Cruising Grindr in Quarantine

I’m trying to go off the (gay sex) grid, but it’s proving impossible — if unsatisfying

In order to “flatten the curve” of severe COVID-19 cases that outpace our medical system’s capacity to treat them, I’ve stopped fucking. My livelihood happens to depend on fucking, so my idea of “working from home” usually involves talking to strangers on dating apps. In hopes of minimizing loss of life, I’ve gone off the (gay sex) grid.

Social distancing at home hasn’t been easy. It’s disrupted my day-to-day life. Without these game-like platforms for hooking up, I don’t know what to do with my hands while I poop, watch The Good Wife or pretend to listen to my roommates.

To be honest, I’ve mostly been too anxious or sad about the pandemic to be horny 24/7. I seem to be in the minority, according to the internet. Cheating spouses are risking it all for affairs, horny Coronasexuals are a thing and public sex is an act of resistance.

I’ve certainly been bored, though, which normally leads me to a horrible habit of refreshing my trusty fuck-a-stranger apps whether or not I’m actually horny in the first place. It’s too much of a bummer now, though, having foreclosed the potential of meeting up with anyone. So I scroll looking at the eye candy. The thing is, candy just makes you more hungry. 

And after a week in isolation, my hankering for hung men got the best of me. I didn’t have any intention of meeting up with someone, but I wanted to survey the quarantine grid and maybe even feel the thrill of temptation. 

It was worse than I’d suspected. Apparently every hot top in my neighborhood had just been at work this whole time. Now they were in my inbox, ready to work my hole from home.

Many of the solicitations I received had a new, dark tint to them. Once flattering requests like immediate sex, now felt tragic and taboo for disregarding the only thing any of us can talk about. It reminded me of messages asking to party-and-play (i.e., fucking on crystal meth). I don’t like being reproachful or self-righteous; plus, talking down to strangers never saved anyone from drug addiction or any other risky behavior. But it’s chilling how easy it would be to cross my own threshold of good judgment. After all, indiscretion lived only a few blocks away.

I responded to one hung, handsome man to keep him in my Favorites for the future. It’s unclear what that future could possibly be like or when it would ever let me get fucked again, but I couldn’t let him slip by completely. We exchanged photos pretty quickly. Then he proceeded to elaborately describe what he wanted to do to me.

I don’t love sexting, though. I need the real thing in all its sensory glory. Plus, I take writing assignments a little too seriously. I get carried away and vexed trying to toe the line between vivid and casual, unexpected and unchallenging. I spend more time thinking about how to describe my fantasies than about the fantasies themselves. And god forbid somebody ask for photos in real time, as if hole pics are easy to take.

For quarantine’s sake, I tried getting off with the hung hunk using the power of words. We went back and forth painting pictures of how he’d fuck me and how I’d get fucked. I found my rhythm and got into it. Neither of us asked about each other’s location or mentioned anything about meeting up, which reassured me that we were in the same self-isolated boat. This was it. 

Sequestered in my room, I popped open the shea butter and got to moisturizing, reading over our literotica and stretching my porn-worn imagination. Once I finished lathering, I sunk into that cynical moment when the horny clouds in my brain part and light shines on the depravity trickling down my stomach. 

Did that feel good? 

Complicated question. 

The fantasy that made me cum was hot, and it was even hotter to build it collaboratively. Clearly my hot pen pal wanted to fuck me if he could. There’s just something inauspicious about digital alternatives to physical sex when they’re the only options available. Not to mention, I don’t know how temporary this is or what sex will be like post-quarantine — if there even is an afterward. 

Bleakness had eclipsed my pleasure. I sat in my cum, and I tried not to cry. This cannot be all that there is. Whoever said the pen was mightier than the sword must have never had a big dick in their ass.

I’m certainly not the first gay man to forego sex with strangers in the interest of staving off a pandemic. Decades later, the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to reflect on our structural response to the AIDS epidemic in real-time. 

During the AIDS crisis, our most recent precedent for plague at this scale, some gay people tried to stop having sex as a prevention strategy. But going cold turkey on good dick wasn’t always effective advice. Some put stock in monogamous partnerships as a more viable survival strategy. Others took up sexual practices that could lower the risk of contagion, like condoms, oral sex and testing. Because the government wasn’t providing resources — or even addressing the crisis — queer people mainly found this harm-reduction information from other queer organizers. 

Many people lacked an openness toward their desires because they were closeted, geographically isolated and/or too conservative to talk frankly about gay sex. Instead, they believed in repressive, all-or-nothing advisories against gay sex. With no sense that there could be a satisfying middle ground, many wound up having the riskiest, most anonymous and unprotected sex of all. 

I worry that for many gay men my age, the moral of the AIDS crisis is that we share a collective responsibility to restrain ourselves. Many queer radicals in the 1980s took issue with making gay people the ones accountable for our own genocide. This tension between sustaining revolutionary sexual liberation and curtailing fatal sexual risk-taking produced more than a few schisms among activists of the time. 

Loved ones with HIV/AIDS were dying from the nation’s profit-driven health-care infrastructure. Additionally, they were neglected by a government, press and Catholic church that believed that dying queers would go to hell anyway. The community shared a collective responsibility, but that responsibility was to build an army of lovers to “Fight Back” against those institutions.

Still, it seems a bit soon for die-ins and balloons of fake blood. COVID-19 isn’t the AIDS of our generation. For one thing, coronavirus doesn’t center around sex — gay or otherwise. It permeates all public life and any relationship closer to us than six feet. For another, that era offered no apps or digitized social networks. Queer people depended on in-person gatherings within the sanctuaries of bars, bathhouses and cruising spots we’d built over the decades prior. Without them, queer people of the time struggled immensely to locate each other. 

Now tech innovation and under-regulation have herded us all into the sterile, atomized metropolis of social media. In that digital urbanity, a few firms will manage to profit off of how the rest of us cope with boredom, loneliness and anxiety.

In the meantime, I can console myself with the faith that my sore right hand is saving lives. That’s the important thing, right? Believing in the cause. Refusing to dissociate what I want from the consequences of having it. Sitting with the bleakness, which is different from normalizing this emptiness. 

Eventually, we’ll need more than penpals and Zoom orgies. We’ll need to fight for a radically different system than one making us choose between mass death and compulsory isolation.

If we don’t, then what am I taking all these nudes for?