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A mixed-orientation marriage is a marriage between partners of differing sexual orientations. The broader term is mixed-orientation relationship and both terms are often shortened to MOM and MOR respectively.
The people involved in such a marriage may not be romantically or sexually compatible, for example if the marriage is between a heterosexual male and a homosexual female. The term also applies when one of the partners involved is asexual or aromantic, leading to a mixed desire for sexual activity or romantic activity.
The marriage of an asexual to a sexual is one in which the asexual partner either does not experience sexual desire or attraction, or experiences low desire or attraction. These marriages are often based on romantic love, however they experience challenges around sexual relations. For the asexual partner, the word "compromise" is used by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network community to label the act of consenting to have sex with their partner for their partner's benefit. Sex simply does not occur to the asexual and, for this reason, it is most frequently up to the sexual partner to initiate. People in these marriages may need to address certain questions of acceptability, such as whether the sexual partner must be monogamous.
Approximately one third of all mixed-orientation couples stay married. Open communication both within and without the marriage are cited as factors which support marriage, as well as the presence of children. Bisexual-heterosexual marriages face external misunderstandings regarding the bisexual spouse's sexual orientation as either gay or straight, while peer support is cited as a helpful factor. Successful bisexual-heterosexual marriages "expanded their concept of sexual orientation to encompass dual attraction and assume marital sex as a given".
Marriage between homosexual and heterosexual partners
A study on the nature of mixed-orientation marriages was conducted in 2002 at Deakin University, Australia. This study was conducted on 26 men: of these 26 men, 50% thought they were gay before their mixed-orientation marriage and 85% identified as gay after their mixed-orientation marriage. An interesting finding of this study is that, "the two most common reasons cited (for engaging in mixed-orientation marriages) were that it 'seemed natural' (cited by 65.4%), and that they 'wanted children and family life' (65.4%)". This finding is later contrasted with an earlier study, "These (two) reasons seem different from the most frequent ones found by Ross (1983) which focused on social expectancy and concerns over homosexuality." Though these and other findings are of great intrigue, there are limitations as to what can be extrapolated from the data and the author of the Deakin University study agrees, "Further research with men, women and children of these 'mixed-orientation marriages' is needed to develop a theoretical understanding of the causes, processes and impact of marriage (and marriage-breakdown) in gay and bisexual men."
A different study conducted in 1993 found that unfaithful marriages between a heterosexual woman and a homosexual man, where the man engages in homosexual activity, have a high probability of failure.
Joe Kort, a counselor specializing in mixed-orientation marriages, said "These men genuinely love their wives. They fall in love with their wives, they have children, they're on a chemical, romantic high, and then after about seven years, the high falls away and their gay identity starts emerging. They don't mean any harm." While many hide their orientation from their spouse, others tell their spouse before marriage. Research indicates that some people identify as exclusively heterosexual in behavior and fantasies before marriage, but grow toward a more homosexual orientation during marriage.
One case study of a single mixed-orientation marriage led to speculation that heterosexual women in mixed-orientation marriages may be attracted to homosexual men and proceed to marry them. Kort said that "straight individuals rarely marry gay people accidentally". He theorized that some heterosexual women find homosexual men less judgmental and more flexible, while others unconsciously seek partnerships that are not sexually passionate. This claim, however, is widely disputed.
Approximately 30 percent of the straight spouses who contact the Straight Spouse Network for support are men.
A mixed-orientation marriage in which the sexual orientation of the partners is not compatible can serve to cover up one's sexual orientation, sometimes for purposes of maintaining or advancing one's career, especially a highly public career. In this case, it is sometimes called a lavender marriage in popular writing. The heterosexual companion is in this case sometimes called a beard in slang.
Heterosexual wives of homosexual men who did not know of their husband's sexual orientation may feel deceived or blame themselves for not having known. Fear of encountering social disapproval or ostracism often makes it difficult for them to seek support from family and friends. Findings suggest that heterosexual wives struggled less with the homosexuality itself than with problems of isolation, stigma, loss, cognitive confusion and dissonance, and lack of knowledgeable, empathic support or help in problem solving.
Sexual relationship disorder
A person who is either in a mixed-orientation marriage or wishes to enter into one may go to therapy or support groups to deal with issues involved in that type of marriage. "A significant number of men and women experience conflict surrounding homosexual expression within marriage." "Although a strong homosexual identity was associated with difficulties in marital satisfaction, viewing the same-sex activities as compulsive facilitated commitment to the marriage and to monogamy." Research by Coleman suggest that some develop a positive homosexual identity while maintaining a successful marriage. Therapy may include helping the client feel "more comfortable and accepting of same-sex feelings and to explore ways of incorporating same-sex and opposite-sex feelings into life patterns". "Peers provide the most support, while therapists are often unfamiliar with sexual orientation, mixed orientation couples, or societal attitudes that impact mixed orientation families."
Approximately one third of marriages end immediately when the bisexual or homosexual spouse reveals his or her sexual orientation, whereas another third end after a short period of time. The remaining third attempt to continue the marriage successfully. In this case, the most successful marriages reassess their relationship in light of the sexual orientation.
Some bisexual men express with minimal conflict their homosexual and heterosexual impulses within the framework of a mixed-orientation marriage, with openness and communication being a key factor.
Support groups are available for those involved in a mixed-orientation marriage. The New York Times states "Although precise numbers are impossible to come by, 10,000 to 20,000 wives of gay husbands have contacted online support groups, and increasing numbers of them are women in their 20s or 30s."
Many heterosexual men and women in mixed-orientation marriages find confidential peer to peer support through the Straight Spouse Network, which has contacts throughout the United States and Canada, and affiliated groups worldwide.
Divorce is one possible resolution for the homosexual partner, potentially with remarriage to person of the same sex. Gay and lesbian people who come out late in life may have children from a previous heterosexual marriage.
The theme of mixed-orientation marriages in literature dates back at least to 1889 with the publication of A Marriage Below Zero by Alfred J. Cohen (writing under the pseudonym Chester Allan Dale). Cohen's heterosexual female narrator was married to a homosexual man. Cohen believed that women should be aware of the sexual orientation of a potential husband so they would avoid marrying a homosexual man. Lesbian pulp fiction sometimes included married women exploring their attraction to other women. Other examples of the theme include Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx, which features two married cowboys in love with each other.
The filmed version of Brokeback Mountain helped bring the issue of mixed-orientation marriages to public attention, but several other movies had already dealt with the issue. Talk shows, such as Oprah, have also addressed this situation, as did TLC's controversial 2015 reality show My Husband's Not Gay about gay Mormon men married to women. Some of the movies and TV shows that deal with mixed-orientation marriages include:
- American Beauty
- Brokeback Mountain – A story about two cowboys, both married, who fall in love with each other.
- Crustacés et Coquillages – A married man (re)discovers his suppressed homosexual desires while spending his summer holidays with his wife and his two children.
- De-Lovely – The story of Cole Porter, a gay man, and his wife, Linda Lee Thomas.
- Far From Heaven – The story of a woman whose husband has an affair with another man.
- Imagine Me & You – Story of a straight woman who falls in love with a lesbian at her wedding.
- Mulligans – The story of a gay man who spends the summer with his best friend's family and begins an affair with the father.
- The Wedding Banquet – Story of a gay Taiwanese immigrant man who marries a mainland Chinese woman to placate his parents and get her a green card.
- The 1996 episode of The Simpsons titled "A Fish Called Selma" parodies the notion of a lavender marriage. Troy McClure marries Selma Bouvier to conceal his unusual sexual desire for fish/aquatic animals.
- In the television show Degrassi: The Next Generation, the character Ashley Kerwin was raised by parents in a lavender marriage.
- In the Japanese manga series and film "Love My Life", the main character's parents have been in a lavender marriage for the purposes of silencing their relatives and becoming parents.
- In the television show Samantha Who? (2007–2009), the character Andrea Belladonna agrees to marry gay basketball player Tony Dane.
- The Playboy Club, a 2011 television series on NBC, includes the marriage of a lesbian and a gay man who are members of the Chicago chapter of the Mattachine Society.
- In James Frey's 2008 novel Bright Shiny Morning, the homosexual actor Amberton Parker and lesbian actress Casey Parker wed to conceal their sexual orientations.
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