It’s Friday, the last day of my family vacation. I’m laid out on a New Jersey beach with my family nervously checking my phone for a new text message. Earlier in the week I had downloaded the gay cruising app Grindr and made a profile with what I hoped was my sexiest “pic,” a shirtless photo of me at the beach. I had downloaded the app partially out of curiosity and partially out of the boredom that family vacations bring.
When the first message came in I quickly replied, trying to keep my phone surreptitiously out of the eyes of my parents and sisters. Within four days of having downloaded the app, I had exchanged dirty messages to a guy two towns over, swapped “sexy pics” with at least five or six other people, and almost met up with someone who, in his own words, “would love to suck my cock.”
On Thursday I chatted with a good looking 30 year old who wanted to meet up with me. After exchanging text messages we agreed to meet the next day in the afternoon, three hours before I left to get on a bus back to Montreal to start the new school year. On the beach at one o’clock that day, my phone finally buzzes. “We still on?” he asks. I stare at it for a few seconds debating if I really want to do this. “Yeah, I’ll be there in an hour,” I text back. I lay back in the beach chair and try to play it cool but my leg won’t stop twitching and I feel like I’m going to vomit.
Grindr, the gay hookup app that boasts over 1.5 million users in the USA and Canada alone, is by far the most popular among a series of geo-location hookup and dating apps that had emerged with the advent of the smartphone. They easily allow men to find other men in their vicinity who are looking to get off. While not explicitly for sex — the website says the app can be used to “find local gay, bi and curious guys for dating or friends,” — it is widely known among the gay community as the hookup app. As one friend bluntly put it, “If you’re looking on Grindr for a boyfriend, then you’re in the wrong place.” Besides Grindr, certain apps are specific to particular gay subcultures, including Scruff (for Bears and Otters), Recon (for Kink and Fetish), Mister (for Mature), among others.
Grindr, is the most recent permutation in online gay hookups. Older sites like Manhunt, Adam4Adam, Gay.com, DaddyHunt, FindFred, among others have been around for the better part of a decade and have been helping men find casual sex with other men for years. Before the internet, cruising had already been a well established practice among gay men for the better part of the last century.
“I didn’t expect my summer thing to be an intergenerational bondage threesome.”
Dan* and I found ourselves in similar situations at the start of last summer. Both upset with our current love lives and looking for better connections, we turned to online dating to see if we would have better luck. Dan had been on OKCupid, a site used mainly for dating rather than casual sexual relationships. After quitting a few months earlier, Dan decided to reactivate his profile last summer after moving to Toronto. Hoping for more of a relationship then a hookup, Dan went on one date. Things didn’t work out. Midway through the summer Dan downloaded Grindr and began chatting with an older couple that was looking for a third. After meeting the couple at their home and getting to know them over a glass of wine, Dan had his first three-way experience with an older couple.
While Dan was sexually active, he remained a virgin by choice. “I wasn’t necessarily happy with not having had intercourse but I didn’t feel like I needed to go out just to do it.” He adds, “after a while I felt like, you know what, if I waited this long I might as well keep holding out.” His experience with the couple the first time left him feeling good about the experience, although he still was seeking out a romantic relationship for the rest of the summer.
Dan had a series of sexual encounters in which the lines between sex and romance blended, which left him confused. “I’ve had an experience being intimate with someone emotionally and sexually, and been really hurt. And so I kind of went into the experience with them thinking I had to be comfortable with what I was doing. I wasn’t going to allow myself to be hurt again.”
Two weeks later, Dan contacted the couple again. On his second experience with the couple, he had sex for the first time.
“I think the fact that I was able to actually sleep with them speaks to the fact that I knew I was comfortable and confident in what I was doing. I never felt bad about the entire thing. There was a moment after we had come, I went to the bathroom to clean up and I was looking at myself in the mirror and I had a very movie moment where I realized I could look at myself in the mirror and I don’t feel ashamed and I don’t feel embarrassed. I was like “Woah, I just did that and I don’t feel bad about it and I don’t feel ashamed about it. Good for you.”
In the shower, I am pretty sure I won’t go through with it. My whole body feels nervous and shaky. I am forgetting how to do basic tasks. I drop my body wash for the fourth time. Something about this is exhilarating though. I will do it, I tell myself. It’s important that I do this. I don’t know why, but it is.
I change into my running shorts and choose to do 20 more sit-ups before I leave for his house. My sister is in the living room when I pass her and she asks where I’m going. “Just a run” I say, quickly eliding her questions. I grab a cup of water because my mouth is so dry that the skin on my lips has started to peel into little clumps. With my back to my sister, I pour myself a healthy double shot of vodka. I put it back quickly and put on my running shoes. My fingers slip twice before I knot them. “I’ll see you in an hour” I tell my sister and I open to door. The sun is bright and hot when the door opens and I instantly begin to sweat. “And here we go” I say to myself and I start running across the asphalt towards this stranger’s house.
Standing in front of the door, I ring twice before he answers. There is a fire station across the street and I for some reason I think they know what’s going on. My mind offers me brief glimpses of being arrested. The door opens and he is standing in front of me. He’s shorter than I expected, but the pictures were more or less accurate. We make small talk for a few minutes. He gets me a bottle of water. I finish about half of it and stop him mid-sentence. “So where’s the bedroom?”
He goes down on me first and after a few minutes we switch. “Do you want to fuck?” he asks me. I do. He gets up for a minute to put on the condom and I look out the window and I can see the ocean from a crack of space between two houses.
The sex is amazing. I ask him to start slow and he does until I’m comfortable, and then he lets loose. It feels amazing. The sex is so good that I starting making noises that I’ve only heard in porn. The whole experience feels out-of-body. I start doing things I’ve never done before. He slaps my ass at one point and I squeal. It lasts about 15 minutes, and afterwards we lay back panting. I ask him if I can use his bathroom. I steal some of his toothpaste and then come back into the bedroom and get dressed. As I am putting on my running shoes we make a little more small talk and exchange email addresses. “I had fun,” I tell him. “Yeah, we should do it again,” he says. Two minutes later I am in front of our family’s beach house again. No one is home.
Patrick* had spent the summer in Washington D.C. working an internship at the Smithsonian. While he and his boyfriend were in a long-term relationship, they had briefly discussed being non-monogamous before the summer began. “It was totally under discussed, which was a problem, but I had been thinking about it since December.”
After his boyfriend had an experience with someone else, Patrick joined Manhunt, a hookup website used almost exclusively for casual sex.
After two encounters – one completely negative and another more positive – Patrick realized that the pressures of casual sex weren’t worth the pay off. In the end, he chose to stay monogamous with his boyfriend. While he valued his experience from the summer, he takes issue with how people, and especially the queer community discusses and thinks about sex.
“There is the categorization of people who somehow find attachment to sex to be “clingy.” They’re seen as hopeless, or crazy, or delusional, or naive, or pathetic and often gendered to be effeminate. I’m really against the idea that it’s more mature or progressive to have sex without attachment.”
Three hours later, I’ve backed up all my things and am waiting in Port Authority for my bus back to Montreal to arrive. I send my best friend from home a text. “I just had sex with a random guy off Grindr.” She texts me back. “Really? Wow.” I don’t text her back.
On the bus, looking out the window I try to remember the experience but it already feel like I’ve lost it. I keep waiting for the shame to come, but it doesn’t. I can’t stop smiling. I feel free and happy. A strange sense of pride fills up inside of me. I’m a person who can have sex with strangers, I think to myself. I can do that now.
When I get home to my apartment, I put my SIM card back in my phone and my Grindr indicates that I have three new messages. I don’t answer any of them.