Three Thousand And The One: A SNAX Odyssey
Why not start with a secret confession. The truth is, I’m a prude. When it comes to sex, despite my own desire to be a liberal Casanova, I’m the equivalent of a Victorian lady catching a glimpse of the gardener’s glistening torso as he tends to the grounds on a sun kissed day.
I am a prudish gay man. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not virginal, if I bothered to calculate my number in regards to sexual partners I’d probably be coming up on triple figures. But for me, my definition of gay sex is defined by two guys getting together and someone ejaculating (hopefully both together), and not necessarily the act of penetration. But even that is muddled. After a club night in London I would confidently tell my friends around the brunch table the next afternoon that I had indeed slept with the cute boy I’d been making out with on the dancefloor. But this would be a half-lie, more often than not we’d drunkenly fooled around, had some poorly organised oral sex and promptly fallen asleep. And the times when I would have full intercourse, I was usually drunk or high enough to forget, or more accurately escape, my prudish nature.
And so, after four years living in London and telling these half-lies, I moved to Berlin. The move was for purely academic reasons, but without considering it, I suddenly found myself in a liberal, sexual powerhouse.
For me Berlin is a city that has sex running through its streets, just as gas runs through the snaking, coloured pipe network which disjointedly ducks and weaves between its buildings.
Perhaps my prudish ways could have continued here, in this city of sex and liberal ‘queer’ values, never truly being challenged and brought into the light, but then SNAX appeared on the horizon; a gay sex party in Berghain.
I found out about SNAX through a friend who was coming to visit from London. He and his four friends were flying to Berlin with the sole purpose of coming and experiencing the night. When we met up on the Friday before his weekend properly began, we had some drinks in a bar and made plans to take in a few sights during the Saturday, perhaps with a few coffee-shop stops mixed in between. Then when the Saturday morning came around he said something which threw me into a minor personal crisis, ‘You should come with us tomorrow!’ It was an option I had not even considered. It was a suggestion which made my inner prude recoil; me at the biggest gay sex party this city had to offer?!
I immediately thanked him but declined, saying that it probably wasn’t really my night, and that I would not want to be a burden; a friend he had to worry about or care for during the evening. As Saturday progressed and we casually strolled through a museum, I couldn’t help but continue to think about his offer. I swung back and forth between attitudes, ‘you know what, to hell with it, I’m coming’, and a minute later ‘no, no, I really shouldn’t’.
My friend watched me squirm around the decision with amusement, perhaps because there was never any question in his own mind about his attendance, and so my struggle seemed somewhat alien to him. I would describe my friend as far more sexually liberated than me. In fact, during our walk I was surprised to learn he was taking PrEP, a prophylactic medication which essentially removed the risk of being infected with HIV if you were planning on engaging in risky sexual behaviour. My friend was always safe, aware that he should wear a condom to protect from other infections, but he had experienced a few situations where condoms had split and he’d been sent into a meltdown, sure that he’d been infected with the virus until a blood result a few weeks later would finally alleviate his fears.
Finally, after a few casual beers, we arrived at the apartment my friend and his entourage had rented for their debauched weekend away. The other guys were confident and muscular, the kind of gay men who spent hours in the gym each week for the very reason that on the weekend they could take off their tops and bask in the attention they received. I was struck by how brazen they seemed, one of them unashamedly proclaiming, ‘If I don’t get fucked by at least a hundred guys tonight I’ll be disappointed’. It was an attitude completely alien to me, but also one that was unmistakably titillating, their candid nature, and ease of how they expressed their sexual energy spurred me on, until finally, after the courage of two more vodka sodas, I finally made the decision to join them.
Screw it. The Victorian lady was going to SNAX.
We downed our drinks and headed off to Berghain. The boys had been told that the night would be incredibly busy, so it was best to get to the queue for ten-thirty at the latest, even though the doors didn’t open till midnight. After several hours of waiting and with our hands turning numb from the cold, I finally found myself inside the club.
The dress code was ‘sportswear’ and so every single man took off their cold weather trousers and jackets and changed into their various combinations of outfit on the theme. Another lengthy queue to deposit the clear plastic bags containing all our possessions was less well organised, but eventually I handed mine in and had its number drawn on to my bare shoulder in thick marker pen; it was like being branded. I was cattle now, another participant of the busy ranch we found ourselves in; and I admit, it was exhilarating. My phone was with my trousers, and so all I had on me were a few euro notes and my cigarettes, pushed deep into the small pockets of the blue sport shorts I had borrowed from my friend. Here was me, standing half-naked in only shiny adidas shorts, skin exposed, branded with pen, and completely anonymous in the throngs of SNAX.
Instantly it felt like a place of joy, freedom and acceptance. The music was the pounding techno you’d imagine, enough to move your shoulders rhythmically to and enjoy the pulsing lights, but nothing ground-breaking. The largest of the dancefloors, in the centre of the massive industrial space was packed with flesh. I was told by someone in the queue that they were expecting three thousand guys at the event, and although I had no way to check the fact, the number scribbled on my shoulder was in the high triple figures and we had been relatively early to arrive, so I could easily believe what they were saying was true. It certainly felt like there were thousands of men there, as we moved through the dancefloor between the sweaty, muscular bodies, each of us being met by a mixture of smiling faces and staring eyes.
I had imagined it would be far more aggressive, a night of unwanted groping or oppressive sexual energy, but it was surprisingly relaxed. Of course, the air was electric with desire, there was no denying everyone there was hunting, longing to touch and be touched, to kiss and be kissed, and if so wanted, ready to do more. The first layer of my prudishness and anxiety was stripped away. This was the sexual energy I had shied away from, been afraid of, but now I was part of it, and I was enjoying the liberation. From the main dancefloor we walked down a large metal staircase to the lower bar, a more intimate space with soft lighting and groups of people talking and flirting.
I watched as a beautiful man in a tiny white thong ordered a cappuccino and sipped it quietly at the bar while he spoke to his friend; this was an example of the kind of juxtaposition I had not been expecting; Costa Coffee turned sex club.
This was a melting pot of people I could have met at any other night out, or any casual dinner with friends, this was not some strange other world but a heightened version of my own. But there were differences here, subtle ones, which gave me butterflies when they popped up and surprised me, reminding me that I was at SNAX and invested in its rules. Sometimes the conversation with a guy would slow, and instead, if you wanted it, you simply kissed and touched. You kissed without any of the usual social awkwardness, or need for apology or explanation; eyes simply met, and in a second you knew you wanted each other.
It was an unapologetic embrace of the chemistry you felt from just looking at each other. I could feel the gap between the actions I thought about taking, and those I enacted beginning to shrink. If I wanted to kiss someone, I kissed them. If I wanted to touch their crotch and pull them into me, I did it. This was the perfect environment to allow my inner prude to explore. There was an unspoken code between all participants, a held gaze and a small move forward was an invitation, and no-one seemed to overstep their boundaries.
As the evening progressed, it became apparent that people were starting to have sex in various parts of the club, one sweaty and oven like section especially was awash with moans a pleasure. But the atmosphere didn’t change, it didn’t descend into anything fearful or obscene, as I had feared, but instead somehow kept its dignity. Even when I saw a man in leather shorts licking the shoes of a boy on a podium on the upper dancefloor, I wasn’t fazed. The boy seemed to like the attention, and the guy was unobtrusively exploring his own pleasures. There was a polite transactional quality to it. Good on him for knowing what he likes.
A few hours into the night I found myself sipping a vodka soda next to a wall at the downstairs bar and just looking. The beauty of the men inside the club was still surprising to me, it was like watching the inside of a Calvin Klein advertisement – people were of all shapes and sizes, but the overwhelming aesthetic of the club was one of youthful beauty. I caught the eye of a toned, skinny boy who looked like he was around nineteen, sipping his drink against the wall across from me. We both smiled, and within moments we were talking. Then he kissed me, or I kissed him. I set down my drink and my hands found his body and his found mine.
In that moment I realised my inhibitions were going, released, rather than overcome, validated and empowered, rather than brushed aside. There in the bar he pulled down my blue shorts and made his way to my crotch. Another boy, equally as beautiful, appeared by our side and before my mind stopped the action I kissed him, and the three of us engaged in a weightless expression of desire, our shared sexual energy given the space to freely move and explore, like smoke from a cigarette drifting up and out into the air.
My night continued on this path. The nineteen-year-old boy I later discovered was actually twenty-nine, and wonderfully sweet. We spent the night together, walking around, drinking and dancing. We kissed and touched, and when someone caught the eye of one of us, or both, we spoke to them and brought them into the sensual dance we were performing together. I felt reconciled with myself, and my prudish ways. In the end, as dawn approached and for many the party was just getting started, I invited the boy back to my house to lie with me on my bed and continue our connection until we fell asleep. We never had sex, not the penetrative kind I had been so prudish about before anyway, but this time it was not because I was held back or afraid, it was because I’d realised I wanted more of a connection with someone before taking that step, and for the first time, that felt okay.
I remember wondering what number the friend from pre-drinks was up to now? Had he reached his one hundred men goal yet? He was being safe and taking PrEP, so I wished him luck. He was different than me, sex meant something different to him, and neither of us was wrong or right. Same with the guy who was hunting for shoes to lick. The party would continue for another twenty hours, so I guessed they both had lots of time to enjoy themselves. I finally fell asleep with the boy next to me, thinking about that huge industrial labyrinth, and the small and intimate connections that were being made between the people in it; the shy newcomers finding their confidence, the guys fucking and hoping to be fucked, the dancers sweaty and glistening, but most of all I thought about how a prudish boy had nervously entered it and returned from its expansive halls confidently transformed.
I’m happy to let you know a newly discovered truth about myself. I am not a prude. I needed SNAX to show me that I can be liberated in my sexuality without compromising what makes me the person I am. I’m happy to know that even in a crowd of three thousand horny, beautiful, sexual men, I’m still the kind of man who will be searching for the one to have a meaningful connection with. So, if you think you might have something holding you back, I suggest you go and explore all the opportunities you can. Because even in a crowd of three thousand partygoers, I suspect you’re not the only one.