Everything about professional wrestling is at once spectacular and spectacularly false: the gold-plated title belts, the storylines, the gimmicks, and even the bodies. The bodies, impressively maintained, are suggestive of strength and athletic ability. More to the point, the bodies are just plain suggestive—a fact that Thunders Arena Wrestling, a gay male-oriented adult website, has recognized and profited from by selling access to videos of scantily-clad hunks battling it out.
Thunders Arena is among the most successful of a growing number of "muscle tease" websites, which offer their users sexually charged but non-pornographic action. The site features bouts between competitors of wildly varying sizes [potentially NSFW, but you probably figured that] and ability levels, staged in settings ranging from wrestling rings and mats in empty gyms to private bedrooms. The participants mix wrestling throws and submission holds, many clumsily applied, with g-string pulls, spanking, and other titillating maneuvers.
"Muscle tease can capture the essence of masculinity," one longtime fan of the product told Motherboard. "Nudity is unnecessary, because what's arousing here are the male secondary sexual characteristics on display."
In that respect, Thunders Arena is merely a very recent manifestation of a long tradition of eroticizing male-on-male athletic activity. Much of the finest male physique photography of the early-to-mid 20th century, which showcased some of the era's most well-conditioned athletes, was either explicitly intended for the underground homosexual market or widely circulated among that small but discerning audience.
Prominent gymnasts and tumblers such as Morris Moritz, who participated in the 1944 Mr. America contest, and Jack LaLanne, whose fitness career spanned eight decades, posed for pictures like these. Joe Weider, the magazine mogul who essentially created modern bodybuilding, subsidized his early career by publishing gay-oriented offerings such as Demi-Gods and The Young Physique.
Unlike Moritz and LaLanne, who allowed themselves to be photographed in the buff, Thunders Arena is nudity-free, save for an occasional "moon shot" when a wrestler is pantsed. Such seeming modesty focuses attention on other parts of the body, chests and biceps and quads--areas that can be developed and filled out in ways the sexual organs cannot.
More than that, staying clothed fulfills the role-playing element of the site; Thunders Arena, its creators assure us, is just "a group of dudes" who want to "bring back old school mat wrestling." As befits an organization specializing in pro wrestling, their statement is a lie, a "work," that somehow also tells the truth. There is indeed mat wrestling on display here, with the requisite moves and counter-moves, but muscular male bodies are the main event.
"The wrestler's built body is a theatrical body, which manages to provoke the same kind of discomfort as bad theatre, theatre that is trying too hard," explained Broderick Chow, a lecturer in theatre at Brunel University London who has written extensively about professional wrestling. "Muscles that exceed function appear to be obviously performing; they seem 'gimmicky.'"
Of course, for Thunders Arena, muscle performance is the gimmick. WWE owner Vince McMahon, who during the 1980s presided over the most pumped-up roster of wrestlers the sport has ever seen, tried and failed to become a bodybuilding promoter--a specialist in muscle. His short-lived World Bodybuilding Federation, which ran from 1991 to mid-1992, cost him millions. Thunders Arena, by contrast, lacks McMahon's flashy production values but does a robust business nevertheless, serving up its own brand of lean beef at $31.99 a video.