I am writing this from the eye of the storm that has erupted around my show Sex Addict at the Edinburgh Festival. During the show (which the Daily Telegraph critic adored and which, said the London Evening Standard, “is offensive in so many ways it is hard to know where to begin”), I log on to the gay internet dating site Gaydar and, with the help of the audience, find a partner from the Edinburgh chatroom for casual sex. The audience gets to choose who I go with; at the end of the show, they wave as I set off on my shag bike outside the theatre to the strains of Dame Vera Lynn singing “Wish Me Luck (As You Wave Me Goodbye)”.
The following evening, I report back on the experience. At least that’s what I did until a few nights ago, when Gaydar issued a strongly worded legal letter making it clear the site would sue my gay ass off if I continued. Even though large numbers of Gaydar users are coming to the show and readily talking about their experiences, Gaydar accuses me of compromising the privacy of its users and of commercially exploiting the site. I am now inviting Edinburgh Gaydar users to log on to the Yahoo messaging service and message me on Northernoik69 during the show (11.30pm to 12.30am each night) if they want to have sex with me.
The reason I refuse to give in to Gaydar and the reason I will continue to offer myself up for sex with strangers is the same reason I created the show. I wanted to tell the truth about internet sex and I didn’t want to do it in a prurient, let’s-laugh-at-the-freaks way. I wanted to say that I, too, am a user (which is why I share pictures of my profile during the show and even pictures of my erect penis).
I also wanted to say to my audience: “What do you think of this?” I have had hundreds of partners on the site and scores of my friends have done the same. This virtual world where you can get, in the words of Gaydar, “what you want, when you want it” is an entirely new phenomenon. Previously, this much sex was available to you only if you were rich or powerful or famous. Now, if you are a gay man living in a metropolitan area of Britain, you can get somebody round for a shag in the time it takes to order a pizza.
Night after night during the show, audience members have shared their stories. There was the gay man from Birmingham who arranged a liaison with a gorgeous guy in his thirties who eventually turned out to be in his sixties; and the guy from Leeds who said he just wished there was an equivalent site for straights that cut through all the hypocrisy he had to endure to get a woman into the bedroom.
Well, straight casual-sex sites are springing up, as are sites for men who like having sex in parkas, women who like having sex while throwing custard pies, and sites for people who simply want to do it with the dog. Previously, if you had some outlan-dish fetish, the best you could hope for was to discover a contact mag that would be delivered guiltily to your door in a brown paper envelope. Then you would place an ad and wait a month in the hope of getting a response. Now, anyone with access to the internet can satisfy their most secret fetish. Type into a search engine what you seek, and it will throw up hundreds of sites where you can meet like-minded folks.
The speed at which sex is available, particularly for gay men, makes sites such as Gaydar highly compulsive. Many is the time I have sat at my desk to work, thought “I’ll just check my messages”, and three hours later found myself being weed on in Willesden Green and wondering what happened to my morning. No wonder hundreds of sites have sprung up devoted to the subject of “sex addiction”. Most are run by religious groups (though that may not be immediately apparent when you log on) and their agenda is simple: get married, procreate, and try to avoid fun at all costs.
Gay men should certainly think about how much sex they are getting – this is in part why I created the show. Although the gay world has always been brilliantly honest about sex and sexual desire (which is why the straight audience for my show is fascinated by it), I sometimes wonder whether gay men are as good as straights at forming lasting relationships. What with the level of sexual temptation, particularly in the big cities, many gay men adopt a butterfly policy on partnership. And there is something sad about men in their late forties going to clubs, sweating profusely, popping Ecstasy in the gents and squeezing themselves into boy-band outfits.
The reaction to Sex Addict tells us a great deal about where we are, sexually, as a society. Audiences which begin by being repulsed when I recount my experiences of sex with strangers are, 20 minutes later, cheering me on to do it again. A straight audience is being introduced to the truth about what gay men do sexually – seeing three-dimensional people rather than the Will Young media stereotype.
For some, this is too much. Some of the gay men in the audience dislike me for giving away the secrets and for admitting that while some gay men have impeccably decorated living rooms, some of them also like strangers to come and defecate in the middle of them.
The Worldwide Web offers us an opportunity to go to our graves having fulfilled most of our sexual fantasies. It challenges us to dare to do what we want with our sex lives and it threatens many of the rules that supposedly bond our society. The internet is an extension of us, and on its trillions of pages is writ large the wonderful and complex sewer of the human psyche. Those who have a problem with that have a problem with themselves.
Sex Addict is at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh EH2 until 30 August (box office: 0131 226 2428)