Recently there seems to have been a resurgence of an archaic, Victorian mindset to sex in the western world. I’ve seen multiple articles and twitter rants about how sex – particularly gay sex and fetishes – are disgusting and dangerous, and should be kept hidden and secretive. There has been articles about how fetish events such as Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend in Washington DC should be stopped, and that fetish men should be banned from Pride parades because children seeing men in leather and rubber is apparently damaging to them. There is also frequent public lynching on Twitter and in the press because someone does/has done porn or put ‘home movies’ on the internet (I have direct experience of this one), as well as councils waging war on venues with sex licences and so much more.
What I can’t get my head around is why there is this attitude towards anything sexual being dangerous and/or having any baring on the rest of your life. Sex is the one thing all humans have in common no matter where they are from. Practically everyone has had sex, or is the product of sexual intercourse. It is as integral to the human experience as breathing, eating, or sleeping. So why do so many people still look at it as thought its some terrible thing to enjoy it?
Take porn stars and sex workers for example, both should be considered legitimate career paths – porn is one of the biggest industries in the world, and sex work has been around since the dawn of time – yet both are still treated as shameful professions. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen press stories about people who’s porn past has been exposed by the press or twitter trolls, resulting in them losing their jobs and being shamed across the media. And its even more ferocious if they are a teacher, or in some other public facing profession. Why does it matter if someone is a teacher, and also does sex work? What difference does it make? Does it mean they aren’t a kind person? No. Does it mean they are unprofessional? No. Does it put the children in their care at risk? Absolutely not. So why do they still get persecuted in the way they do?
Similar arguments get levelled at men – like myself – that are open about their fetishes. Every single year, people take to social media to decry that fetish men shouldn’t be allowed at Pride parades because of the effect it might have on children watching. Firstly, Pride isn’t for children and families. Pride is for people across the LGBTQI+ spectrum and their allies to celebrate what makes us us, and to protest to be seen and heard for who we are and the contributions we make to society. If you want to come down with your family; incredible, but you are stepping into our space, so be respectful of the different facets of our community and culture, one of which, is the fetish community. The fetish-men were right alongside the trans-women at the Stonewall riots, and it was the gay biker groups that spearheaded a lot of gay pride marches and protests across the USA. Secondly, when a child sees a man in a full rubber suit at a Pride parade, they don’t think its a sexual thing. I have friends that have had incredible experiences at Pride parades and such where a child has been captivated by their rubber or leather – why wouldn’t they be, its soft and shiny – and they almost always ask if they are a superhero. Children don’t have the knowledge to know that it might be sexual, those thoughts are put in their heads by parents that seem intent on sexualising everything rather than just seeing things from an innocent child’s perspective.
Its also interesting to note, that often, people with BDSM fetishes are far more in touch with their sexuality and their sex life, as is often evidenced in studies around sex. People who enjoy BDSM relationships and practises statistically poll higher than those with vanilla sex lives when it comes to sexual satisfaction, understanding of consent and limits, and safety practices in general. Frankly, if I had to entrust my nephew to someone, I would rather choose someone with that has explored their own sexuality and has a grip on it, than someone who has repressed their urges. The people at higher risk of abusing children are those that suppress their sexual desires – hence why it is statistically predominately straight heteronormative living people that are the perpetrators of this kind of abuse to children.
(Linked to the above, and the false stereotype of gay men being more likely to be abusers has been researched by fellows at the University of California, and makes for an interesting, if slightly upsetting and infuriating read. Check it out here: https://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_molestation.html)
As gay men we hold a unique place in the LGBTQI+ spectrum for being both the most visible, but also one of the most maligned sexuality groups (I’m not including trans or other gender non-conforming individuals in this, as their issues are centred around gender not sexuality). For example, in the UK, it has never been illegal to be lesbian or bisexual, in fact there has never even been an age on consent set on lesbianism. It has of course been illegal to be gay, and to practise gay sex, and when it eventually was legalised, the age of consent was much higher than for heterosexuals. It also took decades to get marriage equality, and only in the last couple of years have public health bodies and governments finally started to acknowledge the homophobia that lead to the AIDS crisis that robbed us of a generation of gay men, as well as the antiquated rules that still hold to that belief, such as the restrictions around gay men giving blood.
As a symptom of this unique oppression gay men faced, we had to find covert ways to meet up and be ourselves. This was often at underground bars, bathhouses – and for those with a penchant for leather – motorbiking clubs. These clubs were also often the only places gay men could have sex with each other, owing to the fact many had to lead heterosexual lifestyles to ensure they stayed in the closet. This helped put sex front and centre of gay culture. Over the years gay men had to shed the oppressive heterosexual views of sex, thus leading to a group in society that functioned free of those societal hang ups. You can see that quite clearly in how open relationships and polyamory are much more common in gay relationships, as well as how gay men are far less prudish than our straight counterparts when it comes to talking about sex, and expressing ourselves sexually (hi OnlyFans).
This, as well as systemic homophobia, has lead to gay men often being called out and harassed when their sex lives and work lives collide. For example, last year a video of me having a wank, that I’d uploaded to the amateur porn sharing site XTube, surfaced on twitter. The video in question was in a nondescript, white toilet cubicle, so I’d stupidly captioned it saying it was ‘at work’ – obviously not saying where I worked (at the time I worked in the head office a children’s charity) – to play into the exhibitionist fantasy – a fantasy by the way, that 39% of people actually do on a regular basis. The abuse on Twitter was astounding. I was called every name under the sun. I was called a danger to children and a pedophile. I was called a narcissistic pervert (which is kind of true), and told that I didn’t deserve to ever work again. People made up narratives that I did it BECAUSE of where I worked, and that that is what made it a turn on. It was sick, and highly upsetting. I had hate sites talking about me, It was in a national paper, and eventually I ended up loosing my job. And since then (this happened last summer) I have struggled to get another job because of it. Now, I’m not an idiot, it was incredibly stupid to caption the video saying it was filmed at work when it wasn’t, and I don’t blame the organisation for dismissing me, but it shouldn’t effect how good I am at my job, what I am like as a person, and any future career prospects. Which bring me round to my initial point. Why do we care about other people’s sex lives so much? As long as someone can do the job, is a decent person, and hasn’t done anything illegal, why do people seem so intent of bringing them down when there is an element of their life that is sexual?
When people attack others for their sex lives, they often seem to forget there is a fully rounded person underneath it. That flight attended that got fired for being an escort? He might spend all his free time raising money for HIV charities. That teacher that parents bullied into quitting because he did porn in his 20s? He might have been the teacher to help a suicidal teen keep fighting. And that charity worker that had his sex life exposed on twitter, and then lost his career because he advocated for trans visibility? He wanted to make a better world for all the kids in this country that are victims of abuse and oppression. And I know, because that last one is me.
One day I’ll publish something in depth about the situation last year, and the severe toll it has taken on my life and my mental health, but I’m not ready just yet. I just felt as though I needed to use it to highlight this question around attitudes to sex because its something that is really important to me.
I would love to live in a world where everyone is free to explore their sexuality and sexual desires freely and without shame or oppression – legally of course. A world where someone can be an escort and not be maligned by society for it. A world where kids aren’t raised to think sex is some dirty thing, but to be educated to the fact its one of the most natural and beautiful things humans can experience together. I truly believe that if we could get to a place like that, the world would be better for everyone. Sex crimes would reduce significantly, sex workers wouldn’t be getting murdered, people wouldn’t be committing suicide because they can’t handle the sexual feelings inside of them, and everyone would be getting much more sex, and frankly, that can’t be a bad thing can it?