When I was a child, nothing confused me more than Sting. I distinctly remember seeing his face — an earnest black-and-white portrait — staring intensely out at me from beside my mother’s stereo. It was an image from his 1994 greatest hits album, Fields of Gold, a record that, whether I liked it or not, was played for much of my first decade on this earth.
I felt confused for a number of reasons. It wasn’t just the fact that Sting’s music sounded like the soundtrack to a bread commercial, with wheezing panpipes and bewildering, husky wails. It was more the incongruity of his presence in my life. My mother loved music and had otherwise pretty good taste — artists on regular rotation included David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Janet Jackson — so Sting felt like a strange addition to her CD tower. What was her weird obsession with this serious, slimy-looking blonde guy? He couldn’t even sing words properly. And why did he love squinting so much?
For many in her generation, though, Sting was — and remains — a steadfast musical icon. The British singer has been writing easy-listening anthems for over four decades, releasing songs as both a solo artist, and as a part of the 1980s new-wave trio, The Police. You’re guaranteed to have heard his music somewhere — even if that’s just through Family Guy, the “Roxanne” drinking game (girls drink on “Roxanne,” guys drink on “red light”) or via P. Diddy’s famous 1997 sample, “I’ll Be Missing You.” Even today, Sting’s melodies are being revisited — most recently on Juice WRLD’s 2018 track “Lucid Dreams.”
But it’s not just about his music: Sting is also notorious for his sexual prowess. In the early days of his career, this sultry magnetism was radiated in more subtle ways, with the musician often showing off his toned physique in slashed tanks and topless photoshoots. In his music videos with The Police, he would dance in candlelight and gyrate against his mic stand. It’s also present in the band’s lyrics, with their suggestive songs about trying to contain their sexual urges around young girls (“Don’t Stand So Close to Me”) and relentlessly stalking the object of their desire (“Every Breath You Take”).
Once Sting went solo, though, all subtlety went out the window. Over the last three decades, the musician has become known for his penchant for both punishing yoga and tantric sex — two activities he (supposedly) practices regularly with his wife, actress Trudie Styler. The sex, in particular, is something that he has spoken about openly, and on many separate occasions. He’s called it a “spiritual act,” discussed his love of “dressing up” and referred to Styler as his “connection to the sacred.” He’s also made plenty of references to edging and “four- or five-hour” sex marathons. Styler, too, has spoken smugly about their sex life, telling Howard Stern that the pair enjoy sex parties and strip club trips (an apparent joke, but one that Sting refused to deny).
It gets more explicit, too. In one feature with Cosmopolitan from 1996, Sting stripped to his underwear and began doing yoga sun salutations in front of the journalist. He then serenely began sharing his sex tips, with a candor that’s still rarely seen by mainstream pop stars. “It’s not all about penetration,” uttered the singer, sagely. “Penetration for a woman isn’t the most satisfying thing. Stimulation of the clitoris is the thing — it’s vital.” This loud, proud broadcasting of his sexual escapades has become almost more famous than his music and is a habit that he knowingly indulges. Even if it’s all publicity, he’s clearly doing something right: Sting has been married to Styler for more than 30 years.
Weirdly, however, most fans I speak to don’t seem all that impressed with all his celestial sex-speak. For my mum, it’s even a turn-off — a desperate kind of pseudo-sensuality that makes him come across as cheesy and pretentious. “Oh no,” she shouts, audibly cringing on the phone when I bring up his tantric sex habit. “That’s really not attractive. So embarrassing — I hated when he started talking about all that.”
Instead, she insists that the most compelling part of Sting’s appeal is his musical ability. Yes, he’s handsome, with an admittedly “beautiful physique,” but he also wrote good and thoughtful songs. “I remember the first time I saw him,” she continues. “It was 1983, and The Police were performing on Top of the Pops [a British live music show]. I just thought, who is that? He was so fit — just gorgeous — and they were all so stylish, with their matching blonde hair. Also their music was unlike anything else at the time — it was genuinely good, and cool, unlike now.”
Her fascination led her to follow Sting for years afterward, though she insists that she wasn’t as big a fan of his later work, even if I remember differently. “He just got really rich and went a bit out of touch. I still listened to his albums, but he was never as cool as his Police days,” she swears. (After scrolling past a music video for one of his later singles, “Brand New Day,” in which he styles himself as Christ’s second coming, I realize that she may have a point.)
Surprisingly, much of this sentiment is echoed by the majority of other fans I speak to. For Alex, 53, from New York, Sting’s dulcet tones and songwriting ability are the source of all his magic. “He is lovely looking, has aged very well and is a walking advertisement for yoga,” she says, when asked about his appeal. However, she believes it’s his intellectual curiosity that gives him the edge over other pop stars: “He strikes me as someone who metaphorically takes other people’s songs, books and ideas apart, examines them and puts them back together in his own way.”
What about the tantric sex thing? “I don’t know,” Alex muses, seemingly unimpressed. “He and Trudie are very obviously gaga for each other and that can keep a physical relationship going strong. But not much else is going to get done if you’re on a tantric sex bender. There’s nothing wrong with a quickie now, is there?”
In fact, it seems like the majority of Sting megafans I find are just straight guys who really love his music. On the Sting subreddit, most posts appear to just be saxophone song covers and footage of forgotten live performances. There’s no salivating over old topless pictures, and no mentions of his physical appearance, or of the merits of tantric sex. It’s a twist, seeing as Sting has been so heavily marketed as an intense, heavenly sex deity. “I recognize that he’s an unabashed hunk,” says Cole, a Sting stan from Boston. “But I don’t really perceive him to be a sex symbol. He’s traveled, experienced, successful, a great songwriter and everything in between. No person could help but be fascinated.”
Given that the majority of this tantric sex chat happened in the 1990s and 2000s, maybe it’s not so shocking that he seems to be settling into a more reserved, discreet lifestyle. Maybe his sex god days are over. After all, Sting is 69 (nice) this year, which means that much of his sexual adventuring is probably behind him. So what’s he actually up to now?
A quick Google search reveals that he’s extremely active career-wise. He’s performing on Jimmy Fallon! Releasing a new album! Planning a world tour! Holding virtual wine tasting events! Tearing his arm tendons! And while he’s not spoken too openly about his sexual habits recently — at least not in the last few years — he still seems to be occasionally enjoying the benefits of his aging “sex symbol” status. Last year, he gave a journalist an uncomfortably sultry private performance from a room in his Tuscan villa, and shared a taster of the “sexy wine” — his words — that is made in his sprawling vineyard. And this year, in an interview with Haute Living, both Styler and Sting discussed their marital setup — which, for the record, remains blissful, even all these years later. “Sting is a very romantic man,” says Styler, proudly. “We are living the sweet life.”
Good for them, I guess. However, as I watch one of his most recent performances — an abominable duet of “It Wasn’t Me,” sung alongside Jamaican reggae singer Shaggy — I realize that I’m none the wiser over this man’s appeal. The confusion that I felt as a small child has never gone away, and probably never will. “He’s not of your time,” says my mum, brushing off my bewilderment. “It’s a nostalgia thing: He reminds me of being young in the early 1980s. You wouldn’t understand.”
Maybe not, I think, as I watch him strum next to Shaggy, and slur about being “butt naked” and “banging on the bathroom floor.” And maybe that’s okay.