Hook ups/one night stands/quick shags/fuck buddies, whatever you want to call them, seem to be more common, especially on the gay scene. In many ways it’s easier than ever for gay and bi men to arrange a quick hook-up, with lots of apps to assist such as Grindr, Scruff and websites such as Gaydar and Manhunt. I even wrote a few months ago that newspapers had reported that one app crashed as Olympic athletes arrived in London and the site became overloaded with new customers looking for sex. So, does the need for, (and increasingly easy access to) immediate sexual gratification mean the end for romantic notions of love and sex?
Well, obviously this depends very much on your meaning of romance and romantic love. One US college campus study with heterosexuals, which used romantic love to refer to sexual behaviour in a steady relationship, demonstrated that while it is common to have one-off hook-ups, only a minority of sex takes place in these situations. But how does this relate to gay and bisexual men? Gay male culture is definitely sexualised – saunas, cruising, gay dating websites and PSVs (public sex venues) are important for many who identify as gay and bi men, but for others monogamy, gay-marriage and more heteronormative notions of romance are also meaningful. One study with working class gay and bi men in Sheffield, England showed participants generally privileged commitment, trust and love in their sexual relationships, which could be viewed as romantic love, over other forms. So, it seems it is simplistic to say romance is dead and gay/bi men are only interested in random hook ups. Actually there are a whole range of positions in relation to romance and sex, and understandings of each of these within the gay scene.
Romance and Sexual Health Promotion
The Sheffield research also showed that there seemed to be links between notions of romance and unprotected sex. The men in the study referred to the importance of monogamy, trust and romance and used this to justify having unprotected sex. Many valued these over their sexual health and used these qualities to make decisions about sexual risk. Interestingly, this contrasts with stigmatising stereotypes of gay and bisexual men as hedonistic, promiscuous and morally irresponsible. Perhaps, what would be more useful than worrying about whether romance is on the way out, then, would be to look at the relationship between romance and (un)protected sex. Maybe this could shed some light on understanding the reasons for the (un)protected sex some gay and bi men are having. This would also mirror increasing amounts of research that shows the importance of looking at the links between the emotional needs of gay and bisexual men and risky sexual behaviour. If we do this we might be able to get a better understanding of the motivations for unprotected sex and the best way to approach safe-sex work in the future. The important thing appears to be that sexual health approaches recognise the diversity of sexual situations (whether long-term, one-off, romantic, non-romantic or otherwise) that gay and bisexual men are involved in and how this links to sexual behaviour. It seems this would improve sexual health and well-being amongst gay and bisexual men through more appropriate sexual health promotion work.
Do you think romance is dead amongst gay and bisexual men? Should sexual health work focus on emotional factors or to more ‘traditional’ things like condom distribution? What do you think?
The views in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of GMI.
GMI provide free sexual health services for gay and bisexual men and trans folk in London. This includes counselling, mentoring and sexual health advice. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org .