The pros and cons of gay NSA – is No Strings Attached really possible?
I’m not sure if three’s company or a crowd, but – when it comes to letters – I tend to be a reluctant bedfellow with these three: NSA, which stands for No Strings Attached.
Even if I weren’t completely over acronyms, I’d probably never use that one in everyday conversations — not even the ones that begin on gay hook-up apps. In the gay lexicon of lust, NSA is something considerably colder and less romantic than the straight version which seems to have more of a human element to sex without emotional attachment.
Gay NSA is generally less personal and personable and also kind of preemptively rules out sequels – at least as I understand it in hook-up-app-speak. Dick-size and whether you’re top or bottom are far more important than pesky details like names. Yes, it’s as unromantic as it sounds, but when you wake up horny and craving sex for breakfast, it’s a pretty expedient way to satisfy that hunger.
NSA by every other name
Remember the one-night-stand – that old, antiquated precursor of NSA? It doesn’t seem to apply anymore in a gay hook-up culture where you no longer have to go out or wait until dark to get lucky. Online, our peak “looking” hours tend to be right before and after dawn when those of us who are awake seem to be at our horniest.
The one-night-stand apparently has gone the way of picking up in bars and clubs. But, even in its heyday, the one-night-stand differed from its replacement acronym in one crucial way – A tryst usually became a one-night-stand in hindsight. NSA is typically planned in advance, before the two people involved are even face-to-face.
“Anonymous sex” is apparently also passe, probably because it sounded too clinical and unfeeling, even for the hook-up app generation, and the similarly quaint “casual sex” implies that you’re watching a ball game or engaging in some other mindless activity at the same time. NSA may be direct and a little lazy, but it’s vague enough to almost pass for something people do in polite company.
I spent many years being wary of NSA under all of its names, and I still cringe a little every time I see those three letters on a hook-up app. Would it kill guys to pursue it without spelling it out? Shouldn’t it be understood that if you have sex with a stranger there won’t be strings attached?
What un-deluded gay man is dreaming of a white picket fence and mentally picking out matching wedding bands while riding home in an Uber with the boy he just met – or answering the door to the one who messaged him 30 minutes earlier. Even in Buenos Aires, where porteño guys would sometimes drop “Te quiero” – I love you – 10 minutes in, I always knew better than to take them seriously.
A change of mind
All that said, I used to pride myself on never hooking up with anyone I wouldn’t be open to seeing again, even ones I met on holiday – or ones who were on holiday when I met them. Paolo, one of the two great loves of my life, was visiting New York City from Milan when he and I met in 2000. That our relationship – doomed as it was – ended up unfolding on three different continents over the course of nearly a decade is proof that anything can happen between two strangers in the night if both are open to it.
One depressing birthday, I decided to throw caution, moralising, and every single thought about the future to the wind and take the NSA plunge with a man I met at a club in Buenos Aires. I’m terrible at names anyway, and I rarely remember them, so it’s not like it was going to kill me not to ask for his.
The experience itself was unmemorable, but I’ll never forget the way it made me feel – not cheap and dirty, as I was expecting, but strangely liberated and, well, clean. There were no messy emotions. I was able to turn off my brain in a way I couldn’t before when I was half-thinking about the future. If I was never going to see him again, who cared what he thought about me? I could go way out of character for once and just live in the moment.
But once the moment was over, there was nothing – no future prospect, not even afterglow. That’s the downside of NSA. Although I was proud of myself for giving it a go, and I could finally say I understood why people do it, it wasn’t really me.
Hearts in armour
It’s still not me, but I have an even better understanding of NSA today than I did right after that mind-opening birthday sex. For some, it’s almost a form of armour.
A friend in Sydney once described sex as “transactional” – perfectly capturing the meat-market aspect of NSA. If he’s just a body, not a person, he might dirty your sheets, but he can’t hurt you.
If you’re after instant gratification – in the hook-up app age, nearly everyone seems to be – NSA is the uncomplicated way to get it. You can turn off your mind and just enjoy the now.
Who cares if you don’t remember it an hour later? There can be another new NSA session soon enough, if you want it, because there’s always another guy who is looking.
I’ve gone there a number of times since that birthday in Buenos Aires, and, to be honest, the sex has rarely been worth the non-effort. It’ll probably never be my thing because my brain is too pivotal to my turn-on process, and living in the future is just part of my character. The upside, though, is that once I take the NSA plunge, I know I won’t have to worry about making awkward conversation or how to delicately usher him out the door when it’s over. By the time I think of an excuse for why he can’t stay, he’ll already be gone.