from Social Issues
November 21, 2007 - Richard Tewksbury with the Justice Administration at the University of Louisville, has published "Conversation at the Erotic Oasis," on gay public sex and police sting operations in The Journal of Men's Studies (Vol. 15; Issue 2; 2007; pages 147+)
According to Tewksbury, "The question as to why we choose to study the occurrence of anonymous same-sex encounters is not easily answered. Do we view it as deviant behavior that needs to be controlled or eliminated? Do we see it as a threat to a safe society and harmful to the public at large? Do we feel that it contributes to the spread of infectious diseases? Or, are we merely curious?"
Tewksbury describes the behavior of a typical gay cruiser for anonymous sex. Part of this behavior involves a system of silent signaling through movement and gestures to signal to a potential sexual partner. "...in order to successfully navigate the setting, individuals need to recognize and understand the structure, syntax and content of modes of communication for the setting," notes the researcher.
Cruising typically occurs in public parks, beaches, gyms and health clubs and adult bookstores and arcades; and tearooms (gay slang for restrooms). These areas are known as erotic oases.
According to Tewksbury, most cruising is done silently for safety purposes and to assure the impersonality of the sexual liaison.
Police sting operations, however, introduce conversations into the cruising activities. Tewksbury studied how police undercover operations impact the cruiser. He surveyed police data from 127 cases of sexual activity in public places in a California city between 1995 and 2005.
Those arrested for public sex were usually charged under laws banning lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place; indecent exposure laws; and laws forbidding loitering in restrooms.
After citing several examples of conversations between cruisers and undercover cops, Tewksbury observed: "Our research supports the belief that conversation can be and is, in fact a part of the cruising experience. Although our data does not allow an assessment as to whether conversation leads to ongoing social relationships, as suggested by Brown (2003), we do see that cruising is not a silent encounter. However, we must note that the activities of undercover officers could have increased the level of conversation."
He continued: "This study confirms existing research that cruising is alive and well in public forums. Furthermore, this study provides another look at clandestine efforts by law enforcement personnel in the erotic oasis. This study is unique in that it shows that the world of cruising is not completely silent and devoid of verbal communication."
He urged further research on cruising to determine if this is just sexual activity or something more.