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The travails of Senator Craig reminded me of a fascinating study I read in 1990 called “Tearoom Trade: A Research Update” by Frederick J. Desroches. It was published in Qualitative Sociology.

It’s a follow-up to Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places by Laud Humprheys which apparently is a controversial classic from 1970. There are huge ethical issues with that study that seem to have overshadowed the actual content.

Note that “tearoom” is slang for any public space used for anonymous sexual encounters, most notably public restrooms. The author concludes that most of the participants in anonymous “tearoom” sex:

(a) communicate through non-verbal gestures and seldom speak, (b) do not associate outside the tearoom or attempt to learn one another”s identity or exchange biographical information, (c) do not use force or coercion or attempt to involve youths or children, (d) are primarily heterosexual and married, (e) depart separately with the insertor leaving first, (f) commit their sex acts out of sight of the entrance and accidental exposure, (g) do not undress or engage in anal sex, (h) break off sexual contact when someone enters the washroom, (i) rarely approach straight men, (j) read and write sexually explicit homosexual graffiti, and (k) linger inside and outside the washroom for someone to appear. In addition, (l) fellatio is generally not reciprocated and fellators are usually older men; (m) most offenders are neat in appearance; (n) some engage in series and simultaneous encounters; (o) encounters are brief, usually not exceeding twenty minutes; and (p) few have criminal records with the exception of those previously convicted of similar offenses.

The behavior of players reveals remarkable consistency over time, from community to community, and across national boundaries. Many men, the majority of them married and primarily heterosexual, continue to visit out-of-the-way public washrooms in search of fast, impersonal, and exciting sex despite the risk to family, friends, job, and reputation. Although shopping malls have usurped public parks as the favorite locale of tearoom participants, the basic rules of the game and profile of the players—as Humphreys contends—remain the same over time and place.

I’ve been slightly nervous in public restrooms ever since, always worried that I’ll accidentally give the secret signal by coughing at the wrong time or whatever.

It’s worth noting the profile of tearoom participants identified by both researchers: hyper-respectable image, a pillar of the community, the “breastplate of righteousness,” married with children.

Sound like anyone you know? It’s a perfect description of Senator Craig.

Published inMiscellaneous


  1. anthrpologically, that was fascinating.

    As for your nervousness, just keep a narrow stance and you should be okay. Also, choose the closest stall to the door. I myself rarely drop the kids off at the public pool if you know what I mean so I’m mostly in the clear. Mostly.

    I wonder if any “teabaging” has ever occurred while in the commission of “tearooming.”

  2. David David

    When the audio of Craig’s misplaced voice mail came out, I called and left it on a few friends voicemail. I’m sorry I didn’t think of you, B. I’m surprised I haven’t heard of more people doing this. FUN!

  3. Frank Schiavo Frank Schiavo

    Craig gets called up on the “got Gay?” charge every 5 years or so. Screems louder than Tom Cruise at a Barry Manilow concert and then it goes away for awhile. Didn’t this time. But Look, let us call it what it was…typical cheap-ass republican/political bullshit. Craig was trying to get free dick and/or a free blowjob. He should have just paid for it or cruised for it [Like Vitter]. His constituents should just be glad they didn’t pay for it [like they did in New Jersey were the former govenor there made his lover the head of Homeland security]. The family values party– What a load of hate-filled crack. The policy of our free society should be as long as they are of consenting age, human, living and I’m not paying for it [unless I’m into that kind of thing] I don’t care who you are fucking and it doens’t count in how you run the business of government.

  4. I read the Laud Humprheys book for a class a few years back (it was an independant study, not a class full of undergrads) – and though I liked the book, the way Humpheys did his study was unethical. I looked up reviews of the book after I read it and found that sometimes it is used in ethics classes as a model of how not to conduct research. The content though, is really well written and I found it useful for my project at the time.

    That said, I now have to check the university library here for the article by Frederick J. Desroches, that you mentioned.

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