Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: Paris, France

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"We always want to do it."

Rachid, 22

Have you always known you were gay?
I knew I was gay at exactly 15 years of age. I was actually watching a film, I can’t remember what it was called, but Brad Pitt was in it. And it was the first time I said to myself, "This man is hot." It was the first time I’d thought a man was attractive.

Would you ever sleep with a woman?
No, I don’t think I could. I mean, I’ve tried but I didn’t succeed [laughs]. It was with my best friend. She said to me, "Do you want to try with a girl? I don’t mind," so we tried. We started foreplay. There was some kissing, sucking, but I didn’t succeed in getting in there, you could say. I suppose it confirmed for me that girls weren’t really my thing [laughs].

What do you think of the Marais (the gay district in Paris)?
There’s no point lying about it, it’s superficial. All the gays, they make out like they like luxury and fashion, but in fact they have no money. The majority are prostitutes, escorts. I know a couple. They do it to say, "Yeah I can party and afford fashion and luxury." If you start going out with someone from the Marais, he’s not a serious boyfriend. There’s too much temptation, too much drugs, too much alcohol. I don’t go out there anymore.

Were you ever in love?
One time. A boyfriend of mine. This was in Spain, because in fact I’m half Moroccan, half Spanish. I was with him for three years and we broke up when I came to Paris. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him, but a long distance relationship, it’s too complicated. I met him at high school, when I was 15 – when I knew I was gay. He was in the same class as me and we became friends and one day he said, "I want to try it with a guy, if you do too, let’s do it, it’s best to do with a friend." So we tried, and then a second time, and then a third time and then… [Laughs].

How was it coming out to your parents?
My parents are separated and I don’t really talk to my dad but my mom, yeah, there wasn’t a problem. She just said one thing to me: "Take care of yourself and don’t come back to see me if you have AIDS." So it’s for that reason, I go out of my way to be careful. I don’t think she’s cruel, I think she’s right. When you’re gay, it’s a big risk. There are lots of clubs, you go in, you take a drug, you come out with AIDS. 

What’s your favorite position?
Ah ok, [clears throat] I’m not sure how to explain. It’s standing up but with my legs in the air. So your boyfriend, he’s behind you. Like you’re against the wall, he’s behind you, and he’s holding your leg.

Are you a jealous person?
No, jealousy is the worst. I am only jealous from the moment someone isn’t honest with me. So if my boyfriend tells me, "I’m going out tonight in the Marais," that doesn’t bother me. But if he doesn’t tell me and afterwards I find out, that does. Because if he’s not telling me it’s because he’s up to something.

Have you ever been cheated on?
Yeah, once. I gave him a chance, but he gave me the wrong answer. I said to him, because I’ve been going out in the Marais for three years, I know people, the bouncers and barman. I said, "Listen, yesterday you were not at your friend’s house, you were in the Marais. This doesn’t bother me but I know you did something. So tell me the truth and if it’s the truth, I’ll forgive you. If it’s one time, I’ll forgive you. But if you don’t, if you dare not to tell me the truth, it’s over." And he said, "No, no, I didn’t do anything, I promise," so I said, "Ok, you didn’t do anything, fine, I believe you," even though I knew it was false – I had proof. So I waited one week, and after one week, in fact, he had scabies. So we went to the doctor and the doctor said, "You don’t even have scabies, you have the Eiffel tower," which is an expression that means like "you are crazy contaminated." So I said, "So how was that evening you spent in the Marais?" and he said, "Well actually I did sleep with this guy," and I said, "Ok, well good luck with your life."

Alexandra

What do you do?
I’m a student. I’m in my second year of Communications.

So you want to be rich?
Why not?

Is it easy to meet people at college?
It’s not really a college, it’s a school. So it’s small, people keep to themselves. It’s not easy. We’re rather individualistic and selfish. There are not a lot of boys either.

How do you normally meet boys?
At parties, when I go to clubs, through friends.

Do you find it easy to meet guys?
Yeah.

Why?
[Friend interjects: "Because she’s beautiful, why else?"] [Laughs] No, because I find it easy to talk to people, whether they’re boys or girls.

Normally is it you or the guy who makes the move?
I prefer to approach men usually.

Yeah? Do you think the French are good at being romantically forward or is it just you?
It’s more French girls, French women. We’re pushy.

Are you single at the minute?
No. I have a boyfriend. We’ve been going out for 3 months. He was a friend who I’ve known a long time and we’d been spending a lot of time talking to each other then there was a party, and it all kicked off and we started kissing.

Are you monogamous?
Oh yes, we’re very traditional.

When he’s with you, he’s with you?
Exactly.

Tell me some of his qualities.
[Giggles] He is kind, considerate, handsome, funny, very intelligent.

Is intelligence very important to you?
Having a bit of intelligence anyway, yeah.

When you were single, would you hook up with people a lot?
No, I don’t like hook ups. I get attached very quickly. And I don’t like sleeping with just anyone.

Do you have a favorite sexual position with your boyfriend?
No, no. I like it all.

Who is in control of when you have sex in your relationship? Who decides?
I like it when it’s the guy. But there’s no big difference. We always want to do it.

Handy! Do you have any unpleasant or crazy stories about your exes?
No, they were all rather calm people.

Is it usually you who ends relationships?
[Laughs] Yes. Well when I don’t like them anymore, when they begin to annoy me, or I want to have a look at what’s out there.

Do you think you’re demanding?
A little bit. I get bored quickly.

Were you a bit surprised to be so happy with your boyfriend now?
Well, it’s kind of recent all the same.

I’ve just realized I never asked you. Are you Parisian or where are you from?
No. Well I live just south of Paris.

Do you think Parisian girls know how to conduct themselves in love and dating?
No, they’re real idiots, Parisian girls. They’re capricious. They’re princesses.

How are you and your friends different?
We’re more open minded. Parisians are very closed-off.

How should women behave in relationships?
You have to flatter him. You have to please him. That doesn’t mean lying. You should always tell the truth. If you don’t want a serious relationship with someone, you need to tell them right from the start. If you do want something, you need to say that as well. You need to share everything.

Gabrielle, 21

What was your first time like?
Well, I was nearly 18 and it was me who decided. It wasn’t a bad memory per se. I had chosen to do it and I wasn’t ashamed and we were really at ease with each other. But there was no physical pleasure. It was hard. In regards to my own sexuality, my body didn’t have any desire at all. Maybe my body wasn’t ready.

Were you afraid?
Yeah. I wasn’t afraid when I did it, but generally, as far as sexuality was concerned, I was afraid. I’m still scared, even today, of getting raped and things like that. It’s not rational but it’s a fear that I have. If I’m making plans to travel or whatever, it’s a question I have to ask myself, the danger of being a woman, because we can be raped and all that – even though I think that it’s not at all the reality really. You know, I have friends who’ve gone off traveling on their own and it’s never been a problem.

Did you find your hard adolescence hard?
Yeah. It was horrible. I think it was the worst part of my life. First off, you realize that being an adult, it’s maybe not all that great, that adults aren’t necessarily superior to you. And on top of that, you’re a girl and it’s a great physical strain all of a sudden. Even to have breasts, you can’t run around like you want to, you can’t dress the way you want to anymore because the way people look at you changes.

What did your parents tell you about sex?
My parents really insisted when we were young that it was something you really had to want, that if it happens, it’s because you want it to happen and that it’s a shared pleasure. They were especially aiming this at my brother because they were worried that porn movies and all that could change his vision of sexual relations, but even for a girl, that it was important not to be too influenced by these kind of images.

Do you like watching porn?
I never watch it. I don’t think I could do it. I don’t like scenes that go too much into the intimate parts of people’s lives. Even in the cinema, actually, and not necessarily when it’s sexual. I’ve the impression that it’s practically voyeurism. It’s too much for me. I don’t like that. It’s like I’m in the room with them but I don’t belong there, I don’t want to be there. I don’t have any desire to live vicariously through people. It makes me feel uneasy to be somewhere where I’m not really invited.

Do you think your parents provided you with a good model for relationships?
No, because my parents have cheated on each other a lot. They actually know each other since they were 13 or 14 so I think that, for a start, that’s pretty young to meet the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. And what’s worse is that they’ve hurt each other a lot doing this. I wouldn’t want to do that to someone, even if I do think it’s a good thing that you can stay with someone despite all that happens, all the pain, because you have a life you’re building together with someone. I would never want to hurt someone that much.

What is the most satisfying sexual experience you’ve had? 
I don’t know, because it keeps getting better. Actually it’s kind of crazy. I’ve been with my current boyfriend for three or four years. I didn’t have a lot of sexual experience to begin with. Before him, I’d only slept with one other guy, so it has evolved a lot because my body was changing on me and my relationship with sexuality was changing. But even now it’s changing all the time. I mean in the sense of physical pleasure, it’s different each time, obviously in intensity, but it’s also not the same pleasure actually. I really can’t explain.

Photography by Bihui Tang Chan.