Is Going Out Just to Get Laid Ever Okay?
In the third episode of THUMP UK's Debate Club, we ask if you should ever enter a nightclub with the sole intention of having sex.
Welcome to Debate Club, a new column from THUMP UK where they'll be posing club culture's biggest conundrums to an expert panel. The crew over the pond will be dealing with everything from the ethics of flirting to the spatial-politics of dancing, the joy of a French exit, and the horrors of ketamine.
This week's panelists are THUMP UK staffers Josh Baines and Angus Harrison, alongside THUMP US features editor Michelle Lhooq.
The question: is going out just to get laid ever okay?
Angus Harrison: From the offset I want to establish the difference between going out and hoping you might get laid, and going out with the solitary intention of getting laid. I've got no interest in putting a stop to inaudible smoking area chat, frenzied snogging, hastily summoned Ubers and a night of unbridled bad breath and bed-rattling—it's a dance as old time. Shagging is good. Especially when you call it shagging, in my opinion.
However, when sex on a night out becomes more than an unspoken potential, and instead becomes a strategy game, I think it starts to cause problems.
Back in the summer of 2015, when data revealed that Britain had lost more than half of its nightclubs in the space of a year, the opinion began to circulate in comment sections and Reddit threads, that the UK was hemorrhaging nightclubs thanks to feminism. The theory basically went that nightclubs were for meeting girls. If you don't meet and then have sex with a girl after going to a nightclub then there was no point in going in the first place. Furthermore, now that girls are into feminism none of them want to have sex anymore. Which, in case you haven't worked it out, is why nightclubs keep shutting.
While these are obviously the meanderings of the internet's prime misogynists, their views highlight a widely accepted mythology that exists in popular culture as to what a nightclub is for. While we maybe exist in a bubble that consider nightclubs as spaces of artistic expression or at the very least some sort of weekly escape, swathes of people understand them to be designated pick-up zones. Picking up chicks in the club is a cliche as at home in early-2000s hip-hop as it is the films of Judd Apatow. From ill-informed think-pieces to dating manuals, nightclubs have been systematically and effectively rebranded in our shared imagination as sites of mating rituals.
However when sex is the primary concern—when it forgoes even a perfunctory interest in the music or your mates, when it becomes a "hunt"—that's when it begins to cause problems. It's this culture that breeds gender quotas and door-pickers evaluating women on the basis of their race or body-shape. It's also what endows young men with the misguided wisdom that they are entitled to sex, that because they are in a nightclub they have entered a space in which women want to be approached. As one Reddit user I stumbled across put it, "Whenever I go to nightclubs, I always have the intention of having sex, and if it doesn't happen, I just feel disappointed."
So yeah, in my book, obviously meeting someone in a club and then having sex with them is one of life's great joys, but I like to think of sex on a night out as an unspoken potential rather than a clumsily plotted intention.
Michelle Lhooq: Going out has always been about hooking up—anyone who tells you otherwise is either in denial or asexual. Historically, nightclubs have always been where marginalized groups seek out their own kind, and it seems naive—or worse, privileged—to deny that some of that community-building involves fucking. Nightclubs are where people exercise their freedom to sleep with whoever they want. LGBTQ+ parties, for example, are essential spaces for those who want to celebrate their sexualities free from persecution, particularly in countries where systematic bigotry is written into law. Because of what they represent, nightclubs have also been targeted by both terrorists and alt-right trolls, who see them as hotbeds of dangerous liberal morality. Therefore, pooh-poohing the practice of going out to get laid isn't just snobby. It is a denial of the political significance of nightclubs as symbols of sexual freedom.
I think the backlash against hook-up culture comes from how gross an overly-aggressive sexual atmosphere is. So the real question to me is: how do we create sex-positive environments founded on consent? Literally every woman I know, myself included, has been sexually harassed or assaulted at clubs, and while gay men don't talk about it as much, they struggle with similar issues as well.
I also wonder if clubs are even the best places for trying to get laid. There's just too much going on. Too many times, I've walked into a party with a DTF mindset, only to get sucked into the music for hours, emerging only after all the hotties have gone home. Instead of enjoying hanging out with my friends, I end up resenting them for accidentally cockblocking me or making my awkward attempts to hit on a stranger even more embarrassing. Still, when it does happen, there's something pretty special about seducing someone face-to-face rather than swiping on an app. Sex, like music, is better experienced in the flesh.
Josh Baines: All this cultural commentary is fine, but we're so far ignoring the fact that pulling anywhere is fraught with danger, difficulty, and probable disappointment—throwing that heady cocktail into a dark nightclub spells a recipe for instant disaster. I can barely conceive of a world in which I chat to a stranger of the opposite sex in the club, let alone chatting to them so well we end up eating a pizza in near silence the afternoon after.
The closest I've ever come to a fully-charged club romp came a few years back. Due to flaky friends, I found myself stood on the periphery of a club on my own. I must have looked slightly suspicious as a bloke approached me asking if I was selling anything. I wasn't. He then explained that a mate of his had been watching me and she wanted to speak. Assuming he was taking the piss, I recoiled slightly and mumbled an apology of sorts. He offered to buy the three of us a drink to smooth things over.
An hour later and I'm sat in the smoking area, demolishing a packet of Mayfair Smooth at an alarming rate. We both have cans in our hand, and I'm sipping and smoking and listening to this stranger tell me in detail about a recent trip she'd made to Auschwitz. The thought of a concentration camp had deterred any thoughts I had about an unforgettable night of amorous frenzy. The hours went by. The sun started to creak into view. I wanted to go home. I wanted a cheeseburger and my own bed. I didn't want to talk about Auschwitz.
I did go. But it wasn't to my bed, it wasn't to the bank. It was back to her house. We sat in the lounge, pissed and disorientated. She was bringing me shots as her housemate arrived. This housemate had, it emerged, been dumped that evening. I sat there, totally silent, sipping at my shot, wondering how rapidly I could eject myself from a situation that felt increasingly nightmarish.
I didn't leave. I was escorted upstairs. I got into bed. She got into bed. My new friend decided to set the mood by slowly—very slowly—eating a Double Decker chocolate bar in her underwear. I lay in bed fully clothed. She then, for reasons I didn't understand at the time, and still don't now, began to rap for me. I was fully clothed and she was asleep next to me, in her underwear, clutching a chocolate bar wrapper. I left. I got three busses home. I felt grey for days. I saw her a few months after, on a tube on a Sunday night. Gazes were averted, journeys terminated early.
I think this episode can teach us a lot. Angus, I agree that people treating nightclubs exclusively as pick-up spots has made them hostile to many people, but Michelle's also right that we can't get snobby about this—sexual freedom is a huge part of club culture's heritage. I think we're all agreed that we want our nightclubs to feel sex positive, but also safe. All that said, I think the most important takeaway is to remember that when the Double Decker comes out, it's probably best to cut your losses.