Pakistan is one of the most homophobic countries in the world. Yet gay sex is apparently prevalent in the country, which is home to 183 million people, some 97% of whom are Muslim. 

As the BBC's Mobeen Azhar reports in a fascinating investigation, the combination of the prevalence of gay mobile apps like Grindr and Scruff, plus the onus of arranged marriage, has made the Pakistani city of Karachi — the nation's biggest city, at nearly 24 million people — a hotbed of gay sex, even if actually maintaining a gay lifestyle is still incredibly difficult. 

"[S]ome say the country is a great place to be gay — even describing the port city of Karachi as 'a gay man's paradise," Azhar writes.

Pakistan as a gay paradise? We're not entirely convinced, especially since homosexual activity there is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence. At the very least, Provincetown, San Francisco, and Vermont, Karachi is not. Gay rights don't exist there, being openly gay is still looked down upon, gay relationships are hard to come by, and Karachi pretty much fails on every metric of gay life except for one: man-on-man sex. Karachi is home to a lot of it. 

Like any other country in the world (despite Iran's claims to the contrary), Pakistan has a homosexual population. Earlier this summer, for example, the Pew Research Center found that Pakistan was simultaneously one of the most intolerant countries in the world for gay people while at the same time being one of the world leaders in searching for gay porn. "As of this writing, Pakistan is by volume the world leader for Google searches of the terms 'shemale sex,' 'teen anal sex,' and 'man fucking man,'" Mother Jones's Alex Park wrote

Smartphone technology has also helped gay men in Pakistan find relief from society's strictures. "These days there are smartphone apps that use GPS to tell you how close you are to another gay person with an online profile. There are thousands of gay men online in Pakistan at any one time," Danyaal, a 50-year-old businessman, told the BBC. He's right: a simple search on Scruff, a gay dating mobile app turned up plenty of men (whose faces we've obscured)  in Karachi looking to connect: 

But it isn't all technological cruising, either. There's good old-fashioned cruising, too, which happens at some of Karachi's most touristy spots. For example, the city's busiest shrine, Abdullah Shah-Ghazi. Azhar writes:

Every Thursday evening, as the sun sets, men from across the city gather there. A tightly packed circle is formed and those in the centre of the circle are groped by those on the periphery.

To outsiders it looks like a writhing mass of men huddling around one another. Some even describe it as a "mysterious religious ceremony". For participants, it's anonymous group sex.

But despite all this gay sex, life for gay people is still pretty awful in Karachi. That's because gay people, like straight people, crave relationships. And that's still not possible in Pakistan. Many of the men engaging in gay sex acts, Azhar explains, are married. "Sex between men will be overlooked as long as no-one feels that tradition or religion are being challenged. At the end of it all, everyone gets married to a member of the opposite sex and nothing is spoken about," a local told Azhar. 

So gay relationships become an anomaly. Azhar uses the word "occasional." And its led to plots like what's currently going in China—gay men and lesbians "marrying" each other out of convenience. "For many gay men in Pakistan, a heterosexual marriage and a life of anonymous groping is the long-term reality," Azhar writes. That doesn't entirely sound like paradise to us.

 

Editor's Note: We changed the wording in the lead paragraph to make the intention of the article more clear: that there is plenty of (technically) illegal gay sex going on in Karachi.