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Where art meets porn: Sam Morris on exploring the softer side of gay sex

The king of internet erotica talks sexual liberation and the stigma still faced by sex workers.

2020-08-28

This article first appeared in Attitude issue 322, June 2020

Words: Thomas Stichbury
Photography: Sam Morris

Asked what his favourite part of the male anatomy is, Sam Morris’s response doesn’t come as a huge surprise.

“Oh, god, it will be so predictable if I say dick…” he replies, with a giggle. “But I probably would have to say the dick. It holds the most power, the most shame, the most emotion, and it’s always waiting to be uncovered.”

For those unfamiliar with Sam’s work, he takes great pleasure in smudging the line between art and porn, whether it is through his paintings and sculptures, or via the more explicit videos on his website. “I normally say that I’m an erotic artist,” he explains. “I don’t shy away from the word ‘porn’ because there is porn in my stuff, but it doesn’t embody everything that I’m doing.”

Attitude is checking in with the Essex lad over the phone amid the coronavirus crisis. After moving from London to Berlin two years ago, he is currently stuck in France in self-isolation with his boyfriend – and he is un peu énervé about the situation: “They introduced lockdown and then they closed the borders in Germany, so I can’t get back to my house – nightmare!”

At least he has his other half for company, I suggest. “It’s a double-edged sword. It’s better than being completely on my own, but then also it’s very testing for a new relationship, let’s just say that,” Sam teases.

“We’ve been dating for about seven months, so it’s still early days to be in this sort of pressure cooker. It’s going to be the make or
break, for sure.”

The course of love never did run smooth, no more so than during a pandemic. One thing that the former professional dancer can smile about is that his business is booming in these testing times. Sensible gays abstaining from getting their cock quota – social distancing makes catching dick near impossible – have been hitting up Sam’s site at such a rate of knots it imploded.

“A friend of mine said, ‘I think your site is going to be fine – if anything, it’s going to thrive during this period.’ I was like, ‘Well, I’ll put a little discount code out’ that weekend and then, yeah, my site crashed,” he exclaims. “It went down for 14 hours. We managed to get back up again and it is the busiest it’s ever been. It’s because the gays are at home with
nothing to do.”

However, not all of us have been playing by the rules: “I know what gays are like, they’ll try and find any way to get around it. There was an orgy that was crashed in Barcelona. The police got a tip-off that there were guys throwing one and they were all arrested.”

Sam urges the thirstiest members of our community to explore other avenues to fulfil their needs. “Talking to people [on apps like Grindr] and sending nudes is fine, as is webcamming,” he advises. “My friend in Berlin was like, ‘I’m considering webcamming for the first time since MSN Messenger.’ It’s the future now.”

One of the projects on the 31-year-old’s website is Other Boys, & Lovers, a collection of racy, but intimate and unexpectedly tender videos Sam filmed with different men he has
met (and sometimes hooked up with) around the world.

Honestly, doing my research for this interview has been such a chore… “It’s about shooting fairly ordinary guys who have something beautiful about them,” Sam begins. “They’re usually always gay – I don’t think I’ve ever shot a straight guy – and I’m kind of romanticising them on camera. I show them in my light, as it were.”

The segments are set to classical music, too (you won’t hear a single grunt, melismatic moan, or saxophone blare). “It’s a fantasy,” he elaborates. “Classical music almost desexualises it, which is why it isn’t necessarily a porn site. Sometimes I’ll get people complain, ‘This isn’t what I signed up for, where is the porn?!’ I always just say, ‘Go to Pornhub.’”

As for how he finds his subjects, Sam stresses that he always waits for them to reach out to him: “I’ll put something out saying that I’m looking for boys in this particular city that I’m visiting. If people are contacting me saying they really want to do it, immediately it’s on their terms. Consent is such a massive thing.”

The self-proclaimed ‘Tumblr kid’ is driven by a desire to showcase a more romantic side of gay sex. “I grew up sitting on Tumblr for years and years studying male nudes in fashion and soft erotic photography. I was obsessed and just found it so beautiful,” he recalls.

“I love hardcore gay porn, but it was really oversaturated, and we lost a lot of the softer gay erotica after the Aids crisis.”

He goes on: “The Nineties became about pure business and the need to make money, and the only way to do that was with these hardcore porn factories churning out the same
stuff based on data, who is signing up, what do they like, blah, blah, blah. It wasn’t being run by artists any more; all the artists had died. I wanted to create this fantasy again.”

Given how much inspiration Sam takes from naked dudes, comparisons to the iconic Tom of Finland were inevitable. “I’m not worthy,” he protests. “I’m a gay guy expressing
myself through sex-orientated art, that’s why I’m compared to him. But he was fighting against so many authoritarian figures during that time in order to be able to express himself and I can’t relate to that.”

Although Sam celebrates and embraces sex positivity, he admits that it has been a real journey for him: “I always found sex to be a very private thing. I would never talk
about how many people I’d be hooking up with. It was a dirty secret — well, that’s what it felt like. It’s something that I’ve really had to learn. There was a moment where I asked myself: ‘Why are you so bothered about what people think? What is there in your head about the human body that you feel ashamed about? What has society told you
about that?'

“I just thought, I need to let go of these shackles – I broke out of prison, for sure,” he laughs.

Mapping the trajectory of his sexual liberation with his move to Berlin, Sam says his ingrained British prudishness was chipped away by the city’s liberalism: “I spent some time in Berlin and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s the centre of sex, experimentation, freedom and hedonism, and liberty, in a way, when it comes to your body. I had to overcome a lot of my own shit being British to thrive in what I was doing.

“When I moved there, within a few weeks, we all went to a nude lake. Loads of people go there; it’s not a gay thing. You go swimming and everyone’s naked. It was the first time in my life that I was sat with naked men and women, gay, straight, and we’re all sat in a circle having a picnic. It was so non-sexual, but also so amazing. Everything was stripped back. There was no pretence, we were just being human,” he reminisces.

Hope you were careful with the cocktail sticks…

“London is fairly liberal, but I think gay men there can be conservative. There is a huge ‘party and play’ scene, the chemsex scene, but it’s all underground and very hidden. You have your nine-to-five job and then your private sex life that’s not out there,” he continues. “Berlin’s not like that, everyone’s open about sex and it’s respected, in the sense that everybody should be able to have a sex life and it shouldn’t be judged, you know?”

So, what does that little three-letter word mean to Sam? “There are so many different colours to sex,” he gasps. “It can come from your head, your heart, your dick. It depends on what part of my life I’m in, who I’m with, if I’m single, if I’m in a relationship, it can be dark, and it can also be beautiful. It’s so important to know that sex isn’t black and white. The more variations of it you try, the more you start to realise which ones are healthy, which ones aren’t, and which ones you like better than others.”

Our conversation shifts to the rise of OnlyFans and he argues that there should be no shame around sex work. “I actually launched my site at the same time as OnlyFans in 2016,” Sam starts. “I completely support it. It’s a phenomenal platform for people to essentially capitalise on themselves, when in the past other people have capitalised on them. I guarantee that OnlyFans will thrive during this coronavirus, people who hadn’t considered it before will start opening accounts. If you’re in a place where you want to take control of your own body and monetise that, then do it. It’s a safe form of sex work, actually, probably the safest.”

However, he warns that there is no backtracking once you put yourself out there.

“Know what you’re getting yourself into,” Sam warns. “I remember when I posted the first full nude of myself on the internet and thinking, this is it now, I’ve made my bed, I’ve got to lie in it, there is no going back, I’m never going to have a normal life again. It’s a choice and you need to be comfortable with that choice. The
internet doesn’t forget, that’s what I say.”

That’s why he has created a dual identity for himself: “There is the internet Sam and then there is the real one. One is this highly sexualised person, and the other is not that much. You have to, otherwise you’ll have an identity crisis. On a daily basis my Twitter and Instagram are [full of] people sending me dick pics and saying, ‘I want to do this, I want to do that to you,’ so if I  didn’t separate the two, I would just think I was a walking blow-up sex doll.”

Sam has had to combat criticism of his career, whether it’s from keyboard warriors online (“I don’t meet it with defensiveness any more”) or friends. “My family are super liberal, they’re not very judgemental at all, so I’m very lucky in that sense,” he says. “It was more amongst friends, this kind of distancing of, like, ‘You can do it, but I just don’t want to see it.’

At first, I’d laugh it off, it’s fine, but after a while I’d start thinking, this is my work and I’m proud of it. I felt myself getting angry that I was apologising for what I was doing.”

His job has made dating difficult in the past as well. “There was a guy I dated in the summer of 2018 and he was awful. Ironically, he was one of my Other Boys, & Lovers – I
won’t name him,” Sam adds.

“We got swept away and it was very romantic, then one day he just lost it. He saw a picture of me online with someone else and this picture was taken months prior, before we’d even met. He told me never to speak to him again, that I had sold my soul to the devil and I didn’t deserve love. I remember sinking into the darkest place. I just rethought everything I’d created for my life and myself. Is he right?”

Fortunately, Sam’s current boyfriend, a ballet dancer, is on board: “He’s very supportive and understanding. It’s a learning curve for him and it’s a learning curve for me, for me to do what I do while dating and for him to date someone doing what I do. We’ve talked a lot.”

Now, they just have to make it through lockdown together… Television viewers in the UK will see more of Sam later this year as he’ll be inching his way onto our screens in Channel 4 documentary, Me and My Penis, a celebration of all things peen-related.

“I’m due to be the first male erection on British TV,” he reveals. “I was shooting on a film set with about eight straight guys, with a camera and boom mics all around me. The director, who was female, was like, ‘OK, Sam, stand by, we’re ready.’

“I was like, ‘Erm, babe, it don’t work like that, I need more than 30 seconds’ notice!’ was sitting with my iPhone and my AirPods watching porn and jerking off, a whole TV crew waiting for me to get a hard-on so they can finish the shoot.”

Did he, ahem, rise to the challenge?

“I did,” Sam chuckles.

'Me and My Penis' airs Monday 31 August at 10pm on Channel 4 in the UK.