Illustration by Alice Wilson
Recently when talking drunkenly with a group of friends, I discovered we all have something in common. Whether it is through Grindr, Snapchat or Chatroulette knock-off sites, we all detailed how we are addicted to showing as much of ourselves as possible to anyone who wants to look. My friends didn’t recoil when I told them of hours wasted coyly exchanging Snapchat photos with other guys I barely know on lazy mornings; each photo more risque than the last. With so much sexual freedom afforded to us through technology, and the ubiquity of smartphone cameras, I suppose, I shouldn’t be surprised — the frank discussion about our various habits, though, showed that most of us wished we had more self-restrain.
For me, it’s enjoyable to sext or to exchange photos with someone I find attractive, even if physically having sex or dating is out of the question. As well as having physical relationships with people I also like webcamming with strangers; it’s more pleasurable than wanking to a pixelated porn video and being able to see how attractive another person finds you is an added bonus. While it might seem shallow to lead someone on over Grindr, showing them photos of myself and receiving inevitable praise never gets old. It’s a natural extension of flirting. I must admit though that when I’m webcamming with someone and I cum, I immediately shutdown my laptop. Staring at my reflection in the black, mirror-like screen my previously sex-addled brain tells me it was a bad idea. I worry about whether or not the person on the screen in front of me has managed to record my performance. Did I show my face at some point? Are my tattoos visible? Will I end up being reblogged on Tumblr, like the thousands of glassy eyed lost souls whose private photos have ended up in a black hole of infinite publicity? Will grainy footage of me surface in the “amateur/webcam” section of a porn site?
“As a gay man, webcamming and sexting seem like the perfect way to fulfil sexual desires while not having to be at the beck and call of a heteronormative society.”
Even with an exchange conducted through Grindr or Snapchat my enthusiasm and arousal is instantly killed after the act, and I reflect on what may happen when next I refuse to engage in picture swapping or sexting. Dublin has a small gay scene; even if I do not personally know the people I’m messaging, I know of them. Will they tell others about me? Will I get a reputation as some kind of sex-addicted slut? After talking to my friends these thoughts don’t worry me as much — they’ve all done it, and I’m small fry.
But why does this problem exist? Why are men who have sex with men engaging in these activities when a majority of them instantly regret it? In a way it’s on par with the hours men lose looking for and watching pornography, just one degree more intimate. It’s live porn, both you and those watching you are engaging in an intimate exchange. Swapping photos also feels as innocent as looking at porn, like there’s no inherent harm to it. Today’s gay and bisexual men are more than likely to have complicated relationships with the internet. For most, it helped teach us about who we are, normalised our internal desires and taught us the sex education that wasn’t available in schools. The way the internet did this however was through pornography, and early tendencies to use porn as a way to reconcile fear or sadness towards your newly discovered sexuality can quickly transform into a fixation on it. Men who have sex with men are able to do so with each other in a more liberal environment than is afforded to straight men or women. A history of being pushed to the fringes based on sexual behaviour may be having residual effects when it comes to sexting and webcamming; it’s private, and can be done through networks unseen by most people. As a gay man, these activities seem like the perfect way to fulfil sexual desires while not having to be at the beck and call of a heteronormative society. Straight men can use hook-up apps too, but because of societal expectations, there is probably a better chance of two men hooking up through the internet than there is a man and a woman.
Porn hasn’t ruined my life and neither has sexting, webcamming or sending pics of myself to whoever will take them. What feels natural to me in the moment is something that is increasingly becoming the norm for a lot of people. I don’t want to operate within the of constraints of sexuality and flirting that society has placed upon me. I want a safe, fun way to get off and the phone in my pocket never fails to disappoint.