Volume 76, Number 5 | June 21 - 27 2006

Gay Pride
A special Villager supplement

Love is the drug, but do we need to keep score?

By Tim Gay

According to Maxim, a heterosexual magazine, Charlie Sheen claims to have had sex with 5,000 women.

I question Mr. Sheen’s self-reporting methodology, from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective. For example, did Mr. Sheen’s 5,000 partners sign consent forms to be part of this multiyear study? Did the study factor in such qualitative considerations as whether his partners found the act itself forgettable? If they forgot it, and he remembered it, does it still matter?

Straight guys simply idolize any of their kind who claims to engage in promiscuity with bravado and without impunity.

I find it ironic, because, as every gay guy knows, those numbers are really quite attainable over time.

In other words, Charlie, been there, done that, lots of us died.

When I was coming out at age 24 in Kansas City back in 1979, Keith Spare, a muumuu-wearing gay hippie psychologist with an Afro, told me, “Anyone can have as much sex as he or she wants. It’s all a matter of lowering one’s standards.”

Depending on where one lived back then (New York, say, as opposed to Tampa), a reasonably fit urban gay man could have the sex life of a rock star — well, maybe the perceived sex life of a rock star.

But gay men, even back then, demur when discussing their total number of liaisons. Just imagine a personal that reads, “GWM, mid-30s, with 5,000 former sex partners seeks even more conquests…”.

A friend I’ll call Mark thought about this for a long time. After taking pencil to paper, he estimates he had sex with 4,000 men from 1979 through the early 1990s.

Here’s how the math worked: Mark would go to the Mineshaft or another club featuring backroom sex, three or four times a month. He estimates that he would have maybe 15 sexual encounters with other men on those given nights. Multiply 3 x 12 x 15 and my friend had sex with some 540 guys each year in the backroom clubs.

“Also add in steam room encounters at the McBurney Y and the Chelsea Gym, plus my two lovers during that time, and several trips to Europe over 12 years,” Mark said. “And then subtract 20 percent or so for times that probably didn’t happen, and it comes to somewhere around 4,000.”

That was life back then.

Are gay men still racking up the numbers? You bet. Some are doing it safely, some are not. But no one is bragging about conquests.

I interviewed Richard, age 27. At first he was aghast that I would ask such a question. I promised anonymity.

“Well, I would say around 100, maybe more than 100,” he said. “But certainly not more than 200.”

Richard and I then talked about one of his sex buddies, also late 20s. Richard’s friend is H.I.V. positive and just passed the T-cell threshold for AIDS. He’s not responding to medications. Richard assured me that the two practice safer sex.

I talked with John, another old acquaintance, who is now in and out with crystal meth addiction.

“I can’t even venture to guess how many guys I’ve slept with,” he said. “When you are on crystal, you don’t keep track. It’s just part of the party.”

Steve and his lover enjoy “playing with bears,” that is, guys who are big and hairy but not necessarily pretty.

“We’re all friends and buddies. It’s safe and most of the guys are drug free,” he said. Still, every so often, Steve ventures from his bear den. He recently went to an early weeknight sex party.

“Out of 40 or so guys, there were exactly two of us using condoms,” he said. “This was at 8:30 in the evening. It was pretty obvious everyone there was doing crystal after work.”

But Steve and his lover have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

“We might go months without playing around,” he explained.

And then there are those who simply can’t stop looking. They are out there on the chat rooms at all hours of day and night. Or they are hanging around too long at the N.Y.S.C. steam room. They are looking for love in all the wrong backrooms, when they know deep down that they should be home asleep or back at their desks working.

“It’s hard to describe to the outside person,” the man told me. “I just get this overwhelming sensation that I should go back online and hook up, or that there is a party going on that I have to find.”

Maybe there’s some common ground for Charlie Sheen and gay men, besides the raw numbers.

Back in the 1970s, no one ever heard of the term “sexual addiction.”

Then, 25 years ago, AIDS was first identified.

Then, two years later, it was established that H.I.V. was out there, and the best way to exchange H.I.V. from person to person was through sex.

Then, despite all the information (unsafe sex equals AIDS) and all the tools (free condoms), gay men still became H.I.V. positive, not to mention contracting all the old classic S.T.D.’s like syphilis.

So, back in the early 1980s, a number of people — straight and gay — began to realize that they might have a problem with sexual compulsion, love addiction and other forms of escape. And they found that they could get help in the same kinds of ways that alcoholics and drug addicts were getting help — 12-step programs, individual and group therapy, lifestyle changes.

It could be summed up in the lyrics of Brian Ferry’s late 1970s song, “Love is the drug and I need to score.” But the lesson to learn was how not to score.

Am I suggesting that Charlie Sheen is sexually compulsive? The only person who can answer that is Mr. Sheen….


Back to keeping score… Sexual Conquest #11 of 1979:

JD was a lanky guy from Texas. He came out in 1979, and began keeping a diary of every man he had sex with. It so happened that my lover Michael was JD’s 11th encounter. So JD came to visit us in New York. JD added quite a few more notches to his belt that week, and left with a smile on his face.

Ten years later, September 1990, there was a buzz on my intercom. It was JD, coming back to see who might still be here at 300 W. 17th St. Of all the names he knew in 1980, I was the only one left on the buzzer.

As I recall, JD had settled down to a good domestic life. His first lover died around 1988, and he was into his second long-term relationship.

Then he asked the questions: My lover, Michael Collins? Passed away in 1984. Doug? 1987. How was the older guy with the Asian lover? Both died in ’83. Bob and Patrick? Just passed away last spring. Ken, the artist? 1989. And so it went.

At that time, JD was still counting — both the number of men he had slept with, the number who passed on and the number of men he had helped take care of in Houston. As I recall, he was up there around 270 sex partners and 12 AIDS buddies in September 1990.

JD told me he was negative. I told him I was too. We were relieved for each other, but not with any exuberance — it’s what we later recognized as “survivor’s guilt.” We said we’d keep up, but we didn’t. I tried searching for JD on the Internet for this article, but couldn’t find him.

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