The risk of being caught is the ultimate turn-on
As a young gay guy, I learnt pretty much everything I knew about sex from Tom of Finland cartoons. This was a world before the internet.
Tom of Finland created a hyper-masculine world in which sex between men generally seemed to happen spontaneously — at work, in a bar, at a swimming pool, hanging out in a park, or in a public toilet somewhere. These men were constantly hot and horny, constantly on the lookout for sex, constantly cruising.
The sexual landscape drawn by Tom of Finland represented a time not only before location-based dating apps, but also a time when it was either illegal or socially unacceptable to be gay — a time when there wasn’t ready access to safe spaces for gay men to meet, a time when every sexual encounter had an edge of danger and the thrill of the unknown.
In the UK (and many other countries around the world) police used to actively patrol known cruising areas, actively arresting men, even using decoy officers to entrap people. This type of arrest routinely destroyed people’s careers and their lives.
Given the technological and social changes we’ve seen in most Western countries in recent decades, you could imagine that the need for gay men to go cruising for sex has become a bit redundant. If you want a quick, anonymous sexual encounter (or something more) then you can simply put your smart-phone to work, or head to your nearest sauna or sex-on-premises venue. Right?
Perhaps surprisingly, the proud tradition of cruising is still going strong. Wherever you are in the world, you’re not going to be too far from a spot where you’ll easily find other men who want to hook up with men. There are plenty of apps and websites dedicated to helping you out if you want to have sex in a public place.
Contrary to the approach of a few decades ago, police in the UK will generally only turn their attention to guy-on-guy cruising if they receive some sort of formal complaint that needs to be investigated. There is specific legislation that makes it illegal to have sex in a public toilet, but any sort of sex in a public place could be an offence if it’s shown that your actions are likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress to others.
No matter how discrete you are, having sex in a public place clearly comes with some risks. You’re always pretty vulnerable mid-fuck. Homophobic thugs will often target known cruising spots. There are numerous cases of men being mugged or robbed while cruising. Also, the men who frequent cruising spots may pose a greater sexual health risk — they could be closeted, and possibly less-educated about HIV and other STDs.
But all of those risks somehow add to the thrill of it all. There’s entire websites, Tumblr feeds, and Twitter accounts dedicated to recording the exploits of guys getting it on in places where they probably shouldn’t, places where they could be caught or discovered at any moment, places where other anonymous guys might turn up and who might want to join in the action.
The encounters celebrated by Tom of Finland are still very real for the gay men of today.
Berlin’s Schwules Museum has been hosting an exhibition by photographer Marc Martin. His series titled Public toilets, Private affairs is a celebration of guy-on-guy cruising in public toilets.
Martin’s photos, staged with models and using disused train station toilets as locations, are beautifully observed, and celebrate the anticipation, the sexual tension, and the fraternity that can be experienced in public toilets around the world.
The proud tradition of cruising lives on.