Please feel free to skip this episode if you think information about my sex life will leave you feeling queasy. This episode is about my sex life.
I’ve marked this as explicit on Apple Podcasts because of discussion of sex.
Here are some links relating to sex work and decriminalisation:
Spark London: Sex Worker stories part 1
Spark London: Sex Worker stories part 2
The difference between legalisation and decriminalisation explained in The New Statesman
An excellent open letter to Amnesty in support of their change of policy towards advocating decriminalisation
A comment piece in The Guardian about the effects of whorephobia.
A transcript of this episode is below.
You can find the podcast and subscribe on Apple Podcasts here.
Hi. Here’s a content note before I start this episode: I’m going to talk about sex. So family members and any friends who do not want to have to picture me as a sexual being might want to skip this one.
I look at people who have sex regularly a little like I imagine a penguin might look at a bird who can fly. Which would be fine – I mean, it’s interesting enough just to look, right? – but I miss having that kind of contact with another human being. Physical contact. The giving and receiving of pleasure.
A couple of years ago, I thought I might have found a solution. Over four or five months, I occasionally met and had sex with an opera singer. A very lovely man who was attractive and gentlemanly and attached to someone who was not faithful to him. I say we met occasionally. I think it was four times altogether, in four different cities. I think he was quite fond of me, actually, but I knew that he wasn’t offering anything more than these occasional meetings. And I didn’t want anything more than that. And we talked about it. It was really clear. But, in any case, while he was in England, his phone didn’t pick up any of the texts I sent him and that made things awkward. And then, the last time we met, which was on my 34th birthday as it happens, in Berlin, I had the feeling that he wasn’t that into it any more. He’d bought me a pair of socks, which was sweet. And we haven’t found ourselves in the same city again since then.
So, it had been just over a year and I was feeling pretty down anyway and a little lonely and a little like I wanted somebody to touch me in a sexual way and… well, let’s just say that, at that point, I might well have decided to go to a sex worker. And, if I had, I would almost certainly have paid for an erotic massage.
And what would really appeal to me about that, I think, would be the permission it would give me to be completely passive in this encounter. Not just in the technical sense; not ‘passive’ as a euphemism for being penetrated. I mean passive in the real sense. In the sense of not doing anything. Just letting somebody else do everything. And I think it would be important to me that I was paying because what I’d be paying for would be the privilege of not having to worry about whether or not he was having a good time. It would be none of my business whether or not he was having a good time. He would be working. And, while I would hope that he does find pleasure in his work, I appreciate that that’s not always how it goes. And, at the time we’re talking about, I didn’t have any emotional energy to dedicate to worrying about that.
And, OK, just to get this out of the way, in case it’s not already clear: I have no moral or ethical objection to the idea of sex work; I support the decriminalisation of sex work. As a way of working towards reducing the stigma experienced by sex workers and, perhaps more importantly – although the two things are very much connected – as a way of working towards helping sex workers stay safer.
I appreciate that many of the people who are against the decriminalisation of sex work are trying to fight trafficking and exploitation but, while I absolutely agree with them about the importance of that fight, I’m persuaded that criminalising sex work is not the way to go about it. As with the war on drugs, it seems to me that criminalisation at any level – of workers or clients – makes it harder and not easier to protect the people who are the most vulnerable. In any case, I don’t think it’s helpful to assume that nobody would do sex work unless they were coerced. There are sex workers who talk very articulately about this and I’ll put some links in the description.
Now, I realise that, as a client, I’d be firmly on the dirty side of this equation in any case. And I’m sure I’d feel ashamed of having paid for sex. Partly because of that. Partly because I still feel as though I should feel ashamed of wanting sex at all, which is something that I am trying to work through but it’s a slow process, and partly because I feel as though, here in the UK, in the second decade of the third millennium, as an outwardly prepossessing gay man in my thirties, I shouldn’t have any difficulty finding someone to have sex with. Any number of someones. It’s embarrassing – shameful, even – to admit that I can’t make that happen.
Actually, shall I tell you a dirty story at this point? So this is about passive sex in the euphemistic sense. Well, in both senses, I suppose. Because, as part of an earlier attempt to tackle the lack of sex in my life, I went to Chariots in Shoreditch, which is a sex club for men who want to have sex with men. And not long after I arrived, I saw an attractive guy and we made eye contact and I followed him into the sauna and we started touching each other. And… and that was the good part. That was great. Then, on my suggestion, we went into one of those rooms they have for more private sex. They’re like cubicles: really cold, really hard, really easy to clean. And I was totally turned off by that. So this guy asked me what I wanted and I said I didn’t know. I mean, I just wanted the whole thing to feel sexy, which it didn’t any more. And, I think I ended up giving him a blowjob and he came weakly onto his own stomach and we said goodbye.
And then, I was sitting by the pool – it’s one of the features of Chariots, the pool – wondering if I should call it a day and a different guy came and sat next to me. He said he’d caught sight of me earlier in the showers and asked me if I was a bottom. I said, honestly, that my previous experience of bottoming had been pretty disastrous but that I could really imagine enjoying it in the right circumstances. He asked me if I wanted to try it with him. And I thought to myself: yeah, OK, why not, I’m here, after all. So we went and found ourselves a cubicle. He had some lube and a condom. And, when he took his towel off – and, really, I wish this story had a different ending – but he genuinely had the biggest penis I have ever seen. And I’ve watched porn. So I said: ‘Look, I’m sorry, I… I just don’t think it’s going to happen.’ And he said: ‘Give it a chance.’ So I did and he did his best with his tongue and his fingers to relax me.
And… the reason I tell this is that, at that point, feeling completely ridiculous, with my bum in the air and my face more or less resting on the concrete slab that does service as a bed, I realised… it wasn’t unpleasant… it wasn’t pleasant… it was nothing at all. There wasn’t really any sensation. There was this disassociation between my head and the rest of my body that I’ve experienced at other times when I’ve been trying to have sex with somebody. And I’ve always thought it has to do with a rejection of intimacy. I mean, it doesn’t always happen but it does sometimes happen. And it just made me think… I mean… at that moment, I couldn’t help feeling that an inability to deal with even this most fleeting kind of intimacy must be a basic failure of my homosexuality. This is what being gay is supposed to be about, right?
And I realise that I’m being hard on myself but all of this contributes to my feeling that sex, certainly sex in a non-transactional context, is pretty much inaccessible to me. Dating seems too difficult because I fall hardest for people who are not really interested – I’ve talked about that already – casual sex seems too difficult because, all too often, I end up being unable to feel anything. And something in between… well, as I say, I’ve only ever found one guy that that worked with and it only worked four times.
So let’s imagine that I went to a sex worker. And that it was an interesting experience. In this scenario, we’ll say that I found a website – a nice, well-made website with photos and reviews – and that I called the number. We’ll say that I was given an appointment and told where to go. I should bring cash, we’ll have the guy say, and arrive on time; I shouldn’t lurk about outside. And let’s say that I went to the place, rang the doorbell and was told to come on up. Perhaps I pass someone in the hallway. When I get into the flat, Luis (or whatever his name is; something believably Spanish, anyway) gives me a hug and asks me if I want to have a shower, which I do. Then I lie down on the bed and he gives me a massage. I’m not going to imagine that it was a particularly excellent massage, but we might as well make it pleasurable. We’ll say that Luis didn’t make me feel awkward and that he was respectful towards me. I like to hope that I’d have been respectful towards him. We’ll have me there for an hour, maybe an hour and a half and, because I am committing to this, let’s imagine that I leave feeling that it had been nice but that the fact that it hadn’t been a shared pleasure made me feel a little sad. If anyone were to ask me about it, I might say that I don’t know if I would go again.
But let’s imagine that, while I was there, the two of us had some conversation and that I asked Luis about himself. I don’t imagine that he’d have told me the truth exactly. But perhaps he’d have told me that he’d come to the UK from Spain to study Sports Science because he wanted to become a personal trainer and that this was a way of earning some money to keep him going until he graduated. We’ll say that he was good looking in his late twenties or early thirties with a nice body and a friendly but slightly stiff manner.
Perhaps I would have been crass enough to ask him if he enjoyed doing sex work. If I had, I’m sure he’d have given me the answer I deserved. I mean he would have said that he liked it because it meant that he got to meet nice people like me. Later, when he asked me to leave some feedback on the website, because his boss keeps an eye on that kind of thing, he’d have told me again that he enjoys doing this because he gets to meet nice people like me.
And I don’t really know how to end this story. I feel as though lots of people would have opinions about what I did, what Luis does, what each of us should do. There are lots of things I wouldn’t have any way of knowing. I wouldn’t know why Luis does this kind of work. I wouldn’t know how bearable he finds it. I wouldn’t know whether he is exploited, which is the thing that would put me at risk of prosecution. I think the thing that would make me most uncomfortable would be his casual mention of his boss. And that, incidentally, for anybody who’s interested, would also be what would make what he does illegal in this country. Just that.
All in all, I wish there were a better, easier, safer way of paying for sex. Better, easier, safer for everyone involved, I mean.
And, because I’m sure you’re wondering, I suppose I should probably tell you that, at time of recording, I’ve just passed my 36th birthday.
So. Thanks for listening. This has been the 5th Museling. You can find out more about the podcast at muselings.uk. I’m Charles Adrian and you can find me on Twitter as @charldrian. Don’t forget that you can review this on iTunes. You can certainly rate it. You can also like it on Soundcloud. And… OK. That’s it. Thanks. I know I’ve already said that but I mean it. Thanks.
This web page and its contents © Charles Adrian Gillott October 2020