Gay Sex in the 70s: My Story

Be warned. This post isn’t for the faint of heart nor for those not accustomed to “joyously romping around in the gay pleasure gardens” (Simon Callow) of the 1970s. During those heady days, many of us believed that more and better sex was the path to our Gay Liberation. To our Sexual Liberation. To our Freedom. Through sex, we could learn to love ourselves and be a community.

After many years of repressing our desires and thanks to Gay Liberation ideology, we luxuriated during that time in being able to express our desire openly, helping us to push back the shame that had been eating away at us in the closet.

Equally intoxicating was the thrill of being desired by other men, something we hadn’t experienced before coming out. All this joy led us to enter into what we’d sometimes jokingly call our “slut phase” – which could last from several months to several decades.

Having sex was also our way to fight back against a system that oppressed us. “You want to persecute and prosecute us for having gay sex?”, we asked. “F**k off”, we replied. “We’ll show you. We’re not gonna take it anymore”. And off we went to cruise and have gay sex and we showed them!

Miquel Brown’s Hi-NRG hit single “So Many Men, So Little Time” certainly tapped into the zeitgeist of the time even though that single didn’t come out until the 80s. When that number was played at dance clubs, it would bring us onto the floor squeezed up against each other, shirts off, waving our arms, singing along and feeling joy, as the song so accurately reflected the way that many of us were thinking at the time.

Even a documentary was made examining this exhilirating time:

Gay Sex in the 70s was that halcyon period between Stonewall and AIDS. This documentary, made in 2006, looked at this unique period

In this post, I want to give you a taste of how these political commitments (not to mention a strong sexual curiosity) led me to do lots of cruising – going to places where men went to look for sex with other men. And how cruising would sometimes lead to a pickup or one night stand. And how a one night stand could lead to dating. And, finally, how dating could sometimes lead to becoming boyfriends/lovers. Got that? Here we go.

But First…

To help me with this website of memoirs of mine, I’ve referred back to my diaries. Sadly bereft of much emotional content, the entries do, though, list the activities I engaged in on most days so that helps me with my writing – and especially with this post.

To help me more quickly access the diary entries, I recently hired two dedicated students to transcribe my diaries (how’s that for a dream job?) into an app called “Day One”.

Their careful work and the wonderful function of “Tagging” enabled me to better recall my full dedication and commitment to this mission of Sexual Liberation after I came out in 1971. I will keep the numbers to myself, thank you very much, but even I was surprised. But what memories all this brought back. And the rekindled memories helped me to write this post.

Agenda, diaries, calendars: 1963 to the present

1. Cruising

Cruising, which we’ve been doing for centuries, is when men wander through parks, towpaths, beats, beaches, locker rooms, streets, public toilets (cottages/johns/tearooms/bogs) in search of anonymous, casual sexual one-time encounters with another man or men often, but not always, on the spot. This wonderfully seedy and sexy activity was inevitable given that we had been denied more customary ways of meeting each other. We had to be secretive in those past repressive days and therefore quiet, discrete, dark, out of the way places were necessary for us to find each other.

Their advantage, especially for closeted gays and “straight” men, was that you could be in cruising areas “innocently”, out of sight of friends and family.  You could find other men to have sex with and not have to go into, say, a much more visible gay bar.

How did we know where to go? Word of mouth combined with a keen eye for noticing areas of town where men walked slightly more slowly, hanging around on their own with our eyes maintaining contact for a split second longer than would normally be the case. We could be so discreet that others passing by wouldn’t even notice what was going on around them.

The downside was that the police and queer bashers would also know of these locations and could turn up at any time bashing or arresting those who were there. That was always a concern and a danger. Despite that, I kept at it probably because of some combination of being brazen, reckless, stupid and horny.

In the 1970s came the annually revised Spartacus International Gay Guides with information about where to cruise and more, in every country in the world. It was full of inaccuracies and sometimes certainly in poor taste, but helpful nevertheless. In four languages as well. It still exists online.

Of course I still have my copy from 1974!

What were some of my favourite cruising grounds in the cities I’ve lived in? What were yours?

  • Toronto (’71): Philosopher’s Walk, St. Joseph St., Yonge St., Queen’s Park
  • Sydney (’72-’73): Green Park, Museum Station
  • London (’73-’77 & ’81-’90): Hampstead Heath behind Jack Straw’s Castle Pub, Holland Walk, Hampstead Ponds
  • Düsseldorf/Mönchengladbach (’78-’81): Hofgarten, Himmelgeister Strand, Stadtpark, Jagdhütte

2. Pickups/One Night Stands

I loved cruising – that pleasurable dance of desiring others and and checking to see if the desire was reciprocated and the thrill when it was. London, the city where I lived for most of the 70s and 80s was full of cruising places and, if I had the time and energy, the opportunities were endless.

But, for me, I also enjoyed “picking up” where I would leave with someone I had cruised in order to have a one night stand.

Thanks to my transcribers, here are a few examples in my diaries of cruising (in public places as well as clubs and bars) that led to one night stands in the 1970s.

  • “I cruise Holland Park and met Dominique – a Chelsea Art School student”.
  • “At the Heath, meet Gerry from Harlesden who does wigs at the BBC and back here for overnight”.
  • “After seeing Fassbinder’s “Despair” with Peter, went to Hampstead Heath and met Canadian Rhys who came back home to Lauderdale Road for overnight”.
  • “Met Duarte from Argentina at South London GLF Dance at Lambeth Town Hall. To his for overnight”.
  • “Met Giannis at Syntagma Square [while travelling in Greece] and go with him to his flat, good sex and talk”.
  • “Went to Bang’s disco. Met Derry from Walthamstow. Back here for overnight. He left the next morning”.

You’ll notice that I wanted to not only name my pickups but also leave a trace of their lives for the record.

  • Recently, I found some lists I’d made of my sexual encounters over a particular period, again with notes. Clearly an active time. Not to mention a bit OCD. Now in my 70s, I can’t image how I had the energy in my 20s to pursue all this action at the same time as a full-time teaching job, my union work, Gay Left meetings, not to mention dancing the night away at discos. Ah – the energy of youth.

If any of my pickups wanted to leave right after sex, I’d usually be disappointed. I’m a nosey parker, the Brits might say. Before, after and sometimes even during sex, I’d probe and poke for details and many had fascinating stories to tell. Like me, often they had migrated to London to be able to be more open about their sexuality so the stories were often riveting.

In some cases, they’d want to see me again and I wasn’t interested. In just as many, if not more cases, I’d want to see them again and they weren’t interested. Or neither of us wanted to see each other. That’s what pickups usually were – a one time deal.

Regrets, I’ve had a few

Of the many pickups I had over the years, there were certainly some that didn’t go well or, as I might say in my diary, “not great”. I wish I had said more, but I’m not the most descriptive writer, as you know.

I did write in my diary about one in 1978 that did go badly.

  • “Four of us went to Catacombes. I met Gary (19) from south London who had a black eye and tattoos who stayed overnight at the flat. The next morning he verbally and eventually physically harangues me to give him my braces [suspenders for you North Americans] and jeans. Lost pride hurts more than the lost jeans.”

Of course, my first clue could have been the black eye and tattoos but I wasn’t one to stereotype. Gary had said that he wanted to try my jeans on but once they were on him, he aggressively refused to take them off. I decided I needed to get him out of the flat. He took up my offer to drive him home where I hoped he would relent. But once he was on his own territory, it was a lost cause. I was not used to not getting my way! I wasn’t in control. This was hardly a major loss, but I did love those jeans and braces!

My diary tells me that I went to Madame Tussauds after this incident with my friend Peter visiting from Toronto so it probably wasn’t too devastating and it certainly could have been much worse.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of attacks and arrests, all of which I know I was very lucky to avoid – or have I blocked some from my memory?

Another regret

After reading a draft of this post, a friend of mine reminded of several other incidents that could be said to have been less than pleasant. Thanks, Peter. I think!

Here’s one [Peter reminded me] of from our August 1983 trip together to several Greek islands including, naturally, Mykonos. Looking back in my diary, I found this and it all came back:

  • “4 of us after dinner go to a quite full cruising area by a church with a beautiful view overlooking the sea under a starry, starry night; cute Italian boy attracts lots of attention, then keeps running off; meet Graham from Wolverhampton who’s left his boyfriend for the evening; start getting off when, all of a sudden, on my knees, I see four pairs of boots circle around us; at first I think it’s people wanting to join us but a hard slap on the back of my head leads me to look up and see four uniformed policemen and they’re real, not role-playing!; in several languages, they tell us to leave and, as we exit the narrow gateway, they give each of us a cuff on the head to, I guess, teach us a lesson and to remind us of our evil ways; afterwards, we all gather to debrief, agreeing a slap was better than being arrested; eventually walk/taxi home by 3am.”

The Wages of Sin

Although I was saved from more attacks and arrests, I had less luck when it came to another by-product of my screwing around. And that was an intimate relationship I had with VD, as we called it in those days – venereal disease – later called STDs, then STIs.

Over the years, my file at my local “Special Clinic”, as it was called at St. Mary’s Hospital Paddington, thickened as a result of not only picking up hundreds of men but also infections, both bacterial and viral. As all of the diseases were curable at that time I, along with many others, felt no need to use condoms which we viewed as solely for heterosexuals. If we picked up the occasional infection, so be it. That was the price we were willing to pay for our sex positivity, as it would be called today.

All that changed, of course, with the rise of AIDS/HIV which is a story I’ll tell another time.

Some hospital cards I found from the 70s.

3. From Pickups to Dating

Looking at my address book, I’m calculating that I needed to see a pickup roughly three times before they made it into my address book. It was at that point that we would move from a pickup to dating. Dating could go on for just a few weeks or several months.

At no time during dating did either of us expect the other to restrict having sex with others. An open relationship was de rigueur in the Gay Liberation 70s. Or if anyone did question my behaviour, that would lead me to ending the relationship, I say with some shame now. At that time, I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t “get it” – that we didn’t want to be restricted to monogamous relationships which were so conformist and stifling. That’s So Establishment, Darling.

4. From Dating to Boyfriends/Lovers

It was rare, but dating would occasionally move on to becoming boyfriends – a much longer term commitment – but with me still insisting that our relationship would be an open one.

For those of you who’ve followed my journey from the beginning of this website of mine, you may remember that I have talked about my boyfriends from the early/mid 70s in previous posts. If any of you want a refresher, here are the posts where I talk about them:

  • Frank, my first love, in Seattle in 1971
  • Terry in Sydney in 1972
  • Bruce in Sydney in 1973
  • Garry in London in 1974

Looking back, I think I ended up dating partners who were enticed and attracted by my confidence in the gay world as they were often just coming out and they were happy to go along on the ride with me, meeting my friends and getting introduced to new ideas and gaining confidence.  I was also a good listener and therefore a kind of a mentor – maybe like a “Big Brother”, but a queer one.  

I learned that many people weren’t often listened to, so my open ears were an unexpected treat for some.

Nurturing or Controlling?

What I see now, and didn’t then, is that I was attracted to men who would allow me to in some way control the dynamic and direction of our relationship. They were willing to put up with this controlling nature of mine because of the nurturing, support and teaching that they sensed I could give them. I loved being needed, being a mentor, more often than I perhaps really loved the person.

I didn’t notice (and/or didn’t mind) that they weren’t asking me as many questions about myself. Therefore, I wasn’t getting the same level of support/caring back in return.  That didn’t matter to me because I wasn’t aware of the dynamic at play at the time and, as I’ve said, that dynamic allowed me to be in control. No talking back.  

I didn’t show up with my heart*

But those kinds of relationships were sustained only until the person became less needy and started pushing back against that controlling nature of mine. And those relationships would, not surprisingly, eventually end. I don’t blame them. I didn’t share my heart with them. I was not yet mature enough to be in a relationship where the two of us could be both needy and nurturing. [*thanks to Daniel Baylis for this phrase]

Things changed with Frazer

My last few posts have talked about my year studying at Essex University in Colchester in 1977. Early on that year, I joined C.H.E. (the Campaign for Homosexual Equality) and the local Colchester branch had house parties.

At an early one of these, I met Frazer, a delightfully handsome man about my age (27 at this time) with a tight, lithe build, short curly brown hair and a professional job in the field of software development. And not to fall back on stereotypes too much, he was comparatively straight looking compared to the rest of the crowd at that party.

After moving quickly from chatting to making out in the stairwell, Frazer and I gave our excuses, left the party and headed back to his place in Ipswich for a hot night without much sleep. Think bunnies. Or is it rabbits?

In the morning, Frazer treated me to a full fry-up breakfast allowing us to hang out and find out more about each other, as you know I enjoy. Very quickly, though, my heart sunk when, to my shock and horror, what do I see he brings to the breakfast table along with the fried eggs, tomatoes and baked beans but his delivered copy of the Daily Telegraph, a politically conservative newspaper that consistently supports the Conservative Party.

Here’s the Daily Telegraph along with one of Frazer’s delicious fry-ups

Frazer was the first person I knowingly had slept with of that political persuasion. And sleeping with enemy was very verboten according to the unwritten rules of GLF.

When I confronted Frazer with my opinion about the terribly poor choice of his morning newspaper, he pushed back saying that he’d always read this fine newspaper and, by the way, he had always voted Tory. In return, he told me he hoped I wasn’t a Labour supporter.

Tempers flared, voices were raised and I expected I would flounce out the door (or be kicked out) never to step foot across his threshold again. But, much to my surprise, the arguing took an unexpected turn, reigniting the passion of the night before and we set off upstairs back to doing it with more intensity than ever.

Despite these ideological differences, Frazer and I dated for my entire time at Essex and we went on multiple excursions together including going out on his tugboat – that he’d refurbished mostly on his own – so he was an engineer, a handyman and a sailor too!

Frazer’s tugboat

Frazer was the first boyfriend/lover I had where we were more or less equal. He was someone who had as much to offer, if not more, than I did. And he talked back! And, despite the Daily Telegraph, I didn’t run away from that. You may be interested to know that we’re still friends 45 years later. And I think he may have even voted Labour on occasion!

From that point on, my future boyfriends generally tended to be more equal partners with both of us being more capable of nurturing and being nurtured. You’ll meet them in future posts.

Frazer sunning by the Orwell River near Ipswich
Frazer’s photo of me at the same spot

My Shock Transition to Monogamy

I’ll conclude this post by letting you know that my husband, David, and I have been together since 1999 (and married in 2010) and it’s been a monogamous relationship for the entire time.

“That’s So Establishment, Darling”.

What had changed? More on that unexpected and shocking big switch in my behaviour in another post.


Appendix of Joy

To be true to the title of my website, for this post I decided to create this gallery of snapshots I took of pickups, dates, boyfriends and lovers mostly from the 1970s all of whom brought pleasure and fun into my life.

In this gallery, I have also included photos of some of my non-carnal friends from that time period who also enriched my life. Therefore, under no circumstances, should you assume that the presence of someone’s photo here means that I had sex with them! Some friends would be horrified if you thought that!

I am still in touch with or know what happened to just over half of the 48 people here. I also know that, sadly, 10 have died, 6 as a result of HIV.

I’m in there too a few times because I’m always happy to see photos of myself as a younger man.

Thanks very much to my reviewers for their suggestions, corrections, encouragement and support:

David Tacium, Peter MacMillan, Larry Baer, John Marshall, Jeffrey Stewart, Brian O’Neill & Frazer.


25 thoughts on “Gay Sex in the 70s: My Story

    1. Gregg Blachford says:

      Thanks, Clifford. And thanks to you, I’m following Mr Lucas’s diaries too. I hope you find mine somewhat more upbeat than his dour and mostly negative recollections! 😁 But his ability to describe scenarios and the men he meets is astounding.

  1. Bruce jones says:

    Greg,
    Always great catching up with your modern thoughts about past activities and how they formed what we have become.

  2. kdbrody says:

    Thanks for this, Gregg. Most entertaining. Unfortunately, I was hampered by the ‘straight’ values of my family – I had to be ‘in love’ to have sex. Needless to say, I was practically celibate! The miracle is that I have survived and eventually found true love…
    Thanks again.

      1. Bob Cant says:

        As enjoyable and informative as ever. Your archiving skills are impressive – especially given the fact that you began all this during the throwaway 70s.

      2. Gregg Blachford says:

        I’m not sure why I kept so many things, Bob, but now I’m glad I did. I’m slowly passing many of them onto queer archives located in my various ports of call, as you know. As for the salacious elements of this latest post of mine, part of the inspiration for it was having read a similar overview of your sexual comings and goings in your memoirs that you wrote a few years ago. Thanks for the encouragement! 😁❤️😍🍆

        BTW, I hope you noticed yourself in the Appendix. From that photo I took of you in Buxton. 📷

  3. Paul Simpson says:

    Very honest & evocative. Great to see gay sex as a political act
    There was a purirannical section of the gay left that at that time that was down on cruising and going to Heaven – which I loved – & saw it as pro-capitalist, atomised & self-oppressive behaviour. So glad you & I ignored them x

    1. Gregg Blachford says:

      Thanks, as ever, Paul, for reading my posts and commenting. I don’t think I experienced as much of that puritanical reaction as you did. Or I’ve forgotten it. Not sure which! I continued to be a GLF missionary, spreading the word that it was our duty to get out there and do it – Heaven included.

      Although I didn’t meet you until the 80s, I snuck a full length photo of you into the Appendix – which was mainly people from the 70s. Being such a loyal reader, I wanted to include you. Maybe you saw it. ❤️📷

      1. Paul Simpson says:

        Cheers, Gregg, very kind of you and I had noticed the photo.

        Well, thankfully, not too much puritanism but I recall meeting a few who thought Heaven was anathema and a few friends who told me that they felt the need to censor their forays on the commercial gay scene when around certain political friends.

  4. jeffreyweeksjeffreyweekscouk says:

    Wondrous memories as ever Gregg. Makes me wish even more I’d kept a diary, though it’s surprising how much I do remember. And thanks for including me in the gallery = lovely photos xx

    1. Gregg Blachford says:

      Very kind of you to always make a comment, Jeffrey, especially since they’re always positive! You certainly didn’t need a diary to write your memoirs in your book: “Between Worlds: A Queer Boy from the Valleys”. Wonderful and multiple stories in there – presumably mostly from memory. I enjoyed it so much especially because it was so evocative and brought back many of my memories from those “olden” days. 😍

  5. Christopher DiRaddo says:

    Really love how candid you are here, and all the context you provide for the era. I feel like you could give a Ted Talk on this one, or at least a lecture with a slide show. So fascinating! Thanks for writing, Gregg!

    1. Gregg Blachford says:

      I appreciate your positive feedback on my stories. Thanks, Chris. As for the Ted Talk, don’t they have to be 18 minutes at the most? You know that I’d have a hard time keeping to that. So much to say, so little time! In the 70s, I had a real slide projector and I was (in)famous for making my friends sit through my slideshows of trips I’d been on. But now I know to keep the photos of landscapes out of my galleries and just have the people photos! As my Gallery in this post illustrates.

  6. anexactinglife says:

    I appreciate this post! Anyone not having lived through that scene probably has misinformation or skewed perceptions about what it was like. An account from primary sources is the best! And your contemporary perspective is a great complement to the history. Thank you!

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