(S)EX-PRESS

 

 

 

Facework

 

 

Interaction between human beings depends on what Erving Goffman calls 'facework'. This involves not just the face but the whole body used as a tool of communication. Facework is used to judge the intentions of others, whether hostile or otherwise. Human beings also use facework to uphold positions and lifestyles within society and to confirm their status - the term 'saving face' is a perfect example of how this phenomenon is used when your position in society is threatened. But when a gay man enters a sauna or goes to a beat, his normal 'face' can, to some extent, be left behind. Perhaps being anonymous in such a venue or location allows the gay man to undertake certain actions (unsafe sex) which are outside his normal 'face'.

 

 

 
 

 

In gay saunas most men are there to look for sex so the possibility of a hostile (re)action towards sexual advances is reduced. In these locations the gay man is freed from the 'normal' moral restraints that govern his actions in society. The provision against strong emotions such as lust in society may also be diminished in these environments, especially when the gay man is on drugs or alcohol. Potentially liberating experiences are available to him, but these experiences can lead him into danger when control of a sexual encounter is lost due to various conditions. I suggest that taking a 'risk' in having unsafe sex may be the enacted form of a liberated 'facework', an enactment that can have far reaching consequences for a gay man in terms of HIV contraction.
In this liberated 'facework' it is important to note the relationship between a lack of intimacy and connection between gay men and gay men's fear of loosing control, which may happen in sexual encounters when the lid of their emotions is blown off (and they then have unsafe sex). They begin to 'feel' themselves and their partners and attain a level of connection that is otherwise lacking between gay men in everyday life. Being sexually aroused and liberated from normal states of existence has an affect on the boundaries of the body and of the cognitive aspects of a person's reasoning. Experiencing a pleasurable intimacy may become a validation of their lives, for however brief a moment, and this can lead to a loss of self control and rational thought, (sub)consciously acted upon when they then engage in unsafe sex.

 

 

 
 

 

 

Through casual sexual encounters some gay men have to constantly reaffirm their own self worth through a pleasurable intimacy and connection (ideally with a man who 'fits' their body image 'ideal' but if this is not available an-'other' body coming close can be substituted), a connection that may then be immediately severed. They may become addicted to a search for pleasure and intimacy through the medium of having sex with these bodies, seeking out validation for their lives through their sexual experiences. This addiction to pleasure is not a reinvention of new pleasures but a repetition of the same type of pleasure enacted through a desire for established stereotypes. Other possible problems raised by liberating sexual experiences may include issues of power, control, abuse, taking risks, low or high self-esteem, compulsive sexual behaviour, lack of communication skills & unsafe sex. In the following pages I look at some of these issues in greater depth.