Hadley Stewart | @wordsbyhadley


Hooking up has never been easier. It’s not just those on Grindr that are looking for some fun, it’s also thirst traps on the likes of Twitter and Instagram that are snaring guys on the prowl.

In fact, any social media platform seems to be connecting gay, bi and queer men like never before. LinkedIn, perhaps, has yet to have its cherry popped. But these hook-ups can sometimes leave guys in sticky situations, in more ways than one. So is it possible to stay safe as you have fun?

IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT GRINDR

“I first started meeting men from the internet when I was 14 years-old on Gaydar, FaceParty and MySpace,” says Harry, 30, who splits his time  between the coasts of Blackpool and Brighton. “In more recent years it’s been Grindr and Scruff, but Instagram, Twitter and Facebook can, of course, be pretty cruisey places too.” Harry isn’t alone; while sites like Gaydar pre-dated smartphones and their GPS location, today more than four million daily users open up Grindr on their phones.

Liam, 38, from Yorkshire, also turned to Gaydar for his first hook-up. “When I was about 15, that’s when I first hooked up with a guy,” he recalls. “I used to use Gaydar at the time, I think that’s gone now? I used to talk to people on that from the local area, and then I’d go and meet them.” He stayed with the platform, and like Harry, turned to newer kids on the digital block to meet guys. His conquests weren’t always necessarily short-lived, either. “I met somebody on Gaydar and met up with them in Leeds; I’m still friends with them now. It’s possible that if you do meet somebody from a hook-up, you can actually stay friends with them later on.”

Stuart, 25, says that his hometown of Manchester “has plenty of guys looking for a hook-up.” The Mancunian uses Grindr and his social media channels to chat with guys. “I think Grindr is definitely just about sex. It’s anonymous and almost transactional. There’s very little emotional investment, which suited me just fine whilst I was coming to terms with being bi.” Today, he prefers getting to know the guys he meets up with a little beforehand. “Twitter and Instagram are probably the best way of meeting guys now – you can sort of get a rough idea if the guy is a decent human being. I know ‘it’s just sex’ or whatever, but you need to at least have a bit of small talk before the jeans come off.”

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO MEET?

“We would meet somewhere other than my place, because I wasn’t comfortable with bringing somebody back to the family home,” explains Liam. “I would meet up with them in a place of their choosing, which looking back, could have potentially been a bit dangerous and silly.” He says that at the time he didn’t used to give it much thought, but on reflection, he thinks he could have been savvier with picking a location for hooking up. “You hear a number of stories about hookups going wrong, but I suppose when I was younger, I was a bit more naïve and so didn’t really think about it.”

Harry isn’t fussed about where he hooks up with guys. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way!” he laughs. “My place, their place, cruising grounds,  underneath motorway bridges, abandoned railway tracks, car parks, toilets, alleyways.” Like Liam, Harry too feels that he could have been a little wiser with his choice of locations, in the beginning. “I was quite reckless in my early years,” he admits.“Given some of the situations I found and put myself in, or escaped, I am in disbelief that I behaved like that and am incredibly grateful to be here now.” 

that making a plan about how he’s going to get

back home afterwards. “I’m not saying I do this every time,” he explains. “Obviously you can get caught up in the moment, or you’re a bit drunk in a club when you start chatting with a guy, so the plan goes out of the window. But nine times out of ten I will make a plan.” What about his place? “I have flatmates and, yes, I’m out to them, but I don’t feel all that comfortable with them listening to me fucking a guy in the next room.”

PrEP? CONDOMS? LUBE?

When it comes to having safer sex, Stuart never used to wear condoms. “It was only when I started taking PrEP that I thought more about condoms and other STIs, other than HIV.” He remarks that his engagement with sexual health services through being on the PrEP trial has resulted in him thinking more closely about his sexual health. He used to test positive for an STI “every time I went to the clinic, without fail” he says. “Now I use condoms, because I’m done with getting all the STIs under the sun. No more injections in the bum for me!”

Stuart brings condoms and lube with him to the hook-up, because he thinks it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the other person. “We’re both having sex, so blaming the person for not having condoms at his house isn’t fair. I want to look after my sexual health, so I bring the condoms and insist on us using them.”

Liam always uses condoms when having sex with a new partner. “When I was younger, I would rely on them to bring the condom. I know that sounds like a stupid thing now,” he says. “I would ask them if they had a condom and if they did, great, if they didn’t, well that would be the end of that. I basically wouldn’t have sex with them if they didn’t have a condom.” He recalls that his sex education at school was extremely limited, and didn’t contain any information about sex between two guys. However, he does remember being told, “you should never have sex without a condom.”

Was that because of fear around HIV? “Yes, I think that’s fair to say. I think HIV added to the shame of having sex with guys and having hook-ups. Back then, it was viewed by society as a consequence of doing something ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ like having sex with another man.”

CHEMS

Harry says he hasn’t always had a healthy relationship with alcohol and chems. “I am four years sober and when I first stopped drinking and using substances, it was incredibly apparent how shame and escapism were so clearly linked with the lack of sober sex I’d had,” he shares. “Working through that, it’s really helped me both in clarity and vocalising when I’m uncomfortable in a situation.” He also thinks that being sober has helped his sex life too. “I’m way better at navigating with a partner, in safe environments, how we could explore and realise our sexy fantasies, kinks and desires consensually together.”

Liam has never used chems while hooking up, but thinks that the judgement of those who engaging in chemsex is wrong. “I think ultimately you can’t judge anyone for using drugs or alcohol when having sex,” he rationalises. “There is a lot of harsh criticism of people who take part in chemsex, which only pushes people who are using drugs  further away from their support network and other services.”

Stuart is of the opinion that consent should be thought about more closely, especially when it comes to chems. “I turned up and it seemed like the guy was on another planet,” he recalls of a recent hook-up. “He told me he was horny and wanted to fuck me, but I turned around and walked right out of there. It sort of killed the mood.” Stuart says he likes his hookups to “actually know what is going on in the moment. That guy certainly didn’t.” As for consenting to sex, he reflects that his hook-up was not in a position to do so. “He might have agreed to something in the  moment, and later on regretted it. I’d hate to put  anyone in that situation, which is why I left.”

HOW TO STAY SAFE

“Look out for any potential red flags,” warns Harry. “Trust your instinct. Bring and use your own lube. Have a drink in your bag and your bag where you can see it.” When it comes to consent, he agrees that this is one of the most important thing to take into consideration. “You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with. If you’re meeting somebody new, or someone you’re not entirely sure about, find a non-judgemental friend you can share that information with.”

Stuart agrees. “Yes, hookups are fun, but you also have to keep in mind your own safety. Without wanting to sound like a killjoy, I think we all need to remember that most of the time we don’t know the  person we’re meeting up with. So keep your guard up and your wits about you.”

Sometimes negative reputation that hook-ups have might prevent others from reporting serious incidents to agencies like the police, or seeking support from charitable organisations. “I guess when I was younger, you feel like you shouldn’t be doing this. You shouldn’t be having a hook-up at all. If something went wrong, I would have just kept it to myself.” He says that today he wouldn’t hesitate in coming forward to reporting a crime, and would encourage others to do the same.

Although Harry says he went through a traumatic experience when hooking up, he says all the negative stories we hear about in the media are only part of the story. “I’ve had some incredibly erotic  experiences and made long-lasting friendships through the apps,” he recalls. “Thinking of my time in San Francisco makes me giddy. With my wealth of experience and sobriety in tow, the door was well and truly on the latch for a queue of lovely people and it was marvellous.”

Jo O’Reilly is a Digital Privacy Advocate at ProPrivacy, an organisation that researches and investigates tools that can help people keep their privacy online. “If you want to use your real name instead of ‘sexyboi69’, go ahead, but you might want to consider keeping your surname to yourself, at least initially, that way you can’t be tracked down via social media,” advises Jo.

She also says being vague about other personal information like your age or your job is another way to protect your privacy while hooking up. “Don’t assume that anyone on an app is who they say they are until you’ve met them in a safe environment first,” says Jo of the minority of app users who might be using these platforms to do harm to others.

Despite the potential for things to go wrong during a hookup, it’s clear that there is also room for positive experiences. From making life-long friends, to exploring your sexuality further, it’s easy to simply  allow the negative headlines about hook-ups, apps and more broadly, sex between men, to cloud our minds about hooking up. Perhaps Harry’s thoughts on sex should remind us all of what hooking up should be: “Sex is and can be wonderful, freeing, beautiful, and mind-blowing.”


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