Oh, the perils of house hunting as a gay man. “I’m looking to live with someone who is open to possibilities...of the carnal kind,” screamed the first line of the flatshare alert which had pinged into my inbox. Others were less subtle: “subsidised rent in exchange for BJs”, and even: “no rent required - seeking someone who will explore all boundaries with me - and many others. Totally genuine offer.” More amusing still were the ongoing demands for me to send my “picture”, to which I quipped back “Arse or cock? flaccid or hard? Under harsh lighting or soft?” But what really shocked me were the reactions I received when I mentioned these experiences to other gay men. “It’s not too different from having sex with your friends, really, is it?” replied several. I stared at them in horror. You see, in my mind, fellatio and friends - let alone housemates - simply do not mix.
It’s not that I haven’t tried the whole “Friends with Benefits”, or “Benefriends” thing. In my twenties, during my brief, ridiculous flirtation with all things sexually liberated and Queer Theory, there were dalliances with men who started out as sexual partners, briefly became friends, and then quickly reverted to being strangers - or more often than not enemies - when they spurned by immature demands to develop said friendship into lifelong devotion. Since then I have felt it wise to draw a firm dividing line between sex and friendship. Sex, I have convinced myself, only muddles things and risks destroying a valuable friendship. This is also a common fear among gay men I have spoken. Anton, 24, discovered this when he found comfort in the arms of his best friend after they were both reeling from breakups. “It complicated things a lot,” he tells me, “because he felt differently about it than I did, and for me it was a big mistake that I wanted to forget.” The experience led to the pair not speaking for almost a year. “It was a lesson learned for me, and if somebody has cemented themselves as a good friend, then I won’t go there,” Anton has concluded.
Separating emotion from sex is perhaps the key to making any “Benefriend” arrangement work. If the dropping of pants sends off a wedding bells siren in your head then you’re probably in for heartache. William, in his mid-forties, admits that he usually gets emotionally involved when sex enters the equation, but recalls experiences with one friend in which he managed to disconnect what happened in bed with feelings. “For some reason it wasn’t emotional,” he says. “It was about convenience and release. On occasions when we hadn’t found someone to bring home we’d often give each other blow jobs. The next morning we’d talk about what we wanted for breakfast. It was all quite odd. It’s the fact that we never spoke about it and returned to the mundane. We laugh about it now.”
Feeling insecure about your own sexuality - and other people’s - is often a deciding factor when starting sexual relations with a friend. Andre, in his forties, has had numerous “benefriends”. What impact has sex had on the friendships? “Rarely has it changed them. It certainly hasn’t if the man concerned was confident and grown up. In some cases it almost allowed a friendship to flourish. It was as if we needed to get the sex thing out of the way - off the agenda.” Andre goes on to make an interesting point about hook up apps like Grindr: “I think the getting sex over and done with bit is even more common now. These apps - ironically perhaps - afford an initial honesty that perhaps the old fashioned bar hook ups didn’t.” Overall, he believes that having sex with friends has been a positive experience: “It has all depended upon the friend, the situation and that person’s sexuality, but friends have become lovers, lovers have become friends. There are no hard and fast rules. I’ve gay male friends I definitely wouldn’t have sex with - and then there are others whose bones I’d jump without a second thought,” he laughs.
Until March 2015, Andre was in an 18-year relationship with Ben, who is in his late thirties. The relationship was open from the start, and like Andre, Ben was free to have sex with friends. “I’ve often walked into a room and looked around and thought, ‘yep, I’ve had all of you,” Ben says. “But that’s a nice experience because they’ve seen a deeper side of you: they’ve all seen you in that hilarious, squelchy, howling, sweaty state - and you’ve seen them too. It’s a shared (not so) secret, and it facilitates feelings of familiarity and closeness.” For Ben then, sex with friends has been about having the honesty to lay himself bare. This, he believes, makes any subsequent friendship easier. “You’ve already connected, so being there for one another, and being friends, is a natural progression. I also think it has to be a ‘more than once’ thing too. You know you don’t want to be boyfriends, but you’re happy to spend time with him again and get each other off - and after a time you may become pals.” Ben has found that in each case the friendship has taken over from the sex: “It reaches a point when you no longer have sex with them, and you know you like spending time together with no need for a physical thrill. Your relationship has evolved, you’re friends with a bit of a past, and now you’re there for each other for different reasons - and that’s even better.” An interesting - and positive - outlook, indeed, but whether I could stretch this definition of friendship to the realms of exchanging bodily fluids with a housemate, and then casually asking them to pass the milk the next morning, is another matter - and perhaps another article...
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