Public sex is dangerous, illegal, and frowned upon by polite society. Yet some of us are hooked on it, and many more of us have done it at least once or twice. So just how public is "public?" What's called "public sex" can range from fucking around in the for-sex space of a backroom bar, to screwing in a car parked in lover's lane, to a blowjob at the movies, to cruising public restrooms, to balls-out naughtiness in a park or on a public beach. Some semi-public venues - sex clubs, for instance - provide the exhibitionistic thrill but none of the danger. Still, lots of guys can be found sporting hard-ons in the steam room at the gym, potential loss of membership be damned.
Why do it?
One aficionado of encounters in the park, a.k.a. a "bush queen," says, "God, I love public sex. I like the riskiness of it, the idea that I'm getting pleasure where it's forbidden, that even in the most tedious of public places, like the restroom at the mall, sex can rear its swollen head." Risk is, of course, a relative concept. That guy, for instance, says he always uses condoms and is careful to zip up when those not obviously into sex enter the scene.
Others are more brazen, and not everyone is happy about that. "I hate it when I walk into the steam room of my gym," says another gay guy, "and dudes are jacking each other off and don't even bother to stop to see who's come in. I'm not a prude, but it's a mixed gym, and I don't want some straight guy to get upset and blow the whistle. Hell, it even makes me uncomfortable to see it sometimes."
Heedlessness, of course, can have its consequences. Many of the guys who cruise public restrooms, or "tea rooms," aren't even gay identified. They may be married guys in search of anonymous relief, but if they make the wrong moves to an undercover cop, it's their cover, not their dick, that gets blown. A number of lawsuits have targeted sexual entrapment by the police, but it's a tough issue for many gay politicos, who'd rather talk about gay marriage than quickie sex with truckers.
Still, public sex goes on, pretty much everywhere and pretty much always. And what's the big deal? The outrageousness of public sexuality is a culturally relative thing. Things that can get you busted in the Bible Belt wouldn't raise an eyebrow in Amsterdam, and in olden times, the concept of "sexual privacy" was limited to folks rich enough to own a bedroom. And even in the U.S.A. there are certain events, such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans or San Francisco's Folsom Street Fair, when people "do it" in the road while the law looks the other way.
"It's just so weird," says a gay libertarian into public nookie. "Anybody can turn on the TV and watch half-naked boxers or pro wrestlers beating the crap out of each other, but the sight of two guys having sex is presumably so offensive that getting caught at it can send you to jail."
There are rituals and folkways connected with various forms of public sex - the foot tapping beneath the restroom stall, for instance - that can make things a little clearer and safer. But public sex, by its nature, always carries an element of risk. Queers aren't the only ones who know where the cruising grounds are; police and bashers know, too. Saying "be careful" is all well and good, but in the long run, the safest thing is to keep your dick behind locked doors.
But then, as some sage pointed out, in the long run, we're all dead. And in the meantime, some of us like public sex.
Simon Sheppard is the co-editor of Rough Stuff: Tales of Gay Men, Sex, and Power (Alyson Books)
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