Illustrations by Lam Yik Chun.
Earlier this year, I had an idea to write about Hotel 81—a chain of budget hotels known to most Singaporeans as a “seedy” place to hook up thanks to hourly room rates. I’d always been curious about their clientele, but because no one wanted to be associated with the place, I couldn’t find anyone willing to speak to me on record.
So I decided to be a voyeur, spending the night perched on a rooftop nearby, watching the comings and goings of the place while documenting my observations. But I still felt like I was missing something.
I was too far removed from the action. I wanted access to what was really happening behind closed doors; I wanted to bear witness to the dynamics of a relationship during physical intimacy; I wanted to know how having someone watch would change things.
I wanted to take my voyeurism to the next level.
Head nestled against his chest, I listen to my favourite sound in the world. His heartbeat had always been a source of immense comfort, and lying here, on sheets soaked from our sweat and bodily fluids, I am home.
But what is “home”, really? A place? A person? An emotion? Lately, it was like what we had wasn’t enough anymore. He wasn’t enough anymore. And yet, I don’t want to lose him. Kissing his cheek, I tell the man I love what’s on my mind. I propose a solution.
Immediately, the slow steady rhythm accelerates into a thundering percussive symphony of dissonance.
In one swift and aggressive motion, he rips her knee-length dress off of her before hastily proceeding to do the same with her black bra and thong. Entirely consumed by lust, he is urgent; frenzied.
She is in a trance. As he sucks on one of her pink, erect nipples, his fingers rubbing the other, she shoves a hand into his pants, desperate to get a hold of what she’s hungry for.
As soon as her fist closes around his bulge, he lets out a guttural grunt. This spurs her on. She yanks his pants down. He grabs her hairless, glistening crotch that’s dripping with desire. Two of his fingers instantly disappear inside of her.
She gasps before a loud moan escapes her full lips—the lips that are soon wrapped around his throbbing cock, taking all of him in. Kneeling in front of him, she licks his shaft slowly; deliberately while rolling his balls between the fingers on her other hand.
He throws his head back in ecstasy. Upon seeing this, she stops her teasing. Instead, her head bobs up and down rhythmically—slow at first, gradually speeding up.
Grabbing her head, his hips begin to thrust. But soon, it’s not just her mouth he wants to fuck. After pulling her up by her hair, he spins her around, forcefully bends her over, and rams his cock into her soaking wet pussy.
And I am sitting right there, in front of the two of them, watching him fuck her brains out.
No, scratch that. This is not fucking. This is definitely not “making love”. This is not even sex.
What this is, is a compromise.
This is a compromise—the core of all successful relationships.
Allow me to start from the top.
I love her. I don’t think anyone understands just how much I do. She is my everything.
But the thought of another man touching her is more than I can take. It drives me crazy. It makes me sick. Why would she even want something like that? How the fuck am I supposed to agree?
No. There has to be a way around this bullshit that will still give her what she wants.
Settling into a corner of an almost deserted coffee shop in Sengkang, I glance at my watch. 9:56 PM. I’m early. In front of me, hawkers give their stalls a final, thorough cleaning before packing up. A few tables away, a group of elderly gentlemen in threadbare singlets chat animatedly over bottles of their beer, cigarette smoke slowly clouding the distance between us.
I check my watch again. 9:58 PM.
Nervous? You bet. I’m waiting. But who exactly I’m waiting for, I don’t know.
A couple months ago, I sent my request out into the universe in the form of an Instagram Story, wondering if anyone would be crazy enough to let me into the private sphere of their lovemaking. The universe delivered. I received a message from a throwaway account a couple of hours later.
“Barbie,” she told me to call her, as she deftly avoided every single one of my attempts to discover who she really was or what she looked like.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” she said, followed by 3 winking emojis.
2 weeks ago, Barbie gave me a time and a place to meet her. I hadn’t heard from her since. There was no phone number to call. The Instagram account was dead—either deleted or deactivated. Sitting here, I realise that I am in fact, completely blind. I have no idea what I’d managed to get myself into. Was the meeting still on? Was a cruel joke being played on me? Was Barbie even a woman?
Suddenly, a soft yet bubbly voice jolts me out of my rising panic.
Spinning around, I find a slender woman in a knee-length, maroon dress that hugs all the right curves in all the right places—office appropriate yet undoubtedly chosen to make good men think evil thoughts. If I were to hazard a guess, Barbie wasn’t a day older than 25. And though she didn’t have the bone structure of Victoria’s angular models, the soft features on her heart-shaped face possessed a charm of their own.
In other words, she’s pretty hot. All killer, no filler.
“Barbie?” I ask tentatively.
She smiles and nods, shaking my hand with a much firmer grip than expected.
Damn. Lucky guy.
Turning my attention to the (slightly) above average looking man in Barbie’s wake, I smile and say hello before extending a hand. He ignores everything. In fact, Barbie’s boyfriend doesn’t even look at me. He simply takes the seat across from mine. Barbie, the one to his left.
Sporting a tailored button-down shirt tucked smartly into tapered dress pants, the man—whom I christen Ken in my head—looks exactly how he’s dressed: like he means business. I soon find out that he does.
Leaning back and folding his arms, he looks me dead in the eye and lays out his terms.
“You cannot join in or touch. You can only watch. No recording of any kind either. You will pass me your phone later and I’ll give it back when you’re about to leave. Deal? ” Ken says, flatly; coldly; without any discernible shred of emotion.
And that’s it. Take it or leave it.
Ken’s bluntness, coupled with his arrogance, catches me off guard. It’s as if he’s trying to get me to back off. Whether this is some twisted powerplay or a general unwillingness on his part to go through with it, I can’t quite figure it out.
But I never back down from a challenge. What’s the worst that could happen anyway? I lose a phone? Nah. I could take the skinny dude in front of me in a fist-fight. Getting physically hurt isn’t much of a consideration. Mental scarring, on the other hand, is. But I digress. I figured I don’t have much to lose. I didn’t spend two months chasing this lead down only to chicken out now.
With this, Ken rises and walks away, expecting us to follow. Barbie, however, does the exact opposite. She leans in and as I catch a whiff of her cloyingly-sweet perfume mixed with the faintest trace of—what is that, mischief? recklessness?—she whispers:
“Oh, by the way, if you’re turned on by what you see, masturbating is fine.”
Barbie doesn’t so much as tell me this as encourage it, her lips curling into the cheekiest smile I’ve ever seen.
Oh my god. Wow. He actually … agreed. It’s not exactly what I want but it’s still something. I know he isn’t too keen on the idea but am I a horrible person for wanting a little excitement back in our relationship? It’s been months and I’m so fucking sick of how we’re not what we used to be.
I just want to be thrilled again. By him. With him. Is that so wrong?
Trailing behind the couple, we soon arrive at the void deck of a HDB block nearby.
I knew that watching a couple have sex would be an intimate affair, but fuck me, I wasn’t expecting it to be this intimate. This wasn’t some dodgy tryst happening within the confines of a sleazy hotel, where everyone can play pretend for a little while before going back to their normal lives. This was the normal life. This was a regular Singaporean couple about to have sex in a regular HDB flat. In front of a stranger. In other words, this was the real deal. Uncomfortably real.
One uneasy lift ride later, I step into Ken’s home, evident from the framed picture hanging on the opposite wall. Smiling down at me: a younger version of himself in a university graduation gown, proud parents seated in front, beaming.
Transfixed by the unnerving image of a happy Ken, it takes a moment for the lightbulb in my head flicker to life.
Based on that portrait, I knew Ken was an only child. In the dimly-lit balcony behind him, the array of business shirts hanging from bamboo poles told me he worked a corporate job, where hierarchy and power reigned supreme. Watching him take off his oxfords, I notice the shoe cabinet that’s filled with trendy and expensive sneakers, both past and present. Yeezys, NMDs, Flyknits—you name it, they’re here.
Utterly fascinated by what everything in this a treasure trove of information told me about Ken, I make to follow Barbie (who had since skipped merrily down the hallway) to explore more of the place, but a strong palm on my chest holds me back.
“Phone,” Ken says coldly, staring me down once again.
He lets go as soon as I hand it over but his eyes never leave mine. I figure it best not to take another step. This was his show; his turf.
Satisfied at my obedience, he walks away, leaving me to take my rightful place to follow him to his room.
A stack of GQ and Men’s Folio magazines are scattered across his desk. Conspicuously absent: a lack of personal photos on display. On a shelf, dozens of old school trophies sparkle under the room’s fluorescent lighting, throwing streaks of gold on the dark grey walls. Only time will tell if age had robbed the athlete of his stamina. But one thing’s for sure: Ken is used to getting his way. He’s used to winning.
What catches my attention the most, however, is the cheap, plastic stool in the corner—the kind you drag out of the storeroom whenever Chinese New Year rolls around, meant for the guests you don’t want but have to invite. Compared to how immaculately modern and well-organised the rest of the space is, it was clear the stool didn’t belong here.
Somehow, the voyeur’s throne felt like another indirect message.
Wary of pissing Ken off, I take extra care not to let him notice my fascination with his room and everything in it. But after taking my seat and turning around, I discover he’s far too distracted to take notice of me.
Right there, on the bed in the middle of the room, the couple is engaged in what can only be described as a war of tongues.
With one hand pulling her thick, auburn hair and the other firmly gripping her waist, Ken drags Barbie closer, shoving his tongue down her throat while thrusting his crotch into hers. A moan escaping her gaping mouth, Barbie reciprocates. Hiking her dress up, she jumps on top of her boyfriend, cups his strong jaw with both hands and leans into him, pushing his entire body backwards.
The words “slow” and “tender” are obviously not in their vocabulary. There are no soft or playful kisses. No tight hugs or longing looks of love. No delicate ‘I love you’s. This was 0 – 100 just like that.
As someone who gets mildly uncomfortable with even the slightest public displays of affection, I am honestly pretty disturbed. Based on the few things Barbie had told me in earlier messages, she and Ken were a loving couple in a committed relationship—albeit with a flexible definition of privacy. But what I was seeing was the total opposite of what I had pictured. Nothing about this was romantic. This was no holds barred, full-on animal instinct. Two writhing bodies in a dirty dance of the flesh.
However, while only pleasure was etched on her face, he looked like he was in pain; bordering on miserable even.
I have no idea what to make of the scene in front of me. To try and ease my discomfort, I pretend I’m watching a love scene in some B-grade arthouse flick. The delusion works for all of 5 minutes. As soon as clothes start coming off, it’s a completely different story.
Something’s changed. She’s not pulling away from me anymore. Why?
It’s Not You. It’s Me.
Having had enough of doggy-style, Ken flips Barbie over and positions himself under her.
Then, he faces Barbie in my direction. Using his legs to spread hers, he gives me the clearest possible view of her pussy. She follows his lead, lowering herself onto him and once again, the air is punctuated with the sound of skin slapping skin.
However, unlike his girlfriend, Ken doesn’t simply lean back to enjoy himself. Instead, he props himself up and glances at me, our eyes meeting.
Suddenly, I’m distinctly made aware that to them, I’m just as part of this as they are. And at this moment, I find out just how big of a motherfucker Ken is.
Instead of turning his attention back to his girlfriend, he continues to stare me down. Beginning to feel extremely uncomfortable, I look away. And just like that, he wins.
I finally understand the situation I’m in: I’m his fucking plaything.
“Everything in the world is about sex—except sex. Sex is about power,” Oscar Wilde said. It appears Sir Wilde knew what he was talking about.
This was never about sex. This was only ever about power. Not the power Ken had over Barbie, or even the other way around. This was about him wanting to dominate me through her. Everything—from the words he used, to how he treated me—all made complete sense now.
I was allowed into his personal space. I was allowed to watch his girlfriend in all her naked glory. I was even allowed to jack off to them. But she was off-limits. She was his. And he wanted to make damn sure I knew that. This blatant display of domination probably turned this asshole on.
As much as I want to strangle him right here and now, I play it cool. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction.
But it didn’t matter anymore. Flipping Barbie on her back, he climbs on top of her and pins her down. As she moans, he thrusts even harder and faster, before pulling out and cumming all over her stomach.
And with that, the show’s over. The actors take their bow. The curtains come down.
True to form, Ken remains quiet and it’s Barbie who breaks the silence.
“I initially wanted a threesome…” she says, her voice trailing off as she turns to her boyfriend.
I face him, and once again, our eyes meet.
This time, he looks away.
Today, for the first time in a long while, I finally felt close to him again. I don’t know where we’ll go from here but if anything, there’s hope.
The Walk of Shame.
I was in too much shock to sleep that night. It wasn’t the mental image of a couple having sex that kept me up. It’s was Barbie’s last words. They hit me like a freight train.
For one, I had been entirely wrong about Ken.
Based on all the details that alluded to his personality, I figured Ken must be the kind of guy who cares deeply about what others think of him. He buys the trendiest shoes and clothes to be cool. He reads men’s magazines to learn sophistication. Nothing makes him happier than being admired or envied.
An only child, he was probably used to getting his way. He never had to watch praise being heaped onto a sibling, and never had to learn how to share. In school, he was the all-star athlete, venerated for his athletic abilities.
Yet here was the woman he loved telling him that, at least in the bedroom, he wasn’t enough. In the most intimate of settings, she wanted to include someone else—the ultimate knife in the heart for most of us, what more someone used to feeling special.
But somehow, I was let in. And this is where I began to understand.
What I had been a part of was Ken stepping out of his comfort zone—whether out of love or a fear of losing his girlfriend, I don’t know. But he wasn’t doing this for himself. He was doing this for her. Allowing me into the room was the midway point between what Barbie wanted and what he was comfortable with.
Like I said at the beginning, this was a compromise.
Staring me down was his way of intimidating me and making me feel small. If his girlfriend wanted someone else, Ken was going to make damn sure everyone knew he was the big dog here. It was his way of regaining some semblance of control. Likewise, the plastic stool was him sending a message: you don’t belong here. All these little things were just so he could deal with his discomfort.
Nothing about what I witnessed was arousing. The sex was cold; detached.
In all the time I spent with the couple, whether they were clothed or not, Ken and Barbie barely spoke a word to each other. It was as if they lived in separate worlds.
That evening, during what was supposed to be the most pleasurable activity, he looked miserable and in pain. There is a fine between love and hate. Ken was wrestling with, and trying to reconcile both emotions.
Fucking her, Ken was aggressive. He pulled her hair. He grabbed her waist. He shoved her. Not playfully or in good fun. He looked like he genuinely wanted to hurt her; to cause her as much physical pain as what he felt emotionally. Deliberately angling his girlfriend’s naked body in my direction was him overcompensating. He was trying to convince himself that it would be okay; that it wasn’t a big deal. Even though it was.
He probably hated her for what she was making him do. But the fact that I was there meant he loved her enough to go through with something he absolutely detested.
She, on the other hand, was in a trance, probably trying to block out what her boyfriend felt. Barbie was being selfish. But to her, this was necessary to keep the relationship going.
As someone who’s bent over backwards multiple times in the name of love, I understand what it means to do something you don’t like or agree with just to keep your significant other happy and the relationship going. Sometimes, you even end up questioning if it’s really worth it. It sucks. It’s no fun. But you do it, because love.
That night was a revelation of what compromise really is. Which is—nothing we ever think it is until we actually go through with it.
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