"As long as people have sex, there'll always be more research," particularly for the staffs who work at the sex clinics peppered throughout lower Manhattan. Of course, no one knows this better than twenty-seven-year-old graduate student Jason Green, an idealistic sex educator who has recently entered the AIDS field hoping for a friendly gay environment to work in, free from the restrictions of suburbs.
Up until recently, Jason's medical school's psychology department has concentrated on inner-city AIDS victims, with a particular emphasis on the homeless, women, and minorities, because it seemed to be where the epidemic was heading. But one night after Jason is mugged, the fallout from the resulting newspaper article enables his boss, Shelly, to finance a new study specifically designed for gay men.
Commissioned by the National Institute of Health, Shelly places Jason in charge of researching a program aimed at interviewing a number of gay men, with a special accent on those who are HIV-positive. Jason is overjoyed; it has long been a dream of his that a gay sex research project of this type would eventually get off the ground.
From the start, however, the project proves to be rife with difficulties. How can they get men to talk about their most intimate sexual experiences? And furthermore, how can they get these men to disclose their true serostatus? Shelly tells Jason and his colleague Ricky that the only way for them to get truly authoritative data is go to where people are actually having sex and give out the phone number for the project.
In other words, Jason and Ricky must go the sex clubs, porn theaters and bathhouses, because "that's where the sex is and you've automatically got a captive audience." Thus begins Jason's voyeuristic journey as he travels throughout the underbelly of Manhattan into these dark, solitary places where men watch and cruise from every corner, always on the hunt.
The research begins to take shape, and Jason goes from beat to beat in this sleazy world of sweaty flesh and leather clubs, the sex parties and fetish balls, trying to hand out his card to the wary and often uncommunicative men. There is however, a certain naiveté to Jason's journey. At home, his boyfriend, Mark, feeling lonely and vulnerable, eventually confronts Jason over his preoccupations with the project.
"The more sex you research, the less we have," Mark angrily tells him one night while they're in bed. "All you think about is sex from a research perspective, it's all just science to you." But Jason, battling this unhappiness at home, can only travel deeper and deeper into this world, at once secure in these odd dark interiors, treating them like they're a second home, a place he grew up in.
Then, in a sudden turn of events, a surprise revelation of Mark's breaks the fragile hold that Jason has upon his work and on his relationship with his lover. Frozen in place by his fears of sex and by the sheer paralyzing force of his ancient memories, Jason's days fragment into kaleidoscopic parts, some vivid, some murky, some jagged, and all consecutively plummeting, changing and whirling.
Author Michael T. Luongo has written a mesmerizing journey into this secretive existence where time is suspended and men who know nothing about each other furtively gather in gay porn theaters, cruising areas and seedy bathhouses, where all social pretense is stripped away and pure lust fuels them.
Jason's journey is a distinctly male one, and part of his growth is that he must grapple with the fact that he's not that different from the men who slip into video booths in secrecy
- only he hides his real persona, his real fears of love and sex behind the façade of research.
In the end, this young man cannot escape the intense scent that takes him back so many years, seducing him back to all the times that he breathed it in, each encounter forever linked to his own sexual awakening.
Inspired by the author's work for various HIV and AIDS organizations, the novel is sexually explicit and may offend some readers, but these scenes are never gratuitous or exploitative. Indeed, Luongo manages to breathe fresh life into a little-known world that is defined by semi-naked men perpetually on the hunt, where the anticipated heart-stopping
glances are exchanged amid a heady concoction of testosterone, manliness and sweat.