Public Sex Confidential
Overnight, senator Larry Craig became the poster boy for public sex. But as Benoit Denizet-Lewis reminds us, the phenomenon is anything but new -- and it's not just a closeted republican thing. So what is it that still drives some in the gay community out of the bedroom and into the Bathroom?
By Benoit Denizet-Lewis
From The Advocate January 15, 2008
“Public sex is alive and well,” says Joseph Couture, author of Peek Inside the Private World of Public Sex.. “Authorities are becoming more creative and
effective at policing it, but horny men are very resourceful. You can have all
the gay marriage you want, but public sex isn’t going anywhere.”
Some assumed that the Internet would do away with the need for sex in the bushes.
After all, why leave the house when you can have your man delivered? Others
hoped that as American society became more accepting of gay people, fewer gay
men would engage in furtive, anonymous encounters. But websites directing men to
public sex places continue to be popular, universities are redesigning their
bathrooms to make them less conducive to cruising, and every month brings news
of police crackdowns like the one in Johnson City, Tenn., where 40 men were
arrested in 2007 for indecent behavior in area parks.
At least one mayor,
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.’s Jim Naugle, proposed drastic measures to deal with the
rampant “homosexual activity” in public restrooms. He wanted to spend $250,000
of the city’s money on self-cleaning robotic bathrooms designed with doors that
automatically open every few minutes, theoretically making sex inside them
impossible. Naugle noted that he prefers the word homosexual to the word gay,
because, he insists, most gay people are actually “unhappy.” Outraged, gay
activists began the “Flush Naugle’s Bigotry” campaign and encouraged people to
send rolls of toilet paper to the mayor’s office to help him “wipe his dirty
So what explains the pull of public sex for gay men? Why do
some of us risk arrest, humiliation, gay bashings, and sexually transmitted
diseases in order to get off in the shadows?
It’s no secret that risk and danger are aphrodisiacs for many people and that public sex offers an adrenaline rush. But Kort, the psychotherapist, believes there’s a more powerful force to explain why some gay men spend much of their free time cruising public places for sex and why they regularly risk arrest to do so. One man cited in Tewksbury’s study, for example, had been arrested three times for cruising in the same park.
“What no one wants to really talk about is the role that sexual compulsion and addiction plays in this,” Kort says. “I would argue that a majority of men who regularly engage in public sex are either addicted to the rush, the escape, or the shame of public sex. Many gay men will go to great lengths to say that this is a behavior that they enjoy, that they want to be doing this, but if you probe deeper, they’re not happy. This isn’t an activity that makes them feel good about themselves, but they can’t stop doing it.”
Kort adds that many self-identified adult gay men mistakenly believe that by coming out of the closet, they got over whatever self-hate and shame they’d felt growing up gay in a straight world. Anonymous public sex, Kort says, is sometimes a way for gay men to play out shame and self-hate -- to essentially retraumatize themselves. “I call it returning to the scene of the crime -- the crime scene being our childhoods, where we were often degraded or humiliated for being different and where we were told hundreds of negative messages about how gay life is only about sex and how we’ll never find true love and don’t deserve a quality life,” Kort says. “The trauma of our childhoods get sexualized, and we express it at 3 a.m. on a cold night with a stranger in a park or in a rank bathroom along a highway.”
Books referred to in this article: