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When I first moved to Brighton as a single man, a male friend of mine told me to be prepared for how promiscuous the LGBTQ community is here. I thought he was just being dramatic or generalising. I’ve been out for nearly five years and have lived in lots of different places – most recently Bournemouth – so I don’t consider myself new to the scene. But since my first year at university, I’ve always been with someone or other.
After four years of on-off relationships, I fully intend to stay single for a while now and make the most of this town. There’s a reason it’s the gay capital of the south: you’ve got three different universities and lots of people looking for a good time, Grindr is a big thing here, too, so it’s easy to meet up. So, yes, I’m enjoying myself. But it seems I’m still learning, too. Because there’s only so much you can discover when you’re in a relationship.
One of the things that has struck me most from being on the scene is just how much of a role ‘top-bottom’ preferences play in some same-sex couples. In the past, me and my partners have always had preferences for who penetrates who, but we’ve also been flexible. With one person I was the bottom. Then, when I met my next boyfriend, I switched roles. We also covered the full spectrum of sexual interactions – intimacy never had to mean full sex, it could mean doing other things, too. The ‘top-bottom’ framing wasn’t central to our relationship.
But since I’ve been single I’ve noticed it can be a real sticking point for people, especially if they’re only prepared to be one or the other and are unwilling to change. Now I’m on Grindr, people always ask or have their preference written on their profile. It comes up really early in conversations. It’s something that seems to be important to a lot of men.
Of course, if you’re only planning on sleeping with someone and it turns out you’re not compatible, you just move on. But this isn’t the case with everyone.
“If, physically, you and your partner are mismatched, what are you meant to do?”
For one of my friends, who is in a couple, it has become a real deal breaker. His boyfriend is a bottom, and so is he, and neither wants to compromise. It sounds silly but it’s become a big issue for them – they’ve even had to open up their relationship. Both have begrudgingly downloaded Grindr and are having these private sex lives away from each other so they can get what they want.
Neither of them wants more from those other hookups. They wouldn’t even call themselves polyamorous because it’s not about finding love with someone else, it’s just about sex. But when I look at their relationship, I feel quite sad – and I think they’re not totally happy with the set-up either.
I don’t know if heterosexual people would consider this could be a problem: you can have incompatibility in terms of libido or your mentality towards sex but the physical side, your bodies being compatible, isn’t an issue in the same way. But if physically you and your partner are mismatched, what are you meant to do?
When I look back, I consider it a blessing I’ve been able to adapt to partners and relationships. And I guess because of that I hadn’t realised how much of a thing it can be for others. I don’t know why some people are scared to be flexible – maybe it’s stigma or taboo. Or just what they’ve always known.
Whatever the reason, it’s sad to see people who love each other feeling pushed apart – one partner saying to the other: “I love you but I’m not happy with this, sexually speaking.” That’s going to hurt.
And it’s something that keeps cropping up in this new stage of my life. I’m hoping it won’t become a problem for me, too – but who knows.