The End of Public Sex

Why isn't anyone fucking anymore?

On the night before Memorial Day last month, several hundred men were packed into the top floor of a building in the meatpacking district. A DJ spun in a corner while bartenders frantically poured vodka into paper cups. A few of the men—most of them older—had checked their clothes, but the younger ones were keeping theirs on. In a few darkened corners, there were a few guys giving blowjobs and some ass play; overall, however, the scene could have passed for a typical holiday weekend at any East Village gay bar.

What was most notable about this party wasn't that a few people were—somewhat desultorily—playing around. Rather, it's how many didn't seem to evince the slightest interest in a hookup of any kind. Despite the heat (no fans, let alone air conditioning), the naked go-go boys and the alcohol people seemed content to make chitchat. And whatever little sex was going on, most seemed oblivious to it.

In 2002, I wrote the Voice's cover story for the Pride issue on "The Return of Public Sex." I chronicled the explosion in sex venues, from clubs to private parties to backroom bars: "After years of AIDS anxiety and government repression, gay public sex is bigger and better than ever," I wrote.

No more  happy endings?
No more happy endings?

What a difference six years make.

The city has shut down all but two bathhouses and every known sex club in Manhattan, as well as citing bars, clubs, and private parties where inspectors find any men-on-men action. The few entrepreneurs still out there complain about apathy and different priorities among younger gay men.

Daniel Nardicio, the promoter who put on the Memorial Day–eve event, sees himself as a veteran of the battle to bring sleaze to the masses. He's perhaps best known for TigerBeat—underwear parties held at the Slide on the Bowery, where everyone had to check his (or, occasionally, her) clothes. The city shut down TigerBeat in 2004 by orders from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, citing complaints about sexual activity.

Since then, Nardicio has been a nomad, exploring various venues. He's had bathing-suit parties at a Turkish sauna on Wall Street; organized a road trip to Atlantic City; and tried out a Chinatown photo studio, other Lower East Side bars, and, most recently, the meatpacking-district loft space. His themes always brush the far end of good taste: For Memorial Day, he gave out Fleet Enemas. So he doesn't blame the authorities for the lack of sexual license as much as a fundamental change in the attitudes of gay men themselves.

"These things are ending because people don't want them anymore," he says. "People are spoiled, petulant, uninteresting. I've been throwing outrageous parties again and again for years, but the only time I was busted was at the Slide."

Like everyone else these days, Nardicio blames the Internet for the lack of public engagement. Even so, he adds: "If people wanted dirty, raunchy parties in New York, it would happen. But people don't want it."

If there's a generational shift between post-Stonewall gay men and their younger counterparts, it's that the latter are more interested in fashionista kiss-kiss cocktail soirees like Hiro at the Maritime Hotel and Beige at B Bar: "People are so obsessed about how they look," Nardicio complains. "Everyone wants to pretend they're an A&F model."

For some, this new attitude may mark a healthy and normal progression—from the generation that had to fight for its right to party to a new breed fighting for the right to marry and serve openly in the military. Today, it's easier than ever to come out, and people are doing it in high school or even before. Coming out so early in life, they don't feel as alienated from straight women—or, increasingly, men. Rather than facing discrimination and alienation, they can look forward to marriage and children: "They're not feeling as marginalized," Nardicio says. "Young guys are not as interested in a gay-only scene."

Even on the Internet, young guys are at least as interested in social- networking sites like MySpace as hooking up on Manhunt. "The 21-year-olds are interested in dating," Nardicio notes. "There's a lot less self-hatred."


Still, there's no question that Mayor Bloomberg's administration hasn't exactly been sex-positive. Rumblings about the city's policy came to a boil in January, when a reporter at the local newspaper Gay City News obtained a copy of an internal memo recommending that the city's health commissioner move aggressively to monitor sex clubs more closely or shut them down altogether.

Since the memo was leaked, city officials have been talking out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, public faces for the administration like Dr. Monica Sweeney—a top official working on AIDS prevention and services—have been attending public forums where, in Sweeney's case, she patiently explains over and over that there is no organized pogrom against public sex: "There have been no plans at all in the Department of Health to close commercial sex venues," she stated at a heated meeting at the LGBT Center in February.

1
 
2
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...