Fantasy Island

08.03.12

The Olympics or Soft Porn? Female, Gay Fans Gawking at Male Athletes

From Ryan Lochte to Tom Daley, the Web is awash with lascivious pictures of the men of the London Games. Did ‘Magic Mike’ set the stage for the worldwide gawkfest?

They don’t call it the XXX Olympics for nothing.

They are everywhere on television: dripping wet, heavy-breathing, half-naked men. No, this isn’t a gay-porn channel—it’s just the men’s swimming competition during the Summer Olympics.

olympics-ad-magic-tease
Clive Rose / Getty Images

Ripped, tanned men seemingly carved out of marble are making women and gay men happy—very happy—during these Olympics, spurring Internet memes and social-media buzz. It’s like the Channing Tatum male-stripper movie Magic Mike got a sequel—a very (thankfully) long sequel—one that’s also preciously short on plot but long on beefcake.

While women have long provided daydream fodder for men and lesbians—say hello to the field hockey team when not checking out the scantily clad ladies taking part in the beach volleyball competition—London’s Games seem to be drumming up a particularly focused interest in celebrating the fine male physique.

American gold-medal swimmers Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian might have gained notoriety for winning races, but they became instant sex symbols the second they stepped out of the pool. In the days since their London debut, you can read all about Ryan Lochte’s penchant for one-night stands, and there are entire articles parsing the hot-but-dumb problem posed by Lochte, and conversely how smart and sweet Adrian is and whether or not he has a girlfriend. (He’s single! Ready, set, go!).

Part of the reason for this seemingly newfound fascination with the hotness quotient of Olympic athletes is the explosion of social media. In 2008 during the Beijing games, Twitter only had 6 million users, Facebook had 100 million; today, there are nearly 500 million users (170 million considered active) and nearly 1 billion, respectively. Then, the iPhone had only been around for one year.

In 2008, Grindr, a gay-hookup site, did not yet exist. Buzzfeed, a website seemingly designed specially to capture memes and post gratuitous pictures, had not yet hit its stride. Add social media to a collection of pictures of finely honed muscles and you have a drool-worthy match in made in heaven.

“I think ladies have always appreciated the male athletic form, but because of social media the buzz has reached a fever pitch. You’ve got exponentially more people using Twitter and Facebook than in 2008,” said Jezebel Editor in Chief Jessica Coen.

“They normally show music videos on the screens in the bars but every now and then they show the video Tom Daley made. And when they play it, everyone screams every time Tom comes on screen.”

“Because of social media, the discussion of a topic—particularly one that appeals to anyone attracted to incredibly fit men—becomes buzzy to the point that it’s a dull roar.”

Thomas Onorato, who runs the publicity firm OW! in New York, agreed. “I have seen it for years with the gay community being fans of swimmers, wrestlers, etc.,” said Onorato, who is gay. “It has just hit the mainstream in a more prominent way compared to four years ago, thanks to Twitter, Tumblr, and the media cycle.”

Even the normally neutered sport of men’s gymnastics has sprung a sex symbol or three. A YouTube compilation video highlights the hotness of gymnastics Olympians like Brit Louis Smith (who was also singled out by gay website Homorazzi), German Marcel Nguyen, and American Sam Mikulak. Cuban-American Danell Leyva’s clinching of the bronze in the men’s all-around on Wednesday night was almost overshadowed by Deadspin’s post of Leyva’s self-shot revealing iPhone pics, which featured closeups of him in tighty whities (and yes, you can see it all).

To illustrate just how salacious a seemingly innocent athletic activity could be viewed via a carefully crafted Internet post, Buzznet ran two articles designed to satiate the unending quest to gawk at the male form. The post, “Tom Daley Gets Unnecessarily Censored,” featured still shots of the 18-year-old British diving champion taking his post-dive shower. Taken out of context, and with the NBC informational bars in just the right spot—just below his midriff, the pictures take on a whole new meaning. The post has 6,000 Facebook likes and 167,000 views.

Another post was just as funny and sexy: “Olympics or Gay Porn?”—featured photo after photo of scantily clad divers and swimmers with that NBC’s informational bar, and interspersed the pictures with still shots from real gay porn. It has nearly 400,000 views.

Terry Miller, co-founder of It Gets Better, the gay-bullying-awareness project, with his husband, sex columnist, Dan Savage, wrote: “We’re in Stockholm and we’ve gone to bed every night to swimming and diving.”

Over in London, there’s a near nightly celebration of Daley at Circa on Frith Street in Soho, London’s gay district. Prior to the Olympics, Daley and the British swim team filmed a video of themselves in their skivvies lip-syncing to LFMAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” and it quickly became a hit—especially with the gays. (Queerty has a whole post dedicated to the cute diver).

Matt Park, a Londoner who works in PR and social media, says Daley is quite the hit across the pond with the gay community: “They normally show music videos on the screens in the bars but every now and then they show the video Tom Daley made. And when they play it, everyone screams every time Tom comes on screen.”

In addition to social media, online dating sites have helped propel the Olympian-as-sex-god theme even further. Grindr, a phone app for gays that lets users locate nearby flings in real time, is being put to plenty of use in London. (Well, that’s one way to put those purported 100,000 condoms being given out in the Olympic Village by the International Olympic Committee.)

Noted Park: “There’s also loads of gays who live or work near the Olympic Park trying to find athletes on Grindr. Everyone is desperate to shag an athlete,” he said.

“And there are loads of them on there apparently.”

“I think social media has played a big part—there’s tons of blogs on ‘the Olympic hotties’—also loads of people on Twitter are sharing pics of the hot men,” he said, citing British journalist Grace Dent. “I’m not sure if the men are responding differently—from what I can see the girls are going crazy as well.”

Tanya Edwards, a self-described “horny broad” who works in digital media in New York City, joked: “I normally pay zero attention to the Summer Olympics, but when my Twitter feed started blowing up with steamy comments about male swimmers, it got my attention. I tuned in and got an eyeful of some amazing physiques. Hello!”

For women in particular, this may have been presaged by the success of Magic Mike, a surprise hit that rode a tidal wave of Twitter and Facebook support right into theaters, where big numbers of gay audiences were buying tickets. Said Jezebel’s Coen: “I think it’s too soon to say whether or not Magic Mike influenced what we’re seeing now, but it probably laid some sort of groundwork in terms of women becoming more comfortable with voicing their attraction.”

And have they ever voiced their attraction. Especially when it comes to Lochte, who became a sex symbol the minute his dimpled mug hit the airwaves. Said Coen of Lochte’s attraction. “He’s got a bit of an All-American look to him—the boy next door if the boy next door were cut from the same stone as Michelangelo’s David,” she said. “He’s like a police composite sketch for ‘hot dude.’”

Though, there’s now a compendium of blog posts and Tumblrs of the neverending stream of hot Olympic athletes, Coen says she still prefers the “Ryan Lochte douche meme.”

“It demonstrates the conflict we feel when we’re very attracted to someone who happens to have unattractive qualities. Everyone has had a ‘What’s in your head vs. what’s in your pants’ situation. With Lochte, we get to experience that as a nation.”

Therein lies at least one major way gay men and straight women differ in this regard.  “No, we don’t care if they’re dumb,” cracked Park. “Please.”