Opinion | 'Sex clubs must be protected in a post-coronavirus world'

Adult venues may still be considered taboo, but they remain a vital outlet for many, writes drag and scene legend Jonny Woo.


This article was first published in Attitude issue 327, October 2020

“We are pleased to announce that, from next Tuesday, groups of up to 30 men can meet under railway arches in Vauxhall for wild orgies.”

That’s one announcement I’d love to hear from Boris Johnson on our sporadic, not-sure-when-they-are-happening, doctor-the-figures, shift-the-blame, lie-lie-lie COVID-19 updates. (BTW, does anyone else find the guy who does the signing hot?!)

It’s not really the opening of nightclubs that will mark the end of the corona crisis, but the rebooting of London’s gay sex clubs.

“Ah, but they are just sex clubs, who cares if they reopen?”, some will say. I bloody do, along with thousands of men who use these clubs, backrooms and saunas. But I don’t see any ‘SAVE OUR SEX CLUBS’ campaigns. Sluts, unite!

Of course, gay men will take things into their own hands (and holes) and open-air sex clubs are back to the glory days of the 1990s — so I’ve heard. (I’ve not made it up that hill in north London. Yet.) Apparently, dusk is the time to go. But as glorious as blowjobs beneath the stars may be, it does come with the dangers of scratches, stings… and even threats of violence.

Are sex clubs worth the fight? Even today there is an air of secrecy and misplaced shame around them. Sex clubs saved my sex life in sobriety. Trying to pull when sober in a bar is not the thing, and we all know that apps can be a minefield of body, race, age, and HIV-shaming.

Now, I know sex clubs are not necessarily drug-free, but it’s much easier to negotiate your parameters around safer sex choices at a Sunday-afternoon shag-fest in a club than when you’re drugged up at a party in a south London flat. Sex clubs aren’t perfect, but they feel more honest.

London drag and scene legend Jonny Woo 

I’ve banged on about the joys of nudity before, and in my socio-anthropological research of Europe’s sex dens, you get every body type, dick size and age in clubs where you check your coat, jeans, shoes and pants at the door. Much of the gay scene is ageist. As we get older, we can feel less attractive, less relevant.

As nightclubs spit us out and bars cater for younger, fiercer queens, gay men can be faced with isolation, and fears of a life on the shelf become very real. Sexual intimacy is as important to those in their middle or later decades as it is for a twenty-something.

Many of the country’s queer venues will have been completing the beast of an application form for access to the government’s Culture Recovery Fund. I really hope our sex clubs have done the same. They have been a part of queer (and even straight) culture reaching back to early civilisations.

So, lip-syncing or shagging? I’m quite partial to a club that offers both. Hmmmmmm, there’s a thought. In the meantime, until our darkened ‘portals of perv’ re-open, catch me in a bush somewhere around sunset…