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.