Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: European Vacation

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Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.

Jane, 26

What do you do for a living?
I'm a poet and performance artist.

Have you ever done any performance art about sex?
No, but I have done performance art about boundaries and longing.

Where are you from?
I'm from Boston via New York.

What brings you to Berlin?
I'm visiting friends here because I lived here for two years.

Have you had time to have sex with anyone in the last two weeks you've been visiting Berlin?
I have. I've been having an affair with a beautiful person I met shortly before leaving Berlin the last time. He's in a monogamous relationship, but I think the monogamy point is under discussion. When we're making out, I can tell that he can feel when I pull my attention away from him — like if my mind wanders or I am the tiniest bit dissociated from what I am doing. And he stops. So it feels like for us to have any kind of sexual relationship at all, there has to be a great amount of attention to each other and a lot of physical and emotional awareness. It really challenges me to be awake when I'm having sex.

As opposed to falling asleep?
Ha, as opposed to falling asleep or just closing my eyes and just feeling all the physical sensation without thinking about who I'm really fucking.

Are you not into who you're fucking sometimes?
Yeah, I'm not always into who I'm fucking. Not really, deeply.

Has anyone ever offended you in the bedroom?
Yeah, it used to offend me when guys would jerk off in the bedroom, even in order to get hard before or after condom time. I was a prudish young woman. I'm totally okay with it now, and I really support men and women taking pleasure in their own bodies in the presence of other people.

Do you do that yourself?
No. But that's on the horizon.

Have you had any old or young lovers?
Weird you ask that, because I was just at a wedding and the half-brother of the bride was seventeen. We didn't have sex but we went out into the field of plum trees and made out. I had seen him the night before after the rehearsal dinner — we were dancing and I asked him how old he was and I thought, "Okay, well, that's out of the question." The next night we were put at the same table for dinner. His friend was there and my friend was there and both of our friends were talking about how we give great massages. And so we were talking about massages and healing and I stepped out to have a cigarette, and he followed me outside, and we were looking each other in the eye, and it felt sort of useless to go back inside and not look people in the eye, so we left. We could hear the disco music from all the way out in the fields. I felt strangely protective of him, felt weird that my mouth tasted like cigarettes, felt weird to think of how many people had touched my body and how few had touched his.

You're finally getting old enough to have an affair with someone ten years younger.
With someone who's still not legal.

It's probably legal in Europe.
Maybe. I still didn't let him put his hand down my pants, though he did leave a stain over the nipple of my silk dress from his spit. Did you know water stains silk? But I'd forgotten how young men have so much energy in their bodies. They're, like, wiry with sexual tension.


Anne, 24

What do you do for a living?
I work as an escort. But I'm a performer by profession.

Do you find more lovers through escort work or performance?
I find more lovers through being a performer. I never found a lover from my escort job — not a lasting one. I think all kinds of people are fascinated by performers, especially conservative people, or people who have a stable job in banking or business. They think it's exciting and special.

And are you attracted to conservative business people?
Depends. Yes and no. I mean they've got something going on in the way of money, and money attracts me. Being sophisticated and serious attracts me. But I'm not saying this is necessarily what you find in business people.

What are you most attracted to in a lover?
Being authentic, being smart, having a good sense of humor. And being a sexual person.

Do you date men or women or both?

Is dating men and women different?
Normally with women you have to play all kinds of little games. You have to make vegetarian sushi even if you're not a vegetarian. And we all have to be sensitive. It's a long project. Whereas with men, it's much easier to seduce them. Just yesterday I wrote a really naughty email to a spiritual master. And I met him in a course, I was listening to his talk but I didn't stay for the ritual afterward because I knew I would stay to impress him, to try to have sex with him at some point. And I'm like, I don't want to do that. So I just sent him a really straight email, asking him, "Do you want to meet for a sex date?" And he didn't answer yet. But I felt really naughty and inappropriate, approaching this spiritual person in this way — he's like a tantra-shaman-person. I felt like I don't want to play any games — I want to have sex. But I don't want to take his course; I don't want to take his workshop; I don't want to book him for a private session; I don't want to say I'm interested in his work. I want to say, "You're hot and I want to have sex with you." And that's what I wrote to him. And he can say yes or he can say no.

What's the craziest thing you've done to seduce someone?
I met an ex-lover of mine and we had dinner and said goodbye, and then I went after him and had to cycle through basically the whole town to get to his place because he was living on the other side of town. And in the middle of the night I rang his bell. But I didn't call him or say I would come — I just showed up. And he was already in bed, and it was really funny because he was with a woman in bed. At this time she was his assistant at work, they weren't yet a couple, but we had sex in his living room while she was sleeping in the bedroom. This was crazy for me because I wasn't sure if he would say I couldn't come in, and I was really scared. I was just like, "So… here I am." I think it was a brave thing to do, I was really proud of myself.

How did you break up with someone the last time you did it?
I have two different ways to do it. I have the nice way, where I try to be really honest to say to the person, "That's it." Or I'm just really exploding and bombing everything — I'm being really mean, really insulting. And I know this is the thing that will hurt them so much, and it gives me a lot of satisfaction. Because I know after doing this kind of thing there's no way back and it's really over. But this is what I do when I'm feeling really hurt — it's what I do when I'm done hurting myself, making myself into a person I'm not in order to keep my lover around. At a certain point I can't handle it and I dump this person. I show them my most disgusting, meanest side ever, the side I've been repressing the whole time to make them love me.


Les Margaux, 33

What do you do for a living?
Good question. I publish a pop-feminist magazine and I live from the ads in the magazine here in Berlin. And I perform.

Have you gotten any dates from this kind of work?
Actually, it's a pretty good job for dates.

Where are you from?
I'm from Greece.

Is dating in Berlin different from dating in Greece?
In Greece, actually, you can date people more easily, because everyone is flirting all the time. It's more difficult in Berlin. But in Berlin you have special spaces and events where it is even easier to meet someone. You can go and very quickly get a date.

So it's like the primary culture is really reserved and then you have special spaces that are not reserved at all?
Exactly, this is it. It would be better if sexuality were more integrated in everyday life because I don't always have time to go to these spaces. So I use the parties and then I have to wait for another month or something.

Have you ever hit on anyone outside the parties?
Yeah, I did it all the time in summer but I wasn't successful at all.

Do you date men or women? Men and women?
I have dated both genders. Actually I can date both but I prefer women.

Do you look for something different in women than in men?
Very difficult question. Sexually I'm more attracted to women but I can have relationships with men more easily. It's probably all because of patriarchy. I'm probably just not emancipated enough. [laughs] But I'm working on it.

What's the craziest thing you've done to get laid?
Once I was at a party and I thought I would do something besides simply staring at people. I thought, if you close your eyes and you touch someone, you have a completely different feeling of the other person. It's a whole new intimate thing. So I picked a person, and then I walked over to them with eyes shut and started to touch them. This worked good with the first two persons, but then the last one, I had a problem, because the person had a girlfriend, but I couldn't see the girlfriend with my eyes closed, and she got very angry. So you can also get in trouble with this tactic.

Anakin, 24

What do you do for a living?
I'm unemployed at the moment. I get money from the government.

And does that give you lots of time to go on dates?
Lots of time for dates and parties and people.

What's your ideal date?
I don't have one, but I do remember a party I went to in Toulouse some years ago. It was a film festival, and I was the emcee — since I have so much time and do tons of things. I was wearing diapers and suspenders. It was a bit fetish. So we were all dancing and having fun and being drunk, and then I saw a girl that I already knew a little bit. She was topless and quite hot. And so I made out with her. And at the moment when I squeezed her breasts, it was milk that came out. Then she just told me to go ahead and drink, and I did. That excited me so much, especially since I was in diapers.

Are you chivalrous?
Yeah, I think masculinity plays a role. But even if I'm direct, with people I'm really interested in, it's harder. I'm a little shy sometimes.

What do you look for in a lover?
I love women who are strong and funny.

Women with a little fire inside?
A little fire? What?

Scratch that. Do you think there's one person for everyone?
No, I think there's lots of people for lots of people.

Are you monogamous?
Yeah, I am. I've never really had the opportunity to try otherwise. And for the moment that works for me. I think I'd be anxious in a non-monogamous thing. But that's up to me and my partner — others can do whatever works for them. But if the opportunity presented itself someday with an open person, why not? With my partner at the moment, it doesn't.

So are you a serial monogamist?
Yeah. But being young I've had a bunch of relationships and all of them have lasted between a year and four years.

Is there something someone could do to freak you out?
No, I don't think so. If someone does something that bothers me, it's my responsibility to share my feelings and desires. I don't have any strict rules. I just believe in communication.

Where are you from?

So what are you looking for Toulouse?
Frissons. [laughs]


Lora, 26

What do you do for a living?
I'm a film technician.

Do you find lots of dates in your line of work?
Potential lovers who I'm not interested in.

You're not attracted to other film technicians?
Usually it's super-macho guys.

How did you meet your current lover?
At a concert. I brought my little dog and everyone there made fun of her. My lover came over because she felt bad for the dog. And then two days later we bumped into each other at another concert, and I was nervous to ask for her number but I got it anyway. And I called her. I didn't have the feeling that it would be anything serious. She was super drunk, and I actually found her sort of shitty. She talked all the time, and about bizarre things like crocodiles. I had no idea what she was saying to me. But it's calmer now. She lives in Paris so we go back and forth.

What are your dates like?
We don't go to restaurants or whatever. Mostly we just stay in bed and watch films or walk around the city where we are. But Paris and Toulouse are different. Before, she lived alone, but now she lives in a big squat and she shares a room with other people, so it's not so private.

Are you into public sex?
Sure, it's exciting to fuck against a wall at a sex party or something, but I'm not really into exhibitionism. With some lovers I know less well, I find it really funny to have sex outside, but with my current partner we have already a certain level of quality to our sex, so I prefer to take our time.

Is there anything someone could do to freak you out?
Yeah, when people do really cinematic, dramatic things. I was with a girl who wanted to take me to the sea, and I found that kind of strange. Too cliché. She left for two hours on a Sunday to find flowers. It was just too much for me, too serious.

How do you hit on someone?
Depends on the context. If they're someone I'll see in my everyday life, it's not as easy as if I'm at a party in some other country. I was performing at a concert in Berlin and I just said into the microphone, "I really feel like fucking, so if anyone's interested…" And a girl came up to me after and said it was cool how I said that. But nothing came of it in the end. She was too drunk that night to actually do anything, so we met up another time in a club, one of these electro clubs, and in the middle of the club she told me she had to go do something and so she left alone in the club. It was really weird.

Do you believe in love at first sight?
Someone can capture your attention, but love is something else.


Drea, 29

What do you do for a living?
I'm a musician.

And what brings you to Toulouse?
My band is on tour right now, and we're playing a show here in a couple of days.

Where are you from?
We all live in Portland.

How long have you been on tour?
Five weeks so far. We toured the U.S. and this is our first week touring Europe for the first time.

Does your job get you a lot of dates?
Not as many as you would think, but definitely it helps, being on stage and performing. And rock and roll's all about sex really, so it definitely makes the ladies interested, I would say.

And do you actively bring sex into your performance?
Yes, very much so. I can't help it.

Do people see a different Drea on stage than on the street?
Probably. A little more concentrated, intense version of the normal Drea.

What was the last date you went on?
The last date I went on was in San Francisco, on our tour. A two-day date. I'm in a very non-monogamous relationship, and my primary partner and I were on a date there — so it wasn't a date with a new person but a date nonetheless cause we're in a long-distance relationship so anytime we see each other is kind of like a date.

Do you tend to approach other people or do you let them approach you?
I think it's pretty split down the middle. When I'm feeling confident I could easily approach somebody that I'm interested in but a lot of times I can be kind of shy so I like someone who's really forward.

How do you go about approaching people?
I like to use humor. I'm not what you'd consider a very suave person, so I try to make up for that by being charming in other ways. Like charmingly awkward. Saying nice things and making somebody laugh.

Are the women different in France? Europe?
Hard to say, since we just a few days into our European tour, but even though there's a language barrier I feel like there's a level of comfort here that's different than the States. People are way more into conversation, and I don't feel a lot of the judgment that I feel sometimes in a hip place like New York or San Francisco. So, I don't know if that's true or not of Europe in general, but for me personally, the past few days I've been just feeling really good.

Do you believe in love at first sight?
Yeah, for sure. I've experienced it. I used to be really cynical about it but now I feel like a very romantic person and now I feel like it's totally possible. Or at least intense feelings like, "This person and I can really connect" — that immediate feeling. I think that's real.

If you could have sex anywhere in France, where would you do it?
Maybe in a castle somewhere, in some old bear furs. With some glasses of wine around a fireplace, roasting something. In the winter.

Interviews and photography by Jane Roman.