A friend asked me recently whether gay men of my generation are less inclined towards anonymous sex. As a gay man around 15 years older than me, his observation followed a complaint — going to saunas. There seemed to be fewer and fewer young gay men willing to get messy in the dark with someone whose name was either “wanna fuck” or “show me your fingernails”.
He speculated that my generation’s penchant for sauna and beat sex had been replaced by a hard-on for monogamy. Instead of stumbling from bar to bath house on a Tuesday night, he saw a brave new world where young gay men went home to bed, scanning Grindr profiles for the words “long-term relationship” with one hand while clutching a bridal magazine in the other.
My friend’s hypothesis was this: Gay men are coming out younger and having their rabid sexual urges fulfilled as teenagers, leaving them open to the joys of monogamy in their 20s. I’ve heard this kind of speculation before, and it’s hard not to view gay men coming out well into adulthood like kids in a sexual lolly shop.
I think the story is a bit more complicated though. For a start, young gay men are clearly still having anonymous sex. I think he’s probably right about it happening less, but I don’t think all that displaced sexual energy has been channelled into the search for monogamous bliss.
In my experience – personal and anecdotal – younger gay men clearly have some drive towards an almost marital kind of monogamy but, like all men, don’t want to commit to anything. Instead we get semi-casual relationships where guys say things like, “You know I’m still sleeping with other people, right?” and “I don’t really do boyfriends”. It’s as lame as it sounds, and also a little sad.
As queers become more accepted in mainstream Australian society, the pressure to have what everyone else has (spouse, house, kids) bears down on young gay men. So even if they want it, it’s hard to dismiss something deeply shameful attached to the naked pursuit of sex in somewhere like a sauna, a place impossible to dress up as anything other than what it is. Grindr plays an important role here, providing no-strings-attached sex within the pretence of a dating service.
As same-sex marriage looms on the horizon, I wonder whether it will become harder for us to negotiate these competing expectations and desires. On one hand we have the crushing expectation of stability, monogamy and a house in the suburbs, on the other, the shame of wanting to go out quietly in the middle of the night and fuck.