Many gay male couples make agreements about whether or not to permit sex with outside partners, yet little is known about the development and maintenance of these agreements, their impact on relationships, and whether they are an effective HIV prevention strategy. Using semi-structured, qualitative interviews, 39 gay male couples were asked about their sexual agreements and about other relationship dynamics that might affect their agreements. Analysis revealed a wide range of agreement types, all of which are presented along a continuum rather than as discrete categories. For couples with open agreements, most placed rules or conditions limiting when, where, how often, and with whom outside sex was permitted. Although motivations for having agreements varied, HIV prevention did not rank as a primary factor for any couple. Most couples had congruous agreements; however, a small number reported discrepancies which may increase HIV transmission risk. How couples handled breaks in their agreements also varied, depending on what condition was broken, whether it was disclosed, and the partner’s reaction. Additional results include differences in agreement type and motivations for having an agreement based on couple serostatus. Overall, agreements benefited couples by providing boundaries for the relationship, supporting a non-heteronormative identity, and fulfilling the sexual needs of the couple. Future prevention efforts involving gay couples must address the range of agreement types and the meanings couples ascribe to them, in addition to tempering safety messages with the relationship issues that are important to and faced by gay couples.
Gay couples Sexual agreements Negotiation HIV prevention
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The authors thank the NIMH for providing financial support for this research. This study was supported by NIMH grant MH65141. Special thanks are extended to research staff members Efren Bose, Lynae Darbes, Joey Downey, Raven Mahosadha, Byron Mason, Anne Richards, and Edwin Ramos-Soto as well as the participants for their time and effort discussing their relationships.
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