I had my first gloryhole experience in 1990, when I was 19. Bored one night in the dorms, a friend and I decided to check out the adult bookstore near our university. We nervously gave the clerk $5 for our tokens and headed into the damp, musky-smelling “arcade” in back. Slipping into an empty booth, we giggled when the gay-porn actors moaned and grunted, “That’s it, fuck me harder, buddy!”
Then I felt something nudge my shoulder in the darkness. Startled, I turned to see the pinkest, hardest, most disembodied cock staring me right in the face. I screamed, but regained my composure enough to grab it and give it a couple quick tugs before my friend and I burst out laughing and ran out of the booth, straight out the front door.
I went back the next night, by myself.
Years later, the art of anonymous gay sex has changed dramatically, mostly for the better. But I find hook-up apps take the thrill, the anonymity, and the immediate pleasure out of the game. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to delete my Scruff account anytime soon.) They’re a great way to pass the time while you’re waiting for your turn at the STD clinic, but I find the endless scrolling and swiping left or right boring. I don’t have the patience for the short-lived excitement of someone unlocking only to discover that they don’t share nudes — or, worse, that their homes are disgusting and unsanitary. Then there’s the pointless back and forth: “can u host?”
Just shut the fuck up and show me your cock or hole.
I prefer cruising. I like walking into a public restroom and noticing too many men hanging about with a nervous, expectant energy. Someone gives a furtive glance followed by a flash of hard cock at the urinal. No one exchanges names or makes small-talk. There might be an impromptu circle-jerk, or you might slip into an empty stall or meet in a more private restroom for a quick fuck. If there’s a gloryhole, you can slide your dick in and let a stranger on the other side jerk it off or suck it. It’s immediate gratification — and it feels sexy and dangerous.
Soon after my first college encounter, I noticed gloryholes all over campus and started spending most of my study time in the restrooms. It wasn’t long before I figured out the code. A toe tapping on the floor signaled an interested party. (Hey, Sen. Larry Craig!) An eye peeping through a hole or crack in the stall followed by the motioning of a finger meant he wanted you to stick your dick under for some anonymous action. Sometimes, a guy would slip a pen with a note written on toilet paper under the stall: “What are you into?” or “Meet me in the second-floor restroom.” The creak of an outer door or the clearing of a throat would signal that someone was coming. While the goal was always to get off, the real thrill was following a hot guy: the waiting, the peeking, the hunt, the anticipation. The cruise. Part of the excitement is the chance of being watched — or getting caught.
Cottaging, cruising, visiting the tearooms, or whatever you want to call it often takes place on college campuses and in shopping malls, parks, and rest stops on the highway. You can also find guys cruising on beaches, wooded areas, on the street, and in adult bookstores. Marshall’s Beach — aka “Dirty Boy” Beach, near the Golden Gate Bridge — has long been a place for stripping down to your birthday suit and catch a little action. When it’s foggy, restrooms in department stores and hotels near Union Square are good cruising spots. If the risk of getting busted is too scary, you can always head over to Folsom Gulch, Blow Buddies, or go to an SF Jacks meeting.
Cruising has a long history, especially during times and in places where “homosexual conduct” was illegal and gay bars or other meeting spaces were nonexistent. In 1970, sociologist Laud Humphreys published his controversial doctoral research that chronicled the behaviors of men cruising, taking on the role of “watch queen” in order to observe his subjects without their consent. His book, Tearoom Trade, is now taught in university research courses as an example of unethical research.
In the mid-’90s, there was a crackdown across the U.S. In some places, newspapers posted the names of men who were busted, shaming them and causing the loss of many jobs and the needless destruction of many personal lives — and leading to more than a few suicides. In response, a group in New York called SexPanic! fought back to protect sex in public. I was living there at the time, and I’d see their fliers everywhere. I benefited from their work by spending hours cruising the restrooms at NYU and in Washington Square Park. Around the same time, pop star George Michael was arrested for cruising in a park in Los Angeles. He responded by recording the song and music video “Outside” in celebration of his sexuality and love of public sex.
Grindr, Scruff, Tindr, Growlr, and so many other apps may be the norm, but cruising is alive and well. So when you’re ready to try something a little more exciting, put on some loose shorts or tight jeans, and head to a local cruising spot. Cruisingforsex.com is a great place to find listings, complete with reviews and heads up notices for police activity. Have a fun, sexy time, and remember to stay safe — both from physical danger and by protecting yourself from STDs and HIV. And don’t forget that public sex is illegal in most places, so don’t get arrested. Happy hunting, boys!
Christopher White, Ph.D., is a nationally recognized expert in sexual and reproductive health with more than 25 years of experience teaching, writing, and promoting a pleasure-based approach for sexuality education.