Sex and Bathrooms Redux

posted by Madame Bubby

Once again, after being forced to urinate and defecate in the dull and stinky men’s room in the building at the university where I teach, I think once again about the relationship between not just mansex and the men’s room, but the whole sociology of the bathroom.

First of all, the fact I am saying bathroom is significant, because in this dull and stinky men’s room with the constant problem of the unflushed toilet (it is supposed to flush automatically, it does not always do so), there is no bath. La salle de bains? No. Showers are available in the gym, of course, but no bathtub. Why not just call the room the sink/toilet/urinal room?

Second, why are public bathrooms in general such blah physical spaces (unless the ones in expensive spaces)? Yes, they are a public space, and utilitarian in the most basic way, but it seems, not that I would know this, the ladies’ rooms aren’t that different. The luxurious rooms with cushions, chairs, and couches I used to notice in movies made in the 1960s aren’t, or perhaps never were, the norm.
 

Basic public restroom

The unisex/disabled (not parallel terms) restroom the university recently constructed is clean and efficient, and also, and this is a plus to many, private. Single occupancy. Now, that might be interesting, to lock the door and enjoy some action, but that might create more potential for getting caught than doing a quickie in a stall. Knock, knock. Who’s in there? I have to go … I’m calling security.

Thirdly, the issue of privacy is something that seems to be more exclusive to contemporary American/Western culture. Contemporary, I emphasize, because in early modern Europe, urination and defecation weren’t exclusively private acts. People “went” when and where they needed to. Separate bathrooms with plumbing were a luxury, and even those in the upper classes used the chamber pot whenever and wherever, even when dining. Some dining areas and other public rooms contained elaborate close stools for convenient evacuation. The aesthetic features of these receptacles, one could say, were designed to conceal the act as well as blend the object into the overall luxury of the space, but it was clear what people were doing in them. At least, in much humbler settings an outhouse was a private, separate building, but not exactly the jolly T-room.
 

17th century toilet
17th century toilet

I’ve often thought, and perhaps my view reflects how Americans have insisted on enclosing the space and judging a person or institution or business by the cleanliness of their bathroom, that the actual bath and shower should be more separate from the toilet. The juxtaposition of the toilet and the bathing area creates a tension between purity and danger, as Mary Douglas in her book by that title explains. The danger is the expulsion of waste, the crossing of a physical boundary, in this case, the body, however natural this process. It’s not just that the waste itself is toxic or gross, physically. More than instinctual repulsion is going on here, more than concerns about health. We feel the need to control this process, enclose it in a pristine setting. The place to dump the waste must be the cleanest, purest, most private room, treated like a sacred shrine. The toilet is the porcelain god.

Thus, when one puts sex into the bathroom space, the act itself a crossing of physical boundaries which also involves a change of fluids, this purity and danger tension exacerbates. It is interesting that in one’s own private home, one doesn’t usually see the bathroom as a place of sexual activity. It’s the bedroom. One sleeps with another person, and the sleeping verb is a common euphemism for sexual intimacy. Yet, sex acts, anonymous sex, occur in public bathrooms.

Perhaps the connection here is between the words anonymous and public. Any time one even goes into a public space, one is taking a risk, because one is in the position of being seen by others at various levels of intimacy, and in the case of bathroom or toilet sex, what is deemed private becomes public in a space which is enclosed, private, for a private act. One now can see what one has fantasized about seeing. It’s the one moment of connection, the ultimate boundary crossing, the danger, the thrill, the orgasm mixed together in a space designed to enclose a natural, albeit for most, non-erotic process.

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Bijou Blog - GLORIOUS GLORYHOLES, OR NOT? PART THREE

GLORY HOLES, THE LAW, AND POLITICS

Yet again, despite attempts to investigate and analyze the behavior from a psychosocial perspective, the issue is also a legal one that that straddles the issues of private and public social norms. The book Glory Hole also contains an article, "Public Homosexual Activity and the Law," which ends up being a critique of the sodomy laws, which outlaw private homosexual sex and ironically force gays in to the public bathrooms, during the period and also the methods of enforcing public decency. This article really attacks the use of the police officer decoy (still a threatening presence today), claiming the practice is hypocritical:

This "decoy" method of law enforcement has lately come under a lot of scrutiny by the courts which would violate the individual's constitutional rights. It would seem that society's interest in protecting the public against lewd solicitation is endangered just as much if the solicitation is made by a private citizen or a vice squad cop.

The article also describes a scenario which could resemble the Senator Larry Craig bathroom scandal that took place several years ago, except the "closet queen" Craig was doing the foot tapping:

The undercover police officer seeks to provide an opportunity for a homosexual to either commit a lewd act or to make a solicitation for such act. In order to invite such solicitation, the undercover cop may sometimes spend lengthy periods of time at the urinals or sinks of a public toilet; he may sit in a stall and tap his foot or clear his throat to attract the unsuspecting homosexual's attention.

Congressperson Larry Craig is definitely a throwback to this era, a conservative married guy whose only outlet for his sexuality was the bathroom. In Craig's case, the hypocrisy (given his public persona and anti-gay voting record) was obviously more on his part rather than on the part of the arresting officer.
 

Larry Craig mugshot
Larry Craig

GLORY HOLES: OUT OF THE CLOSET AND INTO GAY PORN

One wonders if the sexual revolution of the 1960s and post-Stonewall 1970s, and the ensuing AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, really made any change in the  glory hole dynamic describe above. Gay bathhouses (and bookstores today) in the 1970s often contained glory holes, but they were more a sexual fetish tool, for those who are turned on by  that type of sex, located in an environment that was not really public like an actual bathroom.

What the 1970s and 1980s did contribute to the now-iconic glory hole was a slew of porn movies that showed really hot, enticing glory sex. Yes, the sex in these films was obviously staged and thus lacked the danger and anonymity of the real event, but art can often improve on its imitation of life.
 

Roger
Jim Rogers & Michael Braun in Dangerous (1983)
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Glorious Glory Holes, Or Note? Part Two

Roger

BRIEF HISTORY OF GLORY HOLES

Whatever the psychological and social ramifications, as well as possible etymologies and connotations of the glory hole, it can be still found in public bathrooms throughout the United States located in movie theaters, truck stops, adult bookstores, gay bars, and as I stated in the introduction, university rest rooms. Glory holes are most often located in Tea Rooms or T-Rooms, which evolved from the nickname "toilet room." These tea rooms were public toilet areas where secretive homosexual activity occurred, as early as the eighteenth century. Of course getting caught (as is still the case) would mean some form of criminal punishment, which in the past included the pillory and the gallows.
 

Article headline that says Raid Nets 8 Arrests on Sex Charges at I-95 Md. Rest Stop, Police Say Laurel Site Known Nationally as Homosexual Spot

In the repressive environment of the 1950s, the T-room with its omnipresent glory hole was a significant place where gay men could at least obtain some sexual, if not interpersonal, contact. Before Newton Arvin, the famous "scarlet professor," was arrested in 1960 for possession of obscene materials (those vintage physique magazines and 16mm movies) and "lewd" behavior, he used to routinely cruise public bathrooms and bus stations. He had been married, but much later in life he admitted to himself and a few select others his homosexuality and began to act on it in the only possible situations available to gays during this period.

 

Newton Arvin

 

Newton Arvin

 Professor Arvin's, and others like him, position was given a particularly impersonal ambience, bleak as a typical bus station during that period, by David Reuben in his 1970s book Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex - But Were Afraid to Ask:  

 

Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask cover

Most homosexuals will quickly tell you that they cruise public restrooms because they are there, because certain of such places are well known for such activity, because there are few other places a person can go in the daytime for sex, and a myriad of other reasons. For some, a t-room is quick and convenient. These are the people who dig impersonal sex, people who live with their families and can't bring a trick home, or people fearing to get involved.

GLORY HOLES AND THE GAY CLOSET

The book Glory Hole: A Study of Homosexual Activity in Public Places (no date, no publication information; looks to be early 1970s), a pornographic book touted as educational material with some interesting articles (including the one cited above defending glory holes), uses the above book as a source and corroborates this rather bleak view to some extent. Yet this view, as the text says, of the "sordid squalor of the nation's public toilets" seems to fight against the graphic pictures and jerk-off stories of glory hole sex in the book. Or is there really a conflict there?

 This text quotes from a source called Psychopathia Sexualis, which connects glory hole behavior with masochism, the thrill of getting caught and the public humiliation that ensues (different from the consensual BDSM which often involves public humiliation in a space with other BDSM participants and in the context of a scene). Perhaps this supposed masochism is also linked to the thrill of breaking a taboo ... even the thrill of looking at pictures (as in the book Glory Hole) and viewing movies of glory hole sex when one knows the actual situation could be fraught with danger.  

 

Psychopathia Sexualis cover

Glory Hole also attempts to formulate a solution for its time period, claiming that such sex can be addictive and also implying that such sex is ultimately harmful. Yet, the article argues, if the states eliminated laws against sodomy in private, perhaps homosexuals wouldn't be forced to have sex in bathrooms. Obviously the situation isn't that simple, but it does connect on a deeper level to the whole issue of being in the closet.

The closet connection is something of a knotty contradiction. If a guy is prohibited from having sex in his own home across the board, legally forcing him to live in the closet, why does having public sex (the bathroom) constitute a release from that closet? And practically speaking in this situation, wouldn't it be safer to do it in your own home rather than risk arrest by doing it in public, even it is illegal to do it anywhere? Yet, if he can do it legally in the bedroom of one's own home, then perhaps, just perhaps, he wouldn't indulge in sexually addictive bathroom behavior. Unless, as is often the case, he finds “toilet sex” to be a big turn on, closet or no closet.

One other source the book uses, at that time the most detailed study of glory holes, Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex In Public Places by Laud Humphreys, pretty much assumes the situation is hopeless for those who do glory hole sex. The 1960s and 70s were a time when "interpersonal" relations that built self-esteem and self-actualization were emphasized, as in the psychology of Abraham Maslow; perhaps Humphreys is working in this context, finding the impersonality of tearoom sex (such as no conversation between the participants) to be psychologically damaging.
 

Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places book

Humphreys does give some interesting detail on the actual physical dynamic going in the T-room, using anecdotal evidence and perhaps making some stereotypical assumptions about glory hole patrons, argues that the "patrons" are mostly "closet queens:"

The so-called "closet queens" are the persons most attracted to tearoom sex. Tearooms are popular not because they serve as gathering places for homosexuals, but because they attract a variety of men, a minority of whom are active in the homosexual subculture and a large group of whom have homosexual self-identity.

In addition to the closet queen participants, Humphreys notes, some act as voyeurs, and also serve as a lookout for the police, a "watch queen." The situation Humphreys describes may stem from a closeted gay subculture, but even in that specific situation, many devotees of glory hole sex may have indulged in bathroom sex for many other reasons, such as raw sexual excitement, the anonymity (as mentioned above), or a fetish for the ubiquitous hole, and they may have come from a variety of social situations, not just the gay closet.

Part Three to follow next week. In the meantime, check out the Sex Toilets DVD series, full of more glory hole and “toilet” sex.

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Glorious Glory Holes, Or Not? Part One

Vintage glory hole blowjob photo

"BROKEBACK BATHROOM"

A long time, ago, in 2004, I found out via the gay press that one of the men's bathroom in a building where I teach at was one of those "T-rooms," complete with a glory hole. Apparently the cops raided the bathroom, which by then had developed a reputation for clandestine sexual activity. The glory hole was sealed and a sign placed in the room announcing that the area was now under surveillance by campus police. The publicity garnered by the raid around campus later earned the bathroom this nickname: "Brokeback Bathroom."
 

Brokeback Mountain cover

I never knew this activity was going on. Honestly. But one question really prompted further inquiry: in an age of more tolerance, and even in some areas of the mainstream, acceptance and embracing of gay sexuality (ironically, the generally positive reception of the movie Brokeback Mountain that came out in 2005 revealed this development), why the secret sex in unsanitary bathrooms? Only an "outlet" for married guys or guys in the closet? And even if a guy wasn't in that situation, why the appeal of sticking your dick in a hole and letting someone unknown person suck it? I enjoy oral sex immensely, but I like to see the person who is going down on me and play with other parts of his body. Apparently many others aren't necessarily interested in seeing what the cock is attached to!

WHAT IS A GLORY HOLE? WHAT'S IN THE NAME?

What is a glory hole? Why is the hole modified by the word glory, with all its complex connotations, including Biblical/religious ones (the word for glory in Hebrew is kavod, in Greek doxa)? It's interesting and perhaps significant, given the often blurry distinctions between the experience of sexual orgasm and religious mystical experience (think of the famous statue by Bernini, "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa"), that the word glory is an English translation of the Hebrew word which really means weight and could imply destruction related to powerful physical phenomena like thunder and lightning.
 

Kavod in Hebrew

Detail from Bernini's The Ecstasy of St. Teresa statue
Detail from Bernini's "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa"

And according to W.R.F. Browning's Dictionary of the Bible, in certain sections of the Torah or Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), the "cloud" is a kind of covering through which the glory shines (Exod. 24:16-17). There appears to be strong associations with a supernatural power pulsing through the natural (thus both transcendent and immanent), which include sexual power, and also a kind of need to somehow "cover" or "conceal" that power (like the walls between the bathroom stalls) because of its physical (and spiritual) immensity.

POSSIBLE PSYCHOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE NAME

This context could give some weight (pun intended) to the rather florid and fanciful "etymology" from the unknown author of an article published in the late 1960s or early 1970s, "The Other Side of the Story: Defending Glory Holes."

Why are they named glory-holes? Possibly because of the glorious sexual release of being blown, standing with your erect prick stuck through it and being sucked off by a warm, hot mouth on the other side. Possibly, on the other hand, the "glory" belongs to the person doing the "job" on the other side of the wall, sucking on a fat, throbbing piece of meat, and receiving the thrill of a convulsive stream of jetting cum into his mouth as reward for a job well done.

Regardless of the hammy, cliched language, the unknown author touches on some of the motivations for such activity, including the anonymity (only seeing a mouth, for example), and even, despite the anonymity, an objective sense of accomplishment or reward without the context of a potentially complicated interpersonal relationship. Also, the anonymity can encourage a fetish, not only for say, an uncut cock or a thick one, but also perhaps attaching whatever face or body shape to that appendage, as argued by that same unknown author:

There is also the fantasizing of sucking on an organ which you can mentally attach to anyone you wish - an unobtainable "straight" friend, a movie star hero, a famous athlete; indeed, anyone at all! It's simply PRICK! And prick alone, in its raw, unadulterated state!

A private fantasy becomes public in a way one can't express publicly.
 

Cover of the vintage magazine Glory Hole: A Study of Homosexual Activity in Public Places

More on glory holes, focusing on their history, next week in this multi-part series. In the meantime, find countless movies featuring glory holes - including the four Sex Toilets compilations - on DVD at BijouWorld.com and streaming instantly at BijouGayPorn.com.

 

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