done regarding gay men, but interviews with lesbian, bi and transgendered folks indicates that people perceive their sexuality as inborn and ingrained, not a choice. 

Actually, straights feel that way, too.  Every year, I ask my heterosexual students whether they believe they could change their orientation to prefer the same sex; whether they think they were born with their orientation or not; and whether they had to have sexual intercourse with another person before they knew they were straight.  Although my observations are less rigorous and formal than a genuine scientific investigation, so far, my straight students seem united in believing they were born straight and that nothing could change their orientation now. 

Truly, whatever gender turns us on, we’re born that way. We’re staying that way. And the question is really whether we’re going to accept or reject our core selves and others’.  Count me among those heartened to see the answer increasingly, resoundingly moving towards Yes. 





Related LoveScience articles include those throughout the article, plus

Are there really differences between gay, lesbian and heterosexual relationships?  

How to recognize an Unsolvable Problem—and be happy anyway

How and why women are relationship mechanics—and what to do about a high heart-rate to save your marriage if you’re a straight guy


The author wishes to thank the scientists/sources listed throughout today’s post, plus:

John Gottman and The Gottman Institute, for the only longitudinal research into the differences among gay, lesbian and straight long-term relationships.   

For Gottman’s book on how to improve communication to save long-term straight relationships, look here.  Although this book was written based on heterosexual’s data, most of the information would apply to any union.   

Gunnar Andersson and others in 2006, for their research on dissolution of gay, straight and lesbian married/registered relationships in Sweden and Norway—countries with full legal protection regardless of orientation.  


Do you have a question for Duana?  Write to her at Duana@LoveScienceMedia.com for a free, confidential response.  If your letter is ever used on-site, identifying details such as your name will be changed and your letter will be edited for length and privacy.  

All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., and LoveScience Media, 2013.  

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