Race Bannon AKA member LoneWolfPig has been an organizer, writer, educator, speaker and activist in the LGBT, leather/kink, polyamory and HIV/STI prevention and treatment realms since 1973. In this article Race talks about navigating sex spaces.
The year is 1978. I'm a 24-year-old leatherman living in New York City. My arm is nearly elbow deep in a handsome man in a sling. We're in the infamous Mineshaft, a gay men's sex club that garnered renown in its day. It was sleazy, hypersexual and consistently packed with hot men embracing their deepest and darkest fantasy fulfillment.
Sex clubs like the Mineshaft aren't as prevalent nowadays in North America, although I give credit to our European counterparts for keeping that aspect of gay sex culture alive across the pond. Perhaps North American men can resuscitate some semblance of that era. There are attempts lately and I applaud the producers of such events and the proprietors of the venues. They offer us much needed sexual sustenance.
Fast forward to the current array of sex dungeons, clubs, backrooms and parties. Amid an ever-challenging backdrop of urban gentrification and pervasive prudish pressures, some in North America are attempting to maintain or revive places where men can fuck and play. Sadly, Europeans aren't immune from the woes of gentrification or conservative attitudes. Even their more permissive culture occasionally feels pressure to curtail such activities.
The repression of our sex spaces is something we must resist. Our right to gather, fuck and play as we wish is a fundamental right.
Today we can still enjoy several bathhouses and saunas, sex clubs, backrooms, and parties. Each necessitates adapting one's cruising and interaction behaviors to the reality of the city, venue and demographics. No two situations are alike. Thus, no two sets of guidelines on how to navigate such spaces will be identical. And in an era of laser-like vigilance regarding consent, coming up with advice on how to navigate sex spaces can be tricky.
Before going any further, I have to say this, and I know there are some who will disagree. Gay men function uniquely sexually, individually and in groups. I believe this to be truer among kinky gay men. We position ongoing or one-time sex with play buddies as more ingrained in our collective intimate experience than in other sexual orientation erotic subcultures. We see sex differently. We play differently. We maintain erotic relationships differently. This reality gives us a unique perspective when figuring out how to navigate sex spaces.
So, with all that said, how do men navigate the many types of sex spaces? Much depends on the type of space, but some basic ground rules are universal. Each situation offers its own set of agreed upon but often unspoken precepts.
If you're playing privately or in public with one or more specific men, I recommend a few moments of information exchange and negotiation. Yeah, I know. Sometimes stopping the action for negotiation can ruin the moment. I get that. But there are ways to do it without putting a damper on the action.
The secret is to combine the heat of the moment and the information needed into a concise moment of "hot talk." Keep it sexy. Rather than "Let's stop and discuss what we like, don't like, our limits and safewords" say something like "Fuck, you're all such hot guys. I'm poz undetectable, only bareback, get into some BDSM and kink and figure we can all go at each other and if anyone wants to chime in with suggestions, starts hitting a limit or needs a change in the course of action, we just say so. All that good guys? Yeah? Cool! Let's fuck!"
In my opinion, that's all that's needed for such intimate groups. I don't think you need long checklists of dos and don'ts. You don't need lengthy negotiations. If you acknowledge from the start that everyone's on the same page and there's a way to communicate ongoing as the play unfolds, you're good. The whole exchange may take only 10-15 seconds.
Of course, if you're into lengthy negotiations, great. Just realize that for many guys drawn out preambles to play can shut down the sexiness of the encounter. Do what works for you. Just do so with eyes wide open about the potential outcomes.
That covers one-on-one hookups as well as threeways and small private groups, which in truth is most of the play that takes place within our scene.
What happens when you are in a public sex space with a lot more men? You adjust to the environmental context. Yes, the context matters.
In many public sex spaces, using spoken words is less likely to be a viable option to communicate one's likes and dislikes. You proceed a bit more cautiously.
Let's say you're in a bar's backroom. It's dark. A hand reaches out and touches you. It's not what you want now. You politely grab the hand, in a kind way, and gently remove it from your body. If you can give any other non-verbal cue that the advance is unwanted, do so. If words are necessary, lean into the guy and quietly and without anger whisper that you're focused elsewhere at the moment. No need to be a jerk. No need to express outrage. Just simple, kind and gentle communication.
If you rebuke a touch more than once, you're justified in grabbing the hand harder and being firmer. Still, try to remain kind and not express anger. Anger often spawns an angry response and that's not what you want amid your hopefully hot erotic encounter.
Dungeon spaces offer their own unique set of challenges. A dungeon often suggests that more BDSM and heavier kink will take place. That likely requires a more robust launchpad discussion.
Everything said already applies in dungeons, but it's typically expected that the parties involved will discuss in more depth their likes and dislikes, limits and fantasies. You don't have to undertake a long list of negotiation topics. Just cover the basics and agree that you'll check in with each other throughout. This is especially true if it's someone you've never played with before and have no third-party information about them.
Does that all seem a bit too simple? Good! Navigating sex spaces is supposed to be simple, not complex. It's supposed to be fun, not work. It's supposed to be a primal erotic experience, not an intellectual discussion. Keep it simple. Abide by no means no in all situations, but don't bog down your play with so much negotiation that you've killed the scene in the process.
Have fun. Be polite. Try to not violate anyone's boundaries. Be clear with your cues, verbal or physical. Abide by others' cues. It's not that difficult.
One last request.
The gay kink scene benefits greatly when more sex and play opportunities are available. Dances, contests, conferences, street fairs, vendor markets and classes are wonderful things, but I don't think we can ever have too many places at which to fuck and play. Our shared sexuality is what bonds us, and when we play together, be it one-on-one encounters or writhing piles of manhood, it further cements a palpable connection between us that forms the foundation for a strong set of men's kink communities.
With that said, if you can open a new play space venue, foster more sex and play in an existing venue, or produce a sex or play party of any size, please do so. I'm a huge proponent of community building. I don't think anything builds the men's kink community better than direct erotic connection as we celebrate the sexuality, kinks and fetishes that brought us into this scene in the first place.
Race Bannon has been an organizer, writer, educator, speaker and activist in the LGBT, leather/kink, polyamory and HIV/STI prevention and treatment realms since 1973. He's authored two books, been published extensively, spoken to hundreds of audiences, created the world's largest kink-friendly psychotherapist and medical referral service, was a leader of The DSM Project that led to a beneficial change in the way American psychotherapy views BDSM, founded a groundbreaking alternative sexuality publishing company, been an internet radio sex talk show host, received national and local awards, and appeared in numerous documentaries. He currently also writes for the Bay Area Reporter and on his blog