The pros and cons of sex and romance in the city by the bay
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Oh! What a web of tangled flesh we postbohemian, rapidly gentrifying, pandemic-aware, pre-spray-on-condom and mint-flavored chewable RU-486 San Francitizens weave! Folks still trot out the ol' misty-eyed cynicisms: romance is dead, sex is boring, love is impossible, "I'm too fat".... But that doesn't stop 'em from doing it until their knees ache when they get the winky come-on (or hoping for Mr. or Ms. Right to ease the tax burden). Sure, in the age of the Internetz, sex is now a shopping trip just log on for huge fake tits (aisle four), smart-mouthed ghettosexuals (aisle six), muffin tops gon' wild (aisle nine), or guys who inject a gallon of saline into their shaved balls (clean up, aisle five). No need to be a bitch or a ho you're already both on the webcam, dude. Don't forget your password.
But still. Love exists, right? Christina Aguilera tells us so. And love leads to sex. Or to real sex. Or the other way around. Something. And don't even ask about the whole monogamy thing! Can't it all be easier? Aren't we robots yet? No, not yet. For good or ill we live in a magical place where impulse meets emotion in technology's dark corner and heads upstairs with it to a small room marked "free love" ($29 an hour) leaving behind a trail of used rubbers, hopefully. Below we delve into the sex-and-romance pros and cons of some especially San Franciscan things. Maybe it'll help make things a little clearer. Maybe!
Carrie Bradshaw, Marissa Cooper, and Dr. Meredith Grey have their trumped-up Trumps, Shin-die schlubs, and Doc McDreamys, but what do so many straight, single women get in the Bay bohemia otherwise known as America's gay mecca? Commitmentphobic Peter Panders, crusty granola cronies who only cruise twentysomethings, workaholic geeks who seldom see the light of day (apart from the blazing orbs of Burning Man), and windburned adventurers with a never-ending thirst to mountain bike, lick that downward dog, and hike the closest REI. Face it: single straight sistahs have the toughest lot in this town. A 2004 San Francisco magazine story estimated that unmarried straight 20- to 44-year-old SF men outnumbered their female counterparts by about 12,000. But I bet most eligible gals feel nay, know that the ratio is weighted in the dudes' favor. It doesn't help that years of STD- and AIDS-inspired social conservatism seem to have spurred peeps and perps to hook up early and less often despite our fair city's freewheeling rep when it comes to sex roles, relationships, and gender politics. San Francisco's single chicks sometimes find themselves wondering, "Whatever happened to dating? Where did everyone go? Is it my breath?" When one male friend told me his ex's claim that she's dating multiple fellahs in various NorCal cities, my bullshit detector started honking. Tell it to all the attractive, smart, independent, and nubile femme singletons I know who are sitting home Saturday nights.
Pros: Never having to worry about getting macked on at guycentric sports events, shows, and construction sites. Women are always free at the Power Exchange. There's sisterhood in desperation. You can always join a girl gang and accost hapless men walking alone in dark parking lots. That yawning bore across the table is looking better every sec.
Cons: Dating. Shooting down poseurs who are into shopping for the pick of the litter. Resigning yourself to your anemic online-dating shopping options. And how depressing is it to go to a sex club by yourself? That yawning bore across the table is looking better every sec. (Kimberly Chun)
I worked security at the Endup for four years. As a straight guy, I found myself jealous of my gay compatriots out there on the dance floor, nuts to butts, letting it all hang out. Obviously, gay men have committed, complicated, and drama-filled relationships too. But boys will be boys, and it seemed things were so much simpler and, pardon the pun, more straightforward for gay guys in San Francisco. Less of a mating ritual and more mating. It's the classic straight guy's lament: if women acted like dudes, I'd be getting laid right now. Or, as Michael Dean once said in a Bomb song, "The girl that I miss is just me in a dress." Still, after 15 years in San Francisco, I'm starting to see the bonuses of being single, straight, and not so young in a city known worldwide for Rice-a-Roni, sourdough bread, and buffed-out, hunky young gay guys.
Pros: At 35, I may actually be starting to enjoy dating. No one's lugging around that "my heart was broken, and I can't go through that again" cross anymore. We're all adults here, and like the young, restless, and gay, we've gotten in touch with our biological needs. Thirtysomething Bay City rollers know they need to get off and they don't have to meet their soul mate to do it. Sure, the roller coaster of love is one hell of a ride, but sometimes it's enough to get Indian food, hit a bar with a good jukebox, rent a movie, go home, and fuck.
Cons: People really do get married. Which means the thirtysomething dating pool shrinks and you can end up dating someone younger. This might seem like a pro, until you try to make a pop culture reference on a date and hear crickets chirp. There's not a lot of eye-to-eye going on when your love interest ejects Mania, by the Vibrators, to put on Green Day. (Duncan Scott Davidson)
Oh, the burden! Straight guys think you get laid more than them. Straight girls think you get laid more than them. Both of them think you like turtlenecks and cologne. It's horrifying! And history! Here you are over the rainbow, in the fiercely romantic-looking burg all those haters in high school screeched at you to move to, and you're scrounging for any bit of affection you can find among the forest of online profiles and the coral reef of lopsided haircuts. Plus you've got billboards screaming "AIDS!" in your face on every corner. It's enough to drive a lonely fag to the gym or a dyke to the (one) bar, if that weren't just as fucked-up a defense mechanism as huddling with your old Smiths EPs and a tankard of Merlot in your cubby. But c'mon, at least you can walk home from your trick's house....
Pros: Be all you can be! Journey of discovery! There's a new opportunity around every corner. The hottest FTMs on the face of the planet. Boys aren't wearing so much product as in 2002. Being the envy of the gay world. Invisible lipstick lesbians. Trash drag. Crystal meth played out (pretty much). Domestic partnership laws (if only ...). Gay love is real (ask your serial monogamous friends). Hey, at least it's not Chelsea!
Cons: Too many to choose from. No need to grow up. Too many bottoms. Ever-present feeling you should get more tattoos or is that trying too hard? Everyone wants to be your fag hag. Monogamous or "negotiated"? Holier-than-thou activists, hotter-than-thou street life. "What if I'm really straight?" Knowing everyone's as shy as you but not being able to do anything about it. (Marke B.)
What a difference a few screaming headlines make. Throw in a Scientology siren, underage cocktail gulpers, and a couple plowed society babes with fiercely straightened fright wigs and outta-hand cheekbones and ya got yerself a mayor! All we need are some flesh-eating pigs and anesthesia-free surgery to dub this the return of the wild, wild, perhaps very wild, especially when tanked, west a Deadwood of sorts, if that didn't imply a kind of flaccid fumbling. Nonetheless, let's call it the latest in a grand tradition of San Francisco's romantic and sexual politico-explorers from days of yore from Harvey Milk to Willie Brown that we have Mayor Gavin Newsom finally unchained from his legal-eagle Victoria's Secret model missus and free to allegedly cruise Cow Hollow's finer drinking establishments after hours, as rumor has long had it. Oh, the list is long and ever growing: encompassing the CSI: Miami starlet and the city mag editor eager to vet her boy's cover pic alike. Now comes the real test of testosterone: whether Newsom can summon that ironclad Clintonesque charm to weather the latest scandal. My question for the Gavinator: what are you doing for Valentine's Day?
Pros: The ever-changing cast of hotties at parties and photo ops sure dresses up society pages. No more tacky Harper's Bazaar fashion spreads. Plenty of heavily gelled, aerodynamic-looking helmet hair. The notion of a Scientologist mayor clears rooms. We can now use that hallowed line, "Is that your Plump Jack or are you just excited to see me?" Feeling privy to the secret life of frat boys. He's never boring.
Cons: Kennedy comparisons are starting to grate. Clinton comparisons are starting to chafe. And there's too much chafing in general. The ever-changing cast of hotties is starting to resemble a sale crowd riding the revolving door at Neiman. Paris Hilton?! And we won't be shocked to see Britney Spears stumbling out of a mayoral Four Seasons suite next. He's so predictably not boring that it's starting to get tiresome. (Kimberly Chun)
You see them everywhere but mainly on the Muni and at medical marijuana rallies. Some of them look saintly but a little crazed, as if they see a spaceship in your hair. Others resemble your sexy-yet-matronly high school French teacher, smiling indulgently but always ready to rap your knuckles with a day-old baguette if you get your future perfects wrong. Still others seem like they can't wait to explode with rage at ... well, anything, really. All of them are lovable in a historical light. When they're off their meds not so much. They're living monuments to the golden age of free love, and, as medical science advances and rent-control laws stand, they're not going away anytime soon. (Can young people afford to move here anymore anyway?) They also have a world of sensual knowledge to impart.
Pros: Mother figures, father figures, lusty lovers, spiritual guides these Baudelairean kickers against the pricks can do it all and they bake a mean hash brownie to get it all started. Plus: years of experimentation have made them freaky. You may have to crank up the solar defibrillator, but they're experts in how to "get your motor running."
Cons: Occasional bad-trip flashbacks. Always slightly wary. Strawberry-scented oxygen tanks. Pillow talk = Allen Ginsberg stories. Hairy. Half tantric. Forgot if they put out candles. Ponytail or braid can get caught in teeth. (Marke B.)
Burning Man is a sexual and emotional cauldron. Liberally mix together a world of sensory delights, a spirit of reckless abandon, beautiful exposed bodies everywhere, sudden sandstorms that send you scurrying into the nearest tent or trailer, countless peak experiences, exposure to a myriad of lifestyles and communities, and 40,000 people with time on their hands, goodwill in their hearts, and lust in their loins, and it's no surprise that people end up hooking up left and right. This place oozes sexual energy while stripping away our emotional defenses and leaving us exposed to Cupid's arrows.
Pros: Whatever you want, it's here, often with no strings attached. When people come back from the playa all blissed-out and saying how it changed their lives, that's usually not just the drugs talking. People do things they wouldn't do in the everyday world and then they do it again and again. And if you follow the sound advice of veteran burners to leave your expectations at home and just be open to the experience, then you're also in the ideal place to not just get laid but truly find love. Believe it or not, I know of lots of lasting, loving marriages between people who met on the playa.
Cons: All the things that make Burning Man so conducive to sex and romance can also create problems. People get emotionally splayed by the often overwhelming nature of daily life on the playa. They're vulnerable to everything from small slights that get exaggerated to the predators who invariably exist in any town. Couples get tested. Singles can at times feel lonely and desperate. Everybody has a few hard mornings after. And as a practical matter, dust gets everywhere and I mean everywhere. (Steven T. Jones)
The Bay has a long and luxuriously twisted history of female sexual empowerment, full of Brights, Queens, Dodas, Califias, Blanks, Chos, and other sparkling heroines of don't-do-it-and-die philosophy some of whom have gone on to become heroes, even. The two major, classic phalanxes of gyno-horno-positivism to have arisen from the mists of all that groundwork are the Lusty Lady and Good Vibrations. The Lady, currently a worker-owned stripper co-op, has been baring a broad variety of intelligent, worldly-wise physical types for almost 30 years, and Good Vibrations, a women-centered chain of erotica shops that offer a plethora of workshops and training sessions for both women and men, has helped make vibrators the Tupperware of the new millennium. Despite the ubiquity of silicone enhancements and Girls Gone Wild antics in today's culture, the Lusty Lady and Good Vibrations try to keep it real by focusing on the pleasures inherent in strong, natural femininity. In an era when guys are being forced like never before to question their physical attributes and sexual virility, thanks to size-queen porn and erectile dysfunction spam, the gals who've had to deal with that kind of shit forever may have a bit of an upper hand, self-image-wise, thanks in part to these two affirming San Francisco institutions. Not that it's a competition.
Pros: Lusty Lady's the best place to take your gay friends for a fabulous girls' night out. Everything I know about labias I learned from Good Vibrations.
Cons: I have to hand-wash all my plates because my dishwasher's usually full of Good Vibrations dildos. I have to hand-wash all my clothes because I spend all my quarters in the booths at the Lusty Lady. (Marke B.)
Right up the Peninsula from Silicon Valley, we find ourselves in techie heaven. Most of the global advances in online technology burst first and foremost from our fertile area. The bust and boom that locked the Bay in a violent coital grasp in the early '00s exhausted us, but Web 2.0's got us all atingle again. This time we're sure we won't make the same mistakes. We'll keep it social, we'll keep it personal. Most of all, we'll keep it sexual. Thanks to advances in digital production and online distribution and our wondrously pervy nature (not to mention our desirable market) the porn industry in San Francisco has exploded. The city is now home to a majority of the biggest gay porn companies and quite a few straight and fetish ones.
The most barefaced manifestation of the lucrative intersection of porn and technology is the purchase of the ginormous Armory in the Mission by fetish header Kink.com to house its offices, studios, and online operations. (Personally, I can't wait for them to open a Kink Café in there as well. St. Andrew's croissandwich, anyone?) This may be a harbinger of things to come. We're not exactly holding our collective breath for Bang Bus to take over the LucasArts HQ in the Presidio or for the former Candlestick Park to be rechristened Naked Sword Arena but hey, it could happen. Alas, the fortuitous marriage of porn and technology may be about to hit the skids. Hi-def can reveal a whole lot of ass pimples and nipple lifts Blu-ray killed the porn star? Then again, it might just provide more employment opportunities for digital touch-up artists. "Hey, man, what's your new gig?" "I'm rastarizing Busty Fillips's underarm stretch marks full-time, plus benefits." Local HMOs are lining up.
The ever-rising tide of digital wonders raises more sensual and sensitive boats than porn, however. While no one's yet perfected the vibratorcell phone (what ringtone would I put on that? Oh yeah, Beyoncé), rest assured that some little tech elf is working fiendishly away in his or her bright pink laboratory to bring that dream to fruition. Which brings us to the new iPhone. It may not be dildo-ready, exactly watch that touch screen! but some of its romantic applications were immediately apparent on its unveiling here in January. What other piece of handheld technology allows a person to be rejected in so many different medias at once? Now when you want to break up with someone, you can call them, text them, and e-mail them all at the same time. Plus, you can share a break-up song on iTunes with them and even throw in a YouTube clip of yourself gently weeping to show how torn up you are inside (clip must be less than 10 minutes in duration and not imitative of copyrighted material). Send a slide show! Skype an e-card! Use PayPal to buy them a "Just Got iDumped" mug on eBay! The possibilities are infinite.
Now if only there were software that could mend a broken heart. Sigh.
Pros: Online hookups? No problem: anywhere, anytime. You don't have to be physically present to enjoy an entire relationship. Everyone's a winner: people unable to afford the latest gadget or upgrade get to feel more real. Soon everyone in the city will have a job at Kink.com.
Cons: Much of the Bay population is more interested in staying up all night with a two-liter of Coke, a cold pizza, and a roomful of servers than a warm body. Web 2.0 has brought a horny flood of freshly flush Googlers, Tubers, Diggers, 'Spacers, and Mac heads on the make to already packed and overpriced Mission bars (watch for those hybrid Tundras parked on the median). You will literally go blind if you jack off to video iPod porn in the bathroom stall at work that screen's so small! Soon everyone in San Francisco will have a job at Kink.com. (Marke B.)