Gay Sex is Fun

This speech was presented as part of the Noted Festival Event on Thursday the 5th of May: ‘AIDS Action Council presents Gay Sex is Fun’.

Thank you to Noted for inviting me to speak and for the AIDS Action Council of the ACT for putting on this excellent event.

Speech

Growing up as a man who is attracted to men I very early on became aware that my life was supposedly going to be a lot harder than many others.

When I came out to my mother for example she said her only worry was that my homosexuality would make my life harder. My first relationship with a boy, one that lasted a huge three weeks (that’s a long time for a teenager), ended after he decided that he could not be gay and that he would be straight from now on. Based on his regular appearances on my Grindr feed I assume that has not worked out. But I still remember thinking that that would never occur if I were straight. And even now, when insisting we’re all ‘born this may’ many gays demand that “of course I’m born gay, who would choose this?” It’s like homosexuality is exactly what our protractors say it is; a disease from which we should all wish we were cured.

Now, I do not want to deny that gay lives have been and remain hard. Discrimination, repression and violence towards gay people remains rife.

Yet, at the same time, I feel an intense need to say, fuck that! Fuck this idea that being gay is a thing that’d we’d all want to avoid like the plague. Fuck the idea that it is something no one would choose.

I say this not just because gay sex — that which happens between a monogamous couple with the hope that one day this sex will be legitimised by the state and that next time the wedding rings will have to be taken off before the fingering begins — is fun, although I am sure it is.

I’m saying it because the very nature of being gay has the potential to open up a range of sexual possibilities, ones that I know I likely would never had explored if I were straight.

***

I first went to a sex-on-premises venue, at least with the full intent of having sex, in my favourite city in the world, Berlin.

It was 2015, not that long ago, and after years of thinking about finally going to one. This year my partner Martyn, and I, went to a famous gay sauna: Der Boiler.

I remember the day clearly. It was a Sunday, the time we were told Der Boiler got the busiest, and Martyn and I were both nervous. We started the day by going to the Schules Museum – or ‘gay museum’, which was having an exhibition on the history of gay porn. Yet even this could hardly get us going, with us bot walking around with pits in our stomachs with the fear of what this experience would actually be like. Like is often the case for me, studying and reading about porn was easy, but the thought of participating later on made me hella nervous.

Finally however, as the morning became afternoon, we found our courage, got the subway to the closest stop, and walked in.

Walking into a sauna, I have come to realise, is a weird experience. Berlin is a capital of gay sex – the city is full of huge advertisements for the ‘Dildo King’ — yet even in this place, Der Boiler is hid down an alley-way behind an almost unmarked door. You would have no idea what it is unless you were looking for it. But I guess that is the point.

Der boiler is huge. It sits on three levels. The entrance is on the middle floor, alongside a café and bar where you can sit and relax or get some food between your fucking. On the top floor is a room full of hundreds of lockers, alongside a few computers where you can access the Internet. It’s a very-old school Internet café style area.

Down the bottom is where all the fun happens – a huge space demarcated into different sections – a spa, saunas, showers and chilling space at the front; a steam room sex maze behind one door, and then to the side a labyrinth full of lockable cubby holes, rooms to watch porn, others containing slings and whips for the more adventurous, and finally, a huge maze full of nooks, crannies and glory holes where sex can occur in any minute.

Martyn and I take our clothes off in the locker area, desperately trying to cover ourselves with our towel so no one peers, as if we’ve forgotten what we’re here for. Then we walk in to the main room, having absolutely no idea what to do. So we sit on a bench right next to the spa. For ten minutes, or maybe more, we just watch, almost silently, both of us unspeakably terrified.

The first thing that strikes me is how totally different this is to any place I’ve ever been. I’m shocked that there are no men having sex in this room. I realise at that point that I had no idea how I expected the sex to occur in this place, but I was stunned that it was not happening right in front of me.

Instead however you have this kind of bizarre, yet nicely relaxed atmosphere. Some guys are sitting, like us, having a drink, chatting with others, or watching a movie in one of the two movie rooms. But others just walk around casually, checking each other out, moving intermittently between places, trying to figure out what, or most like who, to do next. Sometimes these men would sit down, maybe trying to catch the eye of someone cute across the room, but inevitably they’d just look around, then get up and move again; going to the next place.

I admit that both of us almost gave up at this point, deciding this was too much. But we give in one more shot, deciding at least that given we’ve spent the money we should relax a little, and so we get into the huge spa.

There’s something about a spa that makes everybody relax, and this one certainly did for us. We began to feel more comfortable chatting a bit more in here, both between ourselves and with others. Every ten minutes or so we have a funny conversation as the spa turns off and someone has to get up to press the button that says “Sprudler” in big letters.

As we sit there we notice one door. A door to somewhere dark, steamy, and a little mysterious.  We wonder if it’s just another sauna, until we start noticing that the majority of the men leave with their dick still hard, quickly covering themselves with a towel as they walk out.

After spending ages debating what is behind that door, finally we get the courage to give it a go.

The first sense you get of this room is the shear heat. This sexual maze is like a proper sauna, hot and steamy, with every corner or little room, and everything that is occurring within, hidden behind the fog. The heat means you can’t stay long – 5, or 10 minutes at max. This is a place for short encounters.

The first time we go in Martyn and I just walk around, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. We watch as men take each other into the crevices, staring briefly as others go down on each other right in front of us. We learn some of the social cues, the techniques for how it is done. And then we leave, hot, and turned on, but ready to explore it more.

With each entry, buttressed by more time in the spa, we get more adventurous; touching other guys here and there, going down on some, or letting others suck us off briefly, until they, or we’d had enough.

This was a sexual experience like I’ve never had before. And this was not just due to the sheer number of men — at any time I reckon there could have been 20 or 30 people in that room.

What made it different was the total unpredictable spontaneity. Sometimes you would go in and it would be dead. We’d walk around for a few minutes before heading back for the relative coolness outside. But then at others times the action would be intense — in an instant a quiet corner could suddenly have ten guys in it. Sometimes one lucky dude would be on his knees being given a veritable buffet of dicks to suck one. At one point I ended up against a wall, making out with one dude, while I jerked off one more, and while another sucked my dick at the same time.

But as these scenes developed, then, just as quickly, they would dissipate. Men would get distracted, bored, too hot, or maybe just satisfied, and within a moment the multitude of guys surrounding you are gone, just like that. You never really know what you were going to get the next time you entered.

This was what we did for hours. In and out of that room, and the less-steamy maze next to it, sometimes getting some fun, at other times walking around with no success, but happily doing so. In between we’d go to the spa, chat, relax, and just enjoy ourselves. Over all we did this for something like eight hours, until eventually we took one guy into a cubby hole, finishing him and us off in the process.

***

Now I don’t tell you this story to get you all hard and horny and ready to go to your nearest sauna, although that would be a nice side effect.

I tell you because for me this highlights one of the most amazing things about being gay. If I were heterosexual this experience is one I’d never have had. I almost certainly would have entered a monogamous relationship, got married, and maybe lived happily ever after.

Instead I met my boyfriend James when I was 18, who helped me open up a bunch of different sexual doors, ones that I think would have been a lot harder to access if we had a world of straight expectations placed upon us.

When you come out as gay you break one of the biggest social barriers in our society — you buck a system of compulsory heterosexuality that has defined us for centuries. In doing so it suddenly becomes a lot easier to realise how arbitrary many of our other sexual norms are. It becomes easier to see the idea that we’re only allowed to have missionary sex on the new white sheets of the marital home, is kind of ridiculous.

The terrifying thing is though that many gays want to close these places down. In the UK conservative gay commentator James Wharton has said these places must be shit as they “thorns in our side that mark our community as different for the wrong reasons.” Many others blamed saunas for the spread of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. Political campaigns to normalise gays with a tone of ‘respectability’ are shunning these venues, and gentrification in places such as London is resulting in some of them closing down.

But to me this is the very essence of being gay. It’s about being different, doing things differently, and having great fun in doing so.

I’ve been to saunas many times since this first visit, and will likely go many times more. Many other gays still go to beats, or sex or fetish parties, or engage in dom and sub behaviours online or in real life. Others, including me, shun norms of monogamy, entering polyamorous relationships, cruising on Grindr for their next sexual experience, or both!

Each and every one of these is an expression of the difference of gays, a difference we should be celebrating. And that is why gay sex is such great fun.

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