American culture has reached new heights…or depths depending on your point of view. You can pay to have someone bring you fast food. Yes, fast food is apparently not convenient enough on its own. You need a Postmate to bring you Taco Bell at 7 pm. It’s not shocking this aspect of our McCulture has extended to our sexual interactions. Thanks to gay dating apps like Grindr, Scruff, Jack’d and whatever app is being developed for the Area 51 aliens you can find sex, dates, and conversation without leaving your house. This isn’t such a new idea. Gay sex has been evolving into take-out throughout the digital age. Web sites like Gay.com, Manhunt, and Adam4Adam were the apps of their day.
You can select your type of guy, type of encounter, and with the right leg work get exactly what you want. But has this push towards instant gratification made sex too transactional? Have we begun focusing more on the sex act itself rather than on connecting with another person? This gives way to a whole host of issues including sex addiction, antisocial behavior, and more gay-on-gay verbal violence.
Sex: a Primer
For the sake of argument, let’s say there are three types of sex you can have. There’s making love, having sex, and fucking. Sex is when you commit to a mutually pleasurable experience. Making love is when you have a mutual emotional connection while having sex. While fucking is often one person using the other. Similarly, there are three types of exchanges you can have with someone. You can have an interaction with someone that’s uplifting and leaves you both energized. You can have a completely neutral exchange. Or you can have an interaction that leaves you energetically or emotionally drained.
Now, no one of these experiences is necessarily better than the other. Testosterone can make us need the occasional animalistic tension release. Sometimes, we can be in an emotional place where we need a romantic tryst. The problem is that sex involves two people. And oftentimes, we become so caught up in fantasy, pushing our own sexual agenda, or blind hunger we do more damage to our partners and ourselves. How often do you see guys mindlessly scrolling through Grindr like it’s Pokemon Hoe? They’re looking for the next sexual encounter but they’re completely on auto-pilot.
Think of a Big Mac. It’s filled with artificial flavors and additives but also designed to be enjoyable. Now, while it’s a pleasurable experience at the moment, afterward you might feel gross. Or 20 minutes later hungry because you weren’t initially satisfied or nourished. Similarly, the type of McSex we have off apps can leave you spiritually, or worse yet, sexually malnourished and thirsty. If two people are having McSex and focusing on being instantly gratified rather than being satisfied where does it end? It creates a culture of gay men on a hamster wheel of thirst consistently seeking gratification but not finding it. In lieu of pursuing other avenues for deep personal satisfaction, they waste time focusing on singular sexual encounters. Maybe rather than trying to have a complete stranger fulfill your fantasies after a lengthy negotiation you can learn the social skills, empathy, and build it organically…TOGETHER.
Now, to the millions of people who say, “But it’s Grindr.” I am not implying that everyone needs to have a deep emotional experience or meet a boyfriend on a sex app. But if we end up masturbating with another person we’re robbing ourselves of emotionally validating experiences. Plus, if you go through the entire experience of having sex with someone and it’s as fleeting as masturbating, doesn’t that start to devalue sex? Casual sex can be a positive experience without requiring a deeply romantic connection. Like a diet of fast food, too much casual sex makes us lazy and complacent. If you have sex every day, can it be that good? I’m not saying abstinence makes the heart grow fonder, but if we are truly honest with ourselves, how often, no matter how good at sex we may be, is the sex we are having?
Additionally, having sex with the concept of a person rather than the actual person can be problematic. It’s essentially forcing a physical connection you wouldn’t have otherwise, while expending all this effort and energy projecting a fantasy onto someone. Let’s be real, who we are when we are hooking up and who we are at the club with our friends are often different people. But this splintering of our personalities and role-playing just to get laid can limit our personal growth. Isn’t it better to find a way to be authentically yourself and still get laid? We oftentimes meet someone based on a photo or negotiating a specific sexual scenario and then project the rest. But at its core, it’s mutually dehumanizing. It also seems unnecessary considering how far we’ve come with fleshlight technology.
A Moment for Sex Work
Please bear in mind, this conversation about transactional sex is no way a dig at sex work. Sex workers set a price for their time, and if both parties feel safe and the experience is consensual on both ends, more power to them. Hell, sites like Onlyfans and JustForFans have literally commoditized people’s sex lives. And it’s a viable side-hustle for many LGBTQ folks who need money. But with sex work, people are being honest with their intentions. Someone is paying to enjoy someone’s image or their time. But when two non-sex workers are negotiating a hook-up it seems like what is the point.
The transactional nature of sex has bled into how we talk to each other on apps. Exchanging photos which is par for the course becomes a negotiation. Let’s be real, wanting to see a photo of a stranger you are talking to let alone meeting is more about safety than superficiality. And wanting to see what you are putting your penis into or putting into your body is the result of years of evolution. It’s not so far fetched a request. But people hold people to different standards than they hold themselves. The Pic 4 Pic back and forth honestly makes no sense.
After the pic swap, there’s oftentimes a pre-sex interview. I say pre-sex interview because the conversation typically ebbs and flows. Both parties ask questions. But some guys interview you just for finding them attractive. This isn’t Out Magazine, girl. Or worse, you get someone who messages you out of the blue and inundates you with questions. It simultaneously feels like interviewing for a job you don’t know you want and eliminates the casual nature of casual sex. If a guy has asked me 15 questions, for a complete body scan, and is only offering, at best, a 40-minute sexual encounter, we’ll likely both forget it doesn’t seem like a worthwhile use of time.
Bringing energy back into these things becomes total time-sucks. We forget that there is another person on the other side of the chat window. As the disembodied torsos and colorful chat windows take us further away from human interaction it also takes away some empathy.
That ultimately cuts to the heart of the issue. We treat sex like consumers rather than as an exchange with peers – as equals. Like a conversation, it is about mutual communication and connecting on some level. You want to leave the exchange knowing, or having experienced, something new. But sex becomes about how are we going to get our needs met. Or, if you’ll pardon the pun, how to leave the interaction on top.
How often do guys try to “sweeten the deal” and ask if someone has Poppers, or booze, or drugs? It may just be living in West Hollywood, but I’ve been asked by total strangers if I’ll host a group. A couple of notes to those individuals:
1. Perhaps you should focus on having one sex partner solidly on board before you go expanding the cast of characters.
2. Who asks a total stranger to hosting your porn-sex fantasy? That’s a big ask, Jeff, or whatever your name is. If you’re not willing to sully your sheets with the aftermath of 5 guys, why should you expect someone you’ve had a one-sided conversation for 2.5 minutes to?
If we treat other queer people in our community as disposable, we are no better than the people we complain about oppressing us. We instead perpetuate the same things we hate by allowing them to boomerang back to us. We treat some guy on Grindr like trash because we are tired of apps or being single or had a bad day. Then that guy does it to someone else and suddenly, when we find someone we want to talk to and they’re rude to us for no reason, we wonder why.
To top off this tumultuous climate of technology-driven transactional sex is the increased unprotected sex led with the advent of PrEP for HIV prevention. In many ways, this medication has played a role of sexual empowerment, allowing our community to take a more active role in prevention. And, while it doesn’t protect against other STIs we might expose ourselves to during casual sexual encounters, there’s no shame in liking what you like if you choose to have unprotected consensual sex. That’s your prerogative. However, the fact that STI rates have increased within populations adhering to PrEP and engaging in hookup culture nonetheless furthers this notion of a transaction. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not Pollyanna Puregood trying to convert anyone to monogamy. I am also in no way trying to judge or shame people for their behavior. But we can all stand to collectively look at the sex practices we seem to deem as the new norm as natural components of app hookup culture. If the pursuit of casual sex ends up being a ton of work, a huge time or energy drain, or puts us more at odds with our dating and friend, pool how is it really serving us? If we are contributing to issues in our community and perpetuating toxic patterns, this behavior bars us from growth. There’s nothing wrong with casual sex. But that’s the thing – it should be kept casual. The second you’re trying to shoehorn someone into your fantasy, forcing someone to take on your baggage, or just using someone in a non-mutual, nonconsensual living sex toy, then we enter into an area of emotional debt. Besides, there’s no telling how this transactional sex is keeping us from learning the ultimate lesson as to what is keeping us from that long-term relationship we seek, meaningful friendships, or the life we ultimately want.
Christian Cintron is a writer, actor, and stand-up comedian. He has written about entertainment and gay culture for Edge Publications, Queerty and DNA Magazine. He’s also a regular contributor to Backstage.com.