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Why Are Straight Men Selling Sex on Grindr?

We speak with them on identity, sexuality, penises and privacy.
straight men on grindr sex

Tarun met Rehaan when he moved to Delhi eight years ago. They both were instantly attracted to each other and began dating a few months into meeting each other. Tarun—who had spent 16 years in the rural Moradabad area of Uttar Pradesh—found his life completely turned around. “Growing up in UP, I had no exposure to gay culture,” he says. “I hadn’t seen anyone like me and it made me feel very lonely and claustrophobic. Everything had to be done secretly, right from finding spots to meet people to making love with them. A lot of children from my village would move to cities like Mumbai and Delhi for better employment opportunities. When they’d come back, they’d bring stories about the freedom and independence metros offered. That’s when I began dreaming of getting out of there.”


But two years into their live-in relationship, Tarun accidentally found out that not only was Rehaan a sex worker but that he identified as straight. Rehaan confessed that he had begun to sleep with men when he was in college because it meant easy money to pay off bills. Over the years, by harnessing the power of social media and dating apps, he had built a steady client base of rich and usually older men, but had ‘settled down’ with Tarun as it came with the promise of economic stability. They broke up.

The subject of men who identify as straight but have sex with other men is a fascinating one. It makes you think of identity, sexuality, motivations, how you publicly and privately might identify yourself, and your perceived place in society. While sex work is legal in India, activities like soliciting in public are still illegal. But we are yet to establish whether dating apps count as a public or a private platform. While researching for this piece, I spoke with many people and was surprised to see how many knew of men having sex with other men (MSM) but insisting they were straight. And one of the biggest hunting grounds for them has turned out to be dating apps—Grindr topping that list.

Craig, a filmmaker and resident of Mumbai, found out about this in a strange way. “I was waiting outside a famous college in south Mumbai for an examination when a shopkeeper called me over and whispered that he could arrange a ‘deal’ for me. I assumed he was talking about weed but on talking to him further, he told me that he could also arrange for a room to ensure privacy. Then I came to know that there were college students who were willing to sleep with men. They were mostly boys from small towns who needed money and dreamt of a luxurious lifestyle.”


But if money seems to be the biggest motivation for these straight MSM, why would they just not hook up with women? Maybe because talking about sex or asserting their right over sexual pleasure is still fairly uncommon for women in India, especially in rural and semi-urban spaces. The LIRNEAsia report also stated that only 43% of women have access to mobile phones as compared to 80% of men in India which indirectly means fewer women are using the internet or social media apps for sexual autonomy.

“It is also way easier to approach men,” says Pune-based Ranjit (31). “I find it extremely difficult to speak to any women here. There’s definitely a geographical and cultural difference among us. Finding other gay men is easier due to apps and social media. They also don’t tend to interrogate about your background. There’s no peddler between us.” Ranjit believes that there is more anonymity this way, as often, the men they sleep with, would rather not talk about their sexual escapades to their friends because of the stigma of not just being homosexual but also paying for sex. A lot of his clients are also closeted gay men who are married to women. Ranjit himself is married since a year. “My wife is oblivious of my profession. I lie to be able to feed my family, and this is not really too tough.”

Most of the men I spoke with had profiles on not just Grindr but also used Facebook and WhatsApp to get in touch with potential customers. “I have my profile on all these platforms and I tell everyone upfront that I charge for sex,” says Siddharth, a male-to-male sex worker who grew up in Bihar but moved to Mumbai to work as a waiter at a restaurant when he was 17. “I also inform them that I am not gay, bisexual or queer but a heterosexual man only there to earn money. It helps me set some rules with people I meet. I generally don’t prefer kissing them or getting inserted during intercourse. So most of my clients are what the gay world calls ‘bottoms’. I introduce myself as ‘top’ or someone who penetrates.” Through conversations mostly born on Grindr, Siddharth gets two to three clients a week who either travel to Mumbai or live there itself. “I charge anywhere between Rs 1,500 to Rs 10,000 per session. My job has made my life much better. I can now afford eating out and even a house to rent.” Siddharth also works as an assistant property dealer during the day.


I do believe though that some of these men are experimenting with their sexuality rather than just getting on the apps to earn money—a recurring answer to my question on why they do what they do, asked to about a dozen of these men. It does beg the obvious question: why do you identify as straight? And if you enjoy doing what you do, why not just identify as bi or fluid? The answer wasn’t clearly expressed by them but it may lie with giving up the male privileges that come easily to heterosexual cisgender men. Is that why many men still choose to stay in the closet?

“This issue with labels has to do with set ideas of what those of a particular sex are supposed to do, and there are many issues to do with homosexuality that they might not be okay with, be it religion saying it’s wrong or the society saying so,” says Mumbai-based psychologist Varisha Daryani. “These men might be able to differentiate sexual pleasure from sexual attraction, and looking at penises as just a source of sexual pleasure. Even if they privately identify with a label that is not ‘cisgender straight man’, they might not look at it as a conflict that they do not publicly proclaim it.”

Ranjit laughs at the “hypocrisy” but is happy that he has been able to make a pool of well-paying clients around the world solely by harnessing the power of social media. When we speak, he tells me about how he is flown to several places around India and booked into five-star hotels by his “patrons”. He is an extremely good-looking man, looking slightly scruffy in a way that becomes him. His posts usually show him shirtless. He shows me how he is a part of several groups on Facebook and WhatsApp that help sex workers like him find work. Through multiple fake profiles, he approaches people while securing his personal identity.

When asked about whether he enjoys having sex with men, he responds, “I don’t really feel anything wrong or different. Of course I feel different levels of sexual pleasure with different people but I prefer to not get emotionally involved. That hasn’t stopped me from seeking companionship in men. I may not have many friends outside my secret life but some of my clients have gone beyond their role and have established their part in my life.” This involves checking up on each other during festivals and birthdays, as also being able to count on them during an SOS situation. “We even pooled money for our friend’s mother who had to undergo complicated and expensive surgeries a few months ago. Once, a very wealthy man from Delhi did insist that I leave this life behind and start living with him. He also offered me a large sum to help him out in his business but I have never taken such proposals seriously partly due to my family. This work is lucrative. I take ample care while indulging in sex and make sure to always use protection and lubricants. Life is good.”

All names have been changed to protect the identity.

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