Love and partnerships are not usually part of health surveys, even though it is acknowledged that a good relationship can be a valuable asset for overall health and quality of life and that loneliness or relationship problems are risk factors for numerous health problems. We chose to deal with these issues in an in-depth fashion because gay men in Geneva clearly expressed in focus groups during the preliminary research phase that love and relationships were the most pressing issues for their overall health and quality of life and also where they felt the least satisfied.
Finding a (not just sexual) partner and managing a relationship is still rather difficult for most gay men. Most of them live most of their lives alone. Gay relationships are still often a private matter known only to close friends. Recognized same-sex partnerships are still rather new in Switzerland and having children together is still rare in couples made up of two men. All these aspects mean that, as our research showed, problems with love and relationships are the most frequent cause mentioned by gay men to explain depression or suicide attempts.
More than 60% of gay men live alone, more than twice the rate of men in the general population, and slightly more than 40% are in a stable relationship as opposed to 75% of men in the general population. Actually, many gay men do form relationships but that are very short-lived. Three-fourths of gay men say they had been in a stable relationship in the 12 months prior to the survey. A large proportion of gay men have serial short-term relationships and most gays live alone for most of their lives. Involuntary loneliness has a very adverse effect on daily life, social relationships, physical and mental health and can lead to a higher consumption of alcohol, drugs, and risky behaviors (sex addiction on-line or in real life, risky sex, etc.) to fill an existential void.
Over 90% believe their relationship is good and 65% say it is very good. Around half said they had never or only once had any tension in their relationships over the last 12 months. This might give the impression that all is well in gay relationships. In reality, most relationships in the community are of very short duration. The median is 2 relationships longer than 6 months over a lifetime. This can be explained as follows: couples stay together as long as everything is going well and break up as soon as something goes wrong. One might think that this poses no particular problem given that most gay male couples are made up of two financially-independent adults without children. However, our research showed that love and relationship problems are the most frequent cause mentioned by gay men to explain depression or suicide attempts. Therefore, breakups are far from innocuous and can actually have serious health consequences.
In general, gay couples are doing quite well with more than half of gay men saying that these different sources of tension do not affect them at all. Outside sexual relationships are the most frequent source of tension among gay couples but in a relatively marginal way (12%). Deciding upon leisure activities as a couple and sexual difficulties rank second and third, respectively. These assessments come from a majority of gay men who have only had short-term relationships. For long-term couples. these findings would most likely be different. It might come as a surprise that sharing leisure activities as a couple would be a source for tension. Nevertheless, being used to living alone means that gay men develop living habits and friendships which are vital to their well-being which they do not necessarily wish to give up for activities with their partner. Being in a relationship does not necessarily mean living together with your partner or spending all of your time together. The ideal model for a heterosexual couple is not always the best way to guarantee the longevity and quality of a relationship.
This data confirms and reinforces the focus-group findings. 90% of gay men say they really want to have a relationship. The gap between desire and reality is a source of anxiety and sometimes suffering, particularly for young gay men, who seeking a loving relationship, arrive to a community which on first sight and on the surface mostly wants multiple sexual encounters. The fact that many gays experience numerous failed relationships feeds into a pessimistic discourse about the possibility of constructing long-term relationships in the gay community and leads some to even doubt their own ability to maintain a relationship.
When questioned about their needs when seeking sexual partners, gay men gave these responses. As you can see, most gays basically express the need to not be lonely anymore and share moments of tenderness. Real or virtual gay meeting places, which tend to be highly sexualized, actually offer few opportunities to respond to these expectations. LGBT associations have to create more spaces and social activities to respond to these needs. It is still rare nowadays to see two men hold hands or kiss each other on the street. Displays of affection are also quite rare in gay media. This lack of public and media displays of love or affection among gay men tends to reduce homosexuality to sexual behavior.