People Discuss the Last Time They Hooked Up in a Pub
VICE writers discuss whether the decline of pubs has influenced the sex lives of young people.
Photo by Emily Bowler
New figures show that more than 25 percent of British pubs have closed since 2001. Meanwhile, we’re supposedly in the midst of a "sex recession"; a National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles reported that people aged 16 to 44 were having sex more than six times a month on average in 2001, but that this rate had dropped to fewer than five times a month by 2012.
This week, the Guardian put those two sorry stories together to ask: is there a connection? Could it be that the closing of the nation's pubs has had an impact on rates of young people having sex? A bar is more stuffy, clean and expensive, and people are already on dates in there. People may be more hesitant to approach anyone they like the look of on public transport or at a cafe than when shoved together in a carpeted booth three-pints-deep. If a person you fancy is always turning up at the same pub, you can ease yourself into going over and having a drink with them. Perhaps there's some truth in the Guardian's theory. But then, also, do you actually know anyone who's hooked up in a pub since the 1980s?
To help us come to a conclusion, our friends and colleagues wrote down whether they hook up in pubs anymore – or ever did – and whether they think there’s a link between pints and pulling.
When I was 15, I definitely thought the only thing stopping me from having sex was not being able to go to the pub, despite the fact I had very, very long pink hair and wasn’t the strongest advocate for "personal hygiene". When I finally got to one without some sort of kin, I had two pints of Strongbow, one pint of Carling and was sick all over my three-sizes-too-large blink-182 top. My mum had to pick me up and I cried on the way home. All by 10:30PM. And to be honest, that isn’t too dissimilar from my nights now; it's just an Uber driver who has to dry my tears, not my mum.
My point being: it is the British brand to not be suave in any way whatsoever. And to pull at a bar you have to be so very suave, or so very confident. That sort of stuff is reserved for Americans and Scandinavians, while young Brits are destined to get drunk, go home and masturbate in the company of a kebab.
The pub: otherwise known as the heterosexual paradise. The place where men put on their best pair of bootcut jeans and women take time out from "faving" clothes on ASOS (but never buying them) to congregate around the pastime of paying 2.3 times more for a drink than they should, while screaming over The Killers as their personal space is invaded.
As a gay man, I won’t mourn the "death" of the pub – certainly not for pulling. These days, thanks to "the apps", lots of gay men are having more sex then ever, and have either had sex – or, at the very least, exchanged pictures of their arseholes – before even contemplating a first date. This isn’t to say all gay men are promiscuous, but we don’t need to meet under the guise of "a drink" to schedule a little bit of sex. It's the one gay privilege following decades of secret meetings to avoid persecution, but thank goodness, because pubs are a dating minefield!
Do I risk humiliation by asking the unfriendly landlord, who looks like the lovechild of hard Brexit and a haemorrhoid, which beer is good? Is the boy I’ve decided to date so insecure that he’ll judge me for drinking a vodka cranberry and not a "manly" pint? (This happened.) In my single days I found that normally a Corona and lime, the "vers bottom" of beers, is a good bet. But it’s an even better bet to save the pub for your best girl friend and a bottle of Pinot Blush – then it’s just about bearable.
Sometimes I talk to potential love interests in pubs when I’m enjoying one of those who-can-lean-further-onto-the-bar-and-grab-the-attention-of-the-bar-staff-better competitions. Often it’s with some guy in a stiff tan coat and navy New Balances who is invariably about to order: "A Peroni, please. Actually, what’s this one… Mystical Tree Monkey? No, yeah, Peroni, thanks mate. Thanks, mate. Thanks. Cheers, that’s great. Thanks."
Clearly, some people are still on the pull in the pubs; the issue is, they're just not the right people. What sort of fucked up stranger meets people in the wild, and not in the safe dating app pre-screening, where you can instantly swipe right for a guy in grey marl joggers and left for guys posing with a dead pheasant and their gun dog.
Rather than pubs closing, it's stress that impacts the amount of sex I want to have. Currently, the chance of me banging is entirely reliant on this council tax bill I can’t pay off because I bought too many polyester tartan two pieces from Pretty Little Thing.
I work in a pub, but I don't really observe or care what the customers are doing – their antics are beneath me. As for talk of a "sex drought", well – let’s just say that ain’t a problem for me! Don’t you worry about that!
So, are people still meeting in pubs and shagging? I can’t say for sure. What I can confirm is that the culture of chirpsing bartenders is still alive and well. Two of the last men I've been involved with I have met on shift, and I'm perennially hopeful for a "you were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar" type situation in which I am plucked from obscurity and lavished with fame and fortune. But there is an often creepy power imbalance involved in hitting on someone in a situation where them telling you to fuck off could get them sacked.
The classy thing to do is make the move as you’re leaving – writing your number down is old fashioned, but can be charming. Someone once saw me at my pub, then found me and messaged me on Instagram, which I found vastly less creepy than being put on the spot there and then. I've had people leer at me all night with Hannibal Lecter levels of eye contact, reach out and stroke my arm every time I serve them, even send their friends to ask me, "Do you like my mate?" (you should have grown out of this behaviour by your forties/early teens).
As for the question of whether the decline of pubs is bad for dating – I fail to see how it couldn’t be. Even if you connect with someone via an app, you still need a place to meet them (nothing is less vibey to me than turning up at someone’s flat and shagging them straight off the bat), and what better venue than that glorious, always-dying-but-never-quite-dead, quintessentially British institution, the pub :)
Has anyone actually hooked up with someone after meeting them in a pub since 1974? I can speak only for myself, but the last time I was in a pub (Sunday) the only interaction I had with a guy who wasn't one of the 15 boys I was with was a (presumably drunk) man who turned around, stared into my face at an uncomfortably close range, and asked, "Who is this captivating woman?" We have, surprisingly, not gone on to date.
There is a romanticising of the pub in this country by a ~certain demographic~ of people. Although I have a soft spot for a fireside drink in a pub in the colder months, for the most part the pub as an institution conjures up images of racist old white men with noses eternally red from drinking, and the smell of carpets that have had beer steadily spilled into them since before I was born. I don’t really see the pub as a place rife with potential for romance, although having said that, I was once kicked out of one for making out too hard with my boyfriend in the corner when I was 19. We met at a house party, when he threw me in a wheelie bin and closed the lid.
As for my current boyfriend, I met him at a Sunday roast hosted by a mutual friend. I was also totally sober, because I’m not English and am therefore able to express emotion and talk to strangers without getting pissed.
In all my years of engaging with the opposite sex, the only people I have ever truly loved or cared about I've known socially first and usually have met in similar environs, like raves, after-jams or house parties. Pubs may have been involved as well, I just can't remember (I was drinking and taking a lot of drugs in my twenties). Even my current girlfriend was someone I used to go raving, drinking and after-partying with before we started going out.
Fact is, dating apps are shit. Even though I know someone who had a baby from meeting someone off one, and they're super happy, 9.9 times out of ten you will only ever meet people you'll want to have sex with a few times before you get bored. If you really want to meet someone you care about, you will invariably (in my experience, anyway) meet them out and about, at parties, nights out and, yes, of course, pubs. In these kinds of situations you know they must be fairly normal. If your approach goes wrong, you can just chat to someone else you know and not worry about it, and you're all pissed anyway so who cares. A decline of pubs can only be a bad thing for the likelihood of sex and connection, really.
The idea of picking up or getting with people at the pub reminds me of being 18, when every public space had the potential for locating someone to get off with. The park, McDonald's, your provincial shopping centre – they were all the same.
The first time I got with someone at a pub, I was barely that key age. Filled with outdated references of what adults did, and the desperate desire to replicate it, me and a friend braved snow in the pursuit of a "good night". We both upped our ages to anyone who asked and embellished our lives with stories about our fictional uni courses and our grown-up lives, and got off with considerably older men. Now, half a decade older, this is definitely not something I'd do. Neither could the pub-as-sexual-space idea be further from the truth for me personally. In fact, I would argue it’s not the context of dating apps or malaise that’s the reason, it’s our relationship to pubs.
The pub is safe space to drink. It’s where you go to escape the world, not find it. That means getting pissed with your friends, not looking for anything more, and waiting for death. Sure, it might’ve been this great place to meet The One once upon a time, but it's not anymore – and the pub as it is is beautiful and I'd never change it back.