Saturday, 31 August 2013
Has anyone noticed the recent proliferation of naked clubs taking place in London? Almost any night of the week you can find naked goings on. We have Stripped at the Vault, Buff at the Backstreet, Butt Naked at Central Station, and, of course, SBN at the Hoist. In addition to these, Nudity, a monthly feature at the Union in Vauxhall, is becoming more and more popular, and is especially busy when they have their regular foam parties. These days, if you go to Hard On, there will be a huge number of completely naked guys (more by the end of the evening of course), so what does this mean for the fetish scene? Is it just that naked is so much cheaper than all that leather and rubber?
Admittedly the majority of naked nights are in cruise bars, which are primarily sex clubs, but what is interesting is that the naked scene seems to be taking over from the fetish scene. Guy Irwin, the owner of the Hoist, one of London’s most foremost leather and fetish bars was at one time adamant that he would never do a naked night, but, as interest in the fetish scene started dwindling, he felt he had little choice but to give it a try. Originally just on a Sunday afternoon, SBN (Stark Bollock Naked) became so popular that he now also holds the event in the larger of his two arches on a Saturday night, traditionally his busiest night, and since he made the switch from leather to naked, the club has been packed again. I asked Guy why he thinks naked is now so popular, and he cites numerous reasons, amongst which is the fact that the scene is less underground than it once was. Gay men are less ashamed of who they are, and consequently less ashamed of the sex they have. That they are having anonymous sex in public places, albeit licenced ones, may have much to do with issues of self-esteem on the gay scene, but I’m not sure it has a bearing on why people would choose to do it naked rather than wearing leather, uniform or rubber. Naked certainly makes economic sense too. Investment in leather and rubber is pretty expensive and out of the pockets of many younger guys, particularly those who are still students. No clothes at all certainly takes the worry out of what to wear on a night out. Now even the last bastion of fetishwear clubs, The Backstreet, which once had a very strict dress code, has bowed to pressure and holds three naked events a week.
These clubs, along with Stripped at the Vault and Butt Naked at Central Station are primarily sex clubs, whereas Nudity, which is held once a month at Union in Vauxhall is slightly different. David Jaxx, who runs Nudity, first went into the naked club scene when he co-promoted Starkers, a mixed naked party night, which originally opened in the East End. I remember going myself back in 2004, when it took place in a pub near Columbia Road. Though the club stated it was a club for adults of all genders and sexual persuasions, there was no doubt the majority of the clientele were men, and the majority of them gay or bisexual. Evidently, men enjoy stripping off more than women do. There was a certain amount of sex at the club, though Starkers marketed itself primarily as a social event and not a sex club, and indeed, compared to what you see at most of the other clubs mentioned above, what did go on was mostly just a bit of mild flirting. David’s co-promoter, Jamie, was intent on promoting the club to a straight audience, but with straight attendance falling off, and rarely any women there, David decided to part company with Jamie and start up his own club for men only, and that club became Nudity. Where Starkers eventually fizzled out, Nudity is still going strong, regularly attracting 200-350 naked party goers each month.
Nudity markets itself primarily as a naked dance and social event, where you can have sex if you want, not primarily a sex club. Though there is a lot of sex going on, you’d be surprised to find how many people enjoy dancing and socialising naked too. It’s a really fun night and seems to be becoming more and more popular, attracting a wide range of attitude free guys of all ages and body types. Nudity also holds occasional theme nights, such as naked oil wrestling and naked beach parties, and the foam parties, held just four times a year, are hugely popular, attracting the biggest crowd of all. The last one was on the afternoon of August Bank Holiday Monday. Try it. It’s a lot of fun. Just don’t wear your best trainers on foam party nights.
But what does all this mean for the fetish scene in general? Hard On, which always had a very strict dress code has now opened that up to include sports gear, though the rules here are still fairly strict and are limited to footie gear, baseball, wrestling outfits, jockstraps, rugby or any full sports outfit, trainers only being allowed with the appropriate sports kit. Naked is also allowed, as long as you are wearing boots, and I’ve noticed over the years how many more people are now choosing to go naked at Hard On. Oddly, or maybe not, there are a lot more naked party goers towards the end of the evening than there are at the beginning. Perhaps seeing a few people already naked encourages others to do the same. Full fetish wear now seems to be reserved for occasional events like the once yearly Hotwired, co-promoted by Hard On and Rut, and for special events like London Fetish Week and Folsom Europe in Berlin.
Privately too more and more guys are enjoying partying naked, which is the raison d’etre behind the fairly new site http://www.nakedmates.co.uk. The owner of the site, Mark Routledge, having built up a circle of gaydar mates, who also enjoyed the naked lifestyle, had at one time organised naked parties and night walks via gaydar, but found the site wasn’t really geared up for multiple mail outs or any kind of social networking. Originally he started Nakedmates just as a way of keeping in touch with the contacts he’d made through gaydar, but word got round via social media sites like facebook, and it has evolved from a site of 150-200 members to its current 4000 members, even though the site has never been promoted in the gay press or elsewhere. The site is definitely community based and gives guys who enjoy being naked a platform to arrange naked meet ups, parties and events. Some of these are social, some sexual, some both, but all are very clear about what is on offer. Gay men often feel sidelined on other nudist sites like the now defunct Hangoutnude or truenudists, sites that try to maintain a strictly no sex attitude to social nudity. Nakedmates is more pragmatic, and takes into account that if you fill a room with naked gay and bisexual men, sex is bound to happen at some point, though often party hosts lay down rules which sets one room aside for sex, leaving others free for guests to mingle and socialise, just as at any clothed event.
Personally, I love this new found freedom. I love being naked. I love being naked on the beach, at home and anywhere else it’s acceptable. The more places that open their doors to nudity, the better as far as I’m concerned, and it certainly saves me a fortune in leather. It seems naked really is the new black.