Under gay capitalism, sex has become a commodity where our bodies and desires have been objectified into meaningless transactions that leave us feeling even more alone. But that doesn't mean we have to live this way. In this episode, we discuss the joys of turning our backs on casual sex and explore how to achieve real intimacy with one another. (Disclaimer: all names have been changed).
A Love Surrender Production. Created and written by Goran D and Mitchell J.
Music credits for this episode:
Acoustic/Folk Instrumental by Hyde
Adrenaline by Mamoune Taleb
Better Days by Bensound
The Hunt by Holfix
Solitude by NightmareOwl
Energy by MorningLightMusic
Dawn of Life by Paul Reeves
Hope by Ghostrifter
The train only comes every two hours on a weekend. Sometimes, it doesn’t show up at all; or else it speeds past like a teenager rushing out of the school gates, stopping for no one.
On a Saturday evening, I – for once – have plans. No more staying in my bedroom with walls that drip stinging solitude. I’m going to the city to see a concert, an obscure band that would never play here in this coastal kind-of-city where I’ve lived for too long. The train arrives, only a few minutes late, which barely counts as anything, and when I step into the carriage, I spot a woman I know from my time at university.
This woman’s presence comforts me: the train trip takes close to three hours and, although I’m armed with a book, I would rather save this for the journey back. I imagine that the two of us can talk, as we once did when I was a student. But after the initial hello and what are you doing now? there’s nothing left to say. I take a seat alone, and begin to read.
An older man walks past me, flicking something before sitting two rows ahead and opposite me, nursing a beer bottle in a brown paper bag. The scrunched-up piece of paper lands on my backpack like a mistake. Rubbish, something that’s fallen from his jacket. It has to be. I think of brushing it off until I see words written in pen. Then I’m pretty sure what the message is going to say: faggot, die, fucking gays, all the words I’ve heard before. And part of me understands that I’ve brought all this on myself: I’ve spoken in a public place, drawn attention to my feminine voice by talking to the woman I once knew. Why didn’t I just stay silent? All I had to do was sit down and be still for three hours. Now someone wants to kill me.
Would love to have sex with you.
The seven words spread fear through me faster than a virus: in a second, probably even less, I’m on the edge of a cliff, knowing I have stepped too far and the ground will give way within moments. Do I leap now, while my feet are still on the ground? Or do I wait until the earth eventually swallows me? I try not to look at him, but I can’t help not: he isn’t so much a person as a shadow, something that can spring from nowhere, the storm that strikes a sunny day without warning.
Days pass, a world changes before the train crawls sluggishly to its final destination. This is my chance: I am a gazelle who is in the sight of a lion. Speed and agility are my only weapons in a fight I cannot win, but can possibly allay. The slurrish scent of booze emanates stronger than my fear. At least he’s drunk: he might be slower, might lose his way. Once other passengers rise to their feet, I leap and sandwich myself between enough of them to create a barricade separating me from him. But he’s quick, this one, he’s on his feet and trying to break through. He knows what he wants, and is determined to get it. I keep pushing ahead, even dare to glimpse behind me and see whether he is approaching. He is. And when the carriage doors open, I dive onto the platform and run so fast in any direction that I’m not sure I will ever stand still again.
I didn’t know it then, but in the weeks to come, I would pack my things and move to the city. No more long train rides for me, though I will still feel myself being watched under the hungry, hunter eyes of men for years to come.
Goran (Part 1):
“Let me drop these bloody bags first,” I tell my mum while making my way to the hallway of our home in Bosnia.
At 35, I’ve come home to see my parents for the Christmas break.
Being home awakens so many memories in me: my parents fighting over my father’s gambling debt, my first visit to the dentist, my sister and I arriving at the airport for my flight to Australia, both sobbing knowing that I’m leaving forever, and we won’t see each other again for a very, very long time. Seven years to be exact.
“Just leave them in your old room, hon,” Mum calls. “I fixed the bed and everything!”
I enter my childhood room and at first glance it seems like I've never left. My school bag is still sitting next to the door where I dropped it that day, a 12-bass accordion on which I had my first music lessons when I was about 7 neatly packed in a hard-shell carrying case.
“She kept it as a kind of museum” I utter, trying to hold back tears.
This small room painted green used to be big enough to accommodate my sister, me, a bunk bed, our stories, dreams and secrets.
“Your dad needs me to pick him up from the liquor store,” Mum calls out from downstairs. “I tell you, all these men go nuts when they turn 70!”
She slams the front door so hard it nearly came off its hinges. I collapse on my old tiny bed covered with my childhood toys, an enclitic collection of characters that includes He-man action figurines and barbie dolls, all smelling of moisture and dust.
After a while, my eyes turn to a wooden closet on my left. This is not any closet. It is THE closet. It is the same closet I've been hiding in for a good part of my life. Growing up gay in Bosnia creates a very strong bond between your closet and you. After a while you sort of start missing it. Weird, I know.
Suddenly, I jump up and start circling around it like a starved animal around its pray. I am glancing at it from different sides, observing it underneath and above. At one point I find enough strength in me to get closer. My steps land slow and my breath is soundless. I grab the handle and start opening the DOOR, gently trying to avoid anyone noticing. But who could notice when I’m home alone? Or am I not?
And just before I step in, out of the blue, a hand reaches from inside and pulls back the doors. I can hear keys turning in the lock.
“What the fuck!” I gasp in shock, realising I was just busted. 29
For much of my twenties I was fearful that, at some point, I would be raped. My experience on the train, and other incidents that followed, would make me believe it was inevitable. So many men I met joked about rape as if that’s all it was; something light and humorous. One night, I fell asleep with a scrawny man who put his arm around me and giggled: “I’m going to rape you in your sleep.”
Sex, to most men, was so easy, like grocery shopping or taking out the rubbish. It wasn’t that I feared intimacy. In fact, I would have loved to have taken the hand of another and felt the butterfly beat of a pulse that was not mine.
It’s just that, unlike so many of the gay men I knew and still know, I cannot take the heart-thudding plunge and participate in a culture of hook-ups with complete strangers entering and leaving at any hour without giving so much as their name. I know that plenty of men will argue I am prudishly old-fashioned; they will say NSA is liberating, it’s freedom. I disagree.
People as a whole have the most simplistic attitudes towards sex. We think that it’s essential as water and anyone who doesn’t want it is something of an aberration. Voracious sexual appetites are celebrated, encouraged even, yet no one wants or even tries to understand asexuality, celibacy or just the decision to wait for someone who you feel a genuine connection to. At best, these choices are the butts of crude jokes.
I remember once, going on a date with a science teacher the same age as me.
The spark we had experienced online did not transpire to real life, and when he tried to kiss me, I told him that was not how I felt.
“Did something happen to you?” he almost spat. “Like, were you molested as a child?”
He isn’t the first person to make this assumption, a guess based on nothing more than my gauche presence. How do I begin to even answer? And do I really need to?
Whether it’s romantic attraction or just liking someone as a person, it is hard, often impossible, for me to pretend something that isn’t there. In fact, that’s one of the things I like most about myself. It’s not that I haven’t gone home with a stranger before, but when I did, I could never shake the feeling that when most men were with me, they weren’t quite sure if I really was one of them. Maybe it’s because part of me was never completely there in those strange bedrooms. I’d already left.
Goran (Part 2)
“Let me in” I am appealing to the person in the closet to be reasonable.“I’ve travelled from the other side of the world to tell you this and you wouldn’t even let me in?”
Suddenly the door opens, and I can hear a gentle male voice coming from the depths of the closet:
"Does it get better?" the voice asks.
“It does get better. If you are handsome!” I respond carelessly. The door slams shut with a bang.
"Don't get angry with me like that! I was just kidding. No, I mean I was not kidding but it's not all that bleak. There is so much to love in gay life…”
"Such as?" the voice is clearly annoyed.
“You will love rough sex, nipple play, rimming, edging…
"What are you talking about?" it interrupts me with contempt.
"Don’t be a prude Goran. You are such a romantic right now, but things will change. You will be the one buying flowers and chocolates for your dates, they will come over to your place with a selection of lubricants and amyl. You will write poems and love letters, they will live stream videos of them cumming. You will dream of getting an engagement ring, the only ring they will offer is a cock-ring.”
"Stop it. You're disgusting” the voice pleads.
I edge closer to the closet and sit right next to it.
“Let me explain you a few things” …I whisper to myself hiding inside it. “In the beginning, you will have sex once, twice a year, and only when you meet someone you really care about. You will enjoy sex with all your senses. You will put your heart and soul into every kiss. Damn, you will love kissing. But as time goes on and your heart gets broken, you will start having sex more, but you will enjoy it less and less. They will tell you that having sex is all that gay men are supposed to do. That’s all you need to be a happy gay man. The ultimate liberty.
You will believe it at first. Sex will become a sport for you. You will prepare for it at the gym as athletes do. You will go on diets and embark on millions of sit-ups …. and then when it finally happens, when you finally meet someone who likes you – it will be all done in half an hour. The person will be gone, and you will be left worrying whether you caught something… then STD tests at the shabby sexual health clinics… then waiting for the results…those awful text messages…. you will be dying of fear and asking yourself why you do I need all this. Why are you squeezing me into this tiny little box, I don’t want to be your daddy or puppy… I am so much more than this….31
Yes, the idea of sex as ultimate freedom will soon prove to be a total lie. Actually, this pursuit of sex will feel more like a prison... Even though you will decide to play this game like everyone else, deep down you will know that being gay is much more than an erection, that the human being is more than a turn on, that beautiful and hot are not the same things.
Mitch (Part 3):
So I reached a point of giving up on sex, at least casual sex which, in the gay world, is mostly all you can find. I know most will find that sad, pathetic, the act of someone who should just try harder. Giving up is probably the wrong verb; it implies failure. Instead, I choose not to have sex with anyone I don’t love. Choice is a luxury and I figure that there is so much in life that is unavoidable: jobs we don’t really care about, homes we live in simply because that’s all we can afford. To act out of desperation or loneliness feels cheapening, more of a failure to me. A man I know told me that of course he’d rather a boyfriend, but he can’t find one, so he’s learned to settle for casual sex instead. I feel sad for him that he’s reached this conclusion, that he cannot find the strength within himself to reach some kind of happiness. There are so many studies I could cite that talk about the emotionally damaging or unfulfilling consequences of random sex, but I have never been one for statistics. Instead, I think often of words written by my favourite journalist, Elizabeth Wurtzel: “In a world gone wrong, a pure heart is dangerous.”
I tell myself that is the only way for me. To be pure. To be dangerous.
Goran (Part 3):
“So why do I…why don’t you just stop? Why do you keep doing this" –
the voice from the closet grows louder.
"Because you will spend most of your life alone, Goran. These brief intimate moments, no matter how fleeting, will often be the only opportunity for you to feel alive, needed and loved. You will become a real machine in bed, an expert on oral sex. You will be proud of that skill, hoping that one day that talent of yours might impress someone so much that he will decide to stay. But sadly… relationships that start in bed end in bed – usually in someone else's bed.”
"And how long like this?" the voice asks.
"It will take a while....You will keep wandering without a clue as to where it all leads, until one day you run into Miguel, a Spanish exchange student in Australia. Remember this name. One of those encounters in life where everything starts to make sense and you are finally able to answer all those questions that have been niggling at the back of your consciousness.
When he showed up at your door that night, you didn't even let him undress and you were already unzipping his pants. You were in your sex machine mode and all you wanted is to leave him breathless. He looked at you confused and then abruptly backed away. "You said you wanted us to watch Netflix and chill," you asked, a little offended. "Tell me if you don't like me, that's fine," you muttered in embarrassment, averting your gaze from his.
He gently lifted your face towards his eyes and said “I like you, you are a beautiful man, I just don’t have sex with people I don’t know. But I want to spend the night with you and get to know you if you allow me. We can watch movies together, talk politics, laugh, tell bad jokes. If that's not enough, I can leave. "
Still suspicious, you pointed reluctantly at the sofa in the living room. Miguel smiled, quickly took a pizza and two cans of soda out of his backpack, chose a movie and showed you to sit next to him. You smiled back and accepted the challenge. You two spent the whole night talking about his travel adventures in rural Australia. The whole apartment was buzzing with the chatter and laughter - in the end you fell asleep in each other's arms. "
"You've finally found the love of your life," exclaims my voice from the closet.
"Unfortunately, no. Miguel returned to Spain the following week. But he has given you much more than a relationship and romance can ever give. An evening spent with him changed you forever. Although he didn't give you an orgasm, Miguel gave you something that others couldn't - his respect. He showed you that you are more than a set of body parts, that you also have a normal heart, that you don't have to settle for scraps. He showed you the way back - the way to yourself. "
"When does that journey to yourself end?" the voice asked, opening the closet door wide.
I have a simple answer for this: "When you stop running away!"
MJ: Goran, you and I have both not had casual sex for one year now. In gay years, that's almost a decade! How does it feel?
GD: I feel completely liberated. I always have to emphasise this, and in a way I hate myself for doing it, but I love sex. Just because you don’t enjoy casual sex that doesn’t mean you don’t like sex or you’re bad in bed.
MJ: That's such a good point, and I'm so glad you made it because we're not by any means saying SEX IS BAD, DON'T HAVE SEX!
GD: I think I’m a lot more creative and inventive in bed than those who don’t even remember who they had sex with last week. I’m not asexual, I’m not even a prude.
GD: But until I meet someone I care about, I won't have sex. There are several reasons for this, but perhaps most importantly, casual sex leaves me empty. That feeling of faking the sense of intimacy with a complete stranger makes me cringe. Worst of all is the very ritual of looking for someone to have sex with, that terrible expression "looking"....
MJ: Looking for what?
GD: That humiliation, rejection, judgment ... for those 5 minutes of orgasm? No, thanks. I am so much better off without it.
MJ: Yeah I remember you talking about that in our first episode. I've found myself a lot happier. I know for some people it's hard, they crave a connection with someone else, so I can understand why they need it, but I don't believe that I do.
GD: I wonder what sort of connection you can create a connection with a stranger though?
MJ: true. And I definitely don't miss the feeling afterwards of having been just a piece of meat or an object. I think about the lyrics of 'Asking for It' by Hole: "Every time I sell myself to you, I feel a little bit cheaper than I need to." Because going on apps, displaying your best picture in a bid for attention - that's what it was like, as though I was a mannequin doll in a shop window trying to entice customers. 50% off! buy-one-get-one-free!
GD: You mentioned this song and the lyrics and that made me remenisce that one of the greatest gay pop-singers of today Sam Smith became famous thanks to the song “Stay with me”.
What do the lyrics of that song say:
Oh, won't you stay with me?
'Cause you're all I need
This ain't love, it's clear to see
But darling, stay with me
It is an open secret that many gay men do not really enjoy casual sex but are forced to make those concessions as that is the pretty much the only form of intimacy out there.
GD: Mitch, I was interested in your story to hear that just because you didn't want to have sex with a guy, he thought you'd been sexually abused. How did that make you feel?
MJ: Sadly, I think most of society has very black and white attitudes towards sex. You know people often say, "oh so you're religious or you're in a cult" or something when I say I don't have casual sex. And many men of all sexualities do have a real sense of entitlement that they deserve sex and there's something wrong with you if you don't give it to them. Most men: gay, bi, or straight feel it's a compliment to be considered a "slut" because in the gay world it's a badge of honour that means they're getting the lion's share of sex. Well, I don't have a lion's appetite.
GD: I'm often accused of slut-shaming people because I'm advocating for more meaningful relationships, but I actually feel that people who don't enjoy casual sex are shamed in our community, more than sluts. Being a slut is celebrated in the gay world.
MJ: You gave me Sam Smith, I'm going to give you Elizabeth Wurtzel, who wrote that: "I am proud that I have never so much as kissed a man for any reason besides absolute desire" and I am proud that I didn't sleep with someone just because I felt I should because, you know, so many people feel a pressure that they should be having sex even if they might prefer not to.
GD: So many times I've been offered sex on Grindr and I replied with: "sorry, mate, not interested in a one-night stand". And the guy comes back saying:" "Neither am I, but I wouldn't mind cuddling or kissing someone tonight".
GD: And that is sometimes all that we want. The closeness and warmth of another body, the tenderness, the feeling that someone cares about you, no matter how fleeting or elusive that feeling is... we often forget how lonely gay men are. But sex is the wrong remedy. It is a bad therapist. Trust me I know. I tried it.
MJ: We've got a question from James in Vancouver. He asks: Do you think that Prep has made gay men even more consumed with sex than before? What are your thoughts on how Prep has changed the dynamics of the gay community?
GD: I know it will shock some, but I wasn't a huge fan of PreP at first. Today I am somewhat neutral on this issue. I personally don't use PreP. I don't like the idea that HIV-negative men are taking medications that indisputably have side-effects just because they don’t want to use condoms. And it worries me that this might slow down finding an HIV vaccine that would be a much more permanent solution.
On the other hand, PreP has helped to alleviate the awful and absolutely callous stigma against people living with HIV who were treated horribly by the gay community at large.
MJ: Yes and potentially HIV-positive people won't face such a stigma in finding a partner thanks to prep.
GD: I don't think PreP made gay people more focused on sex because that is practically impossible. What it has led to is a new kind of challenge where people who don’t want to take PreP are forced to have sex without a condom with people they know very little about. How do you know that a man who claims to be taking Prep is really doing it? Or whether he takes pills regularly. And what about other STDs?
Everyone should do what they think is right for them, but I have no problems with condoms.
MJ: James, I'd firstly say that people's sex lives are their own and so long as what they're doing isn't illegal, then I don't feel it's any of my business. But what I will say about Prep - and this is something friends of mine have also encountered - is that if you're a gay man and you're NOT on Prep, you get a lot of judgement. And as you said, Prep can prevent you against HIV, but not other STDs so it's perfectly understandable that not everyone wants to take it and would prefer to keep using condoms. On the flipside, I did use Prep for a brief time, but I used it in conjunction with condoms, not as a replacement and in those cases it did eliminate much of the fear and worry that, for many gay men, can come with sex.
MJ: A little while ago, I was chatting to a guy and he said to me: "before we go any further, I need to know: are you a top or a bottom?"
He explained that he'd fallen for a guy before and they both had the same sexual position. I thought this was really sad that conflicting positions meant the end of the connection all together. What do you think?
GD: I think sex in general is completely overrated. And especially in our community where it has become a staple topic. Did you notice that every commercial aimed at gay people includes a half-naked man or a man sucking on a banana ... I'm sick of that simplification of our lives. Like give gay men the freedom to fuck and they are happy. Yeah, now we have all the freedom in the world and rates of depression and suicide in the gay community are higher than ever before. Why?
gD: I can be whatever I want for the man I love. And that pretending that I can't be top or just enjoy bottoming ... please ... You can do whatever you wish when you put your mind to it. The problem is often a lack of self-confidence rather than erection. Other gay men are simply lazy and selfish.
MJ: I was reading in GQ that in a study of 25,000 men - all of whom had sex with other men - less than 40%, didn't have anal sex at all.
GD: That doesn’t surprise me at all. We talk about sex more than we have it.
MJ: I think the whole top-bottom dichotomy is quite toxic, as I said in an earlier episode. It encourages a sort of performativity where men are expected to act in certain ways, and it also reinforces quite a rigid and shallow approach to sex. There are in fact asexual homoromantic couples out there too. I read an interview with one couple, Steve Winter, and his partner, Thom Gray in The Huffington Post.
GD: What is homoromantic, by the way. I like the way it sounds.
MJ: Steve described it as a romantic attraction between two men: they hug and kiss, but don't have sex. He explained that: "You can just focus on enjoying your time with the other person and being completely and totally immersed in them as a human being, a personality and overall a person to get to know with all their quirks." I think that's beautiful because to many people, other people are just sex objects.
MJ: If someone asked you, 'Goran, what's your idea of the best sex life?' what would you tell them?
GD: It would be an idea of a sex life in which I would have sex out of desire and love, not out of boredom, loneliness or expectation.
MJ: Well, in England, researchers asked just under 13,000 gay men this question, and guess what the majority said?
GD: I think I know the answer, but please tell me...
MJ: 41.7 per cent - the majority - chose "relationship formulation", so, to them the best sex was sex with their partner. Want to hear some of the answers from respondents?
MJ: Some of the quotes were: “The best sex life is the one with only one partner for a number of years in a monogamous relationship”; “Being in love in a committed relationship”; and “With a life partner. It’s not about sex, it’s about making love”. Are you surprised by this?
GD: I am not surprised, no. But there is a catch, Mitch, there alway is...a man in that relationship should be tall, white, strong, rich and preferably with a big cock. Actually I have just listed some of the most common answers gay men provided in another study conducted in Canada. Researchers asked what would be your ideal partner, almost 84% of men described him in these terms. How realistic is this?
MJ: I'm both surprised and not surprised because often it seems like gay men are very drawn to casual sex, but maybe that's because they hope it will transpire and evolve into something deeper. But I'm not surprised that the majority say monogamous relationships leads to better sex. I'll tell you why.
GD: Please do.
MJ: As you know, I'm a journalist and a couple of years ago I interviewed a sex therapist, Jacqueline Hellyer, and she told me that "good sex comes from two people who know each other well." She said: "With a stranger, people can feel a bit of a letdown later. It's kind of like a triple-choc ice-cream - it looks great, but after you've eaten it, you feel sick and wish you'd had a piece of fruit instead." Great imagery, right!
GD: We don't talk about it a great deal. New research from Ohio University tells us that casual sex can cause depression and even lead to suicidal thoughts.
Researchers interviewed around 10,000 people and found that teenagers with depressive symptoms were more likely to engage in casual sex.
What we still don't understand is whether shagging around is either a result of low self-esteem or its cause.
MJ: That's so hard to know,
GD: Under gay capitalism, SEXUAL CURRENCY is the only currency that matters and trust me, if you follow that thinking, you will go bankrupt at some point because your sexual relevance won't last forever, no matter how handsome or good-looking you are, one day your money will dry up.
MJ: Great metaphors there! I don't think I can think of anything so poetic or profound, instead I'll just echo what I've said before: sex isn't everything and as our stories show, it doesn't prevent you from happiness.
GD: I want to address the elephant in the room. And I think Mitch you already know what I want to say. I am now talking about my experience only. It was the sex-obsessed gay culture, not the bullies at school or straight people, that has destroyed my self-esteem and lead to my mental health issues.