Reflections on the Archive: Sex Sells


March 20, 2024
Ethan Moser

In February 1990, GCN featured its first phone sex line advertisement. The advert, featured on the rear cover of GCN Issue 15, promoted a business known as Gay Line. Nestled between adverts for two Dublin bed-and-breakfasts, the Gay Line ad offered GCN readers a phone line to ring where “guys listen to guys.”

While the ad was not as overtly sexual as some of the sex line ads featured in later issues of GCN, the message was clear. 

In the 1980s, long before internet dating and Grindr hookups, sex lines were all the rage. Especially for queer men. Not only did these sex lines allow for rural and closeted queer men to indulge their sexuality safely, but it's also not a coincidence that sex lines rose to popularity during the 1980s - a turbulent decade for the LGBTQ+ community worldwide as the threat of the HIV/AIDS epidemic had many queer folks more keenly focused on sexual safety. 

By gaining sexual gratification over the phone, queer men of the time were able to ensure that they were keeping themselves and their community safe from the rapidly spreading virus. 

By the end of the 1980s, phone sex lines were a massive hit in Ireland, the US, and the UK, and the companies that operated these lines, like Gay Line, turned to queer and men’s magazines to advertise their services. 

So it was that the first of many sex line ads appeared in GCN. While early ads were suggestive, they were more or less discrete and unoffensive. By comparison, the sex line ads that appeared in later issues of GCN, such as 1998’s Christmas edition titled “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus” (issue 113), were far more frequent and explicit. 

“Night & Day, this is where to get it”

As many as half a dozen different phone sex line adverts appeared in GCN Issue 113, promoting businesses like Gay QuickChat Partyline Personal Ads, Adult Voicemail Contact Service, and The Line. 

Unlike Gay Line’s first advert, these later promos featured photos of muscular, shirtless men, as well as providing dedicated numbers for different callers.

For example, The Line, in their Issue 113 advert, provided GCN readers with five phone lines to call based on their age, sexuality, and fetishes. Those categories included, Guys 17-29, Guys 30+, and Bisexual Guys, as well as two lines dedicated to “Bondage Fetish TV Fantasy Leather”. 

Additional sex line adverts featured in GCN Issue 113 included ads from Eurogay, with the tagline: “Night & Day, this is where to get it,” and promised “instant online contacts with real men 24 hours” a day for just 59p per minute. 

Perhaps the most interesting sex line ad to be featured in GCN Issue 113, however, comes from the Adult Voicemail Contact service. The company’s half-page ad in the 1998 issue proclaims its business as “Ireland’s most advanced telephone chatline.” Compared to the other sex line ads in the issue, Adult Voicemail’s advert is certainly the most comprehensive. 

While other operators provided only one or a few phone lines for readers to contact, Adult Voicemail provided readers with something closer to personal ads. Adult Voicemail’s advert featured as many as three dozen different phone numbers for readers to call. Attached to those numbers was a short description of the man callers would find waiting on the other end of the line. 

“Sean, 5’5, black hair, good looking, wants to contact anyone from Galway,” reads the line after one listed number. Another read: “James from Dublin is 25, hot, and is looking for a mature guy (45 to 50) or couple. Will try anything.”

GCN readers could call Adult Voicemail to hear from Michael, who was “25 and would like to meet guys who wear rugby shorts,” or Neil, 21, who “is looking for a guy in his 20s (straight acting if possible),” or Gary, who “is 34, tall, good looking” and “is looking for a sweet, feminine guy for some fun.” 

Sex lines fell out of popularity somewhat with the rise of the internet, with video streaming platforms like Chaturbate and subscription services like OnlyFans taking on much of the brunt of the remote sex industry. 

That being said, many sex lines still exist across the globe, showing that they were not only vital tools for the queer community during the HIV/AIDS epidemic but that they’ve become a lasting facet of queer culture and or sex culture more generally.