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There’s more to casual sex than you may think

By Lara Loewenstein

April 25, 2007 9:01 p.m.

It’s as easy as replying to a craigslist.com ad, checking a Web site for a location, or responding to an inviting glance in a public bathroom.

Whether you call it casual sex, cruising or otherwise, impersonal sex happens. It usually occurs between two men ““ oftentimes in public places ““ at locations across the country, including the UCLA campus.

But while it’s an everyday occurrence, people who don’t participate rarely know it exists. And those who do know about it are often quick to judge the people who participate in it as dirty, or simply as gay men being promiscuous.

But this isn’t always the case. And it’s dangerous to simply throw out judgments about who these people are and why they participate in these acts.

The fact that this issue has been getting some media attention lately hasn’t helped with educating people about why casual sex happens or who participates in it.

Not only did the Daily Bruin run a story about casual sex in bathrooms on campus (“Reports of sexual acts in campus restrooms surface,” News, April 12), but articles have also popped up in news sources nationwide detailing how this man or that man was arrested for having sex in an airport bathroom while enjoying a long layover.

Some of these meetings are premeditated ““ set up via Web sites such as Craigslist.

I easily found a number of these ads for people looking for a good time at LAX. Most of them were utterly frank about what physical acts they wanted out of the encounter.

What many of these recent articles seem to imply is that these acts of casual sex are directly linked to gay men and the gay community.

Furthermore, some of them, including the Daily Bruin article, quote people postulating why someone would want to participate in such acts, suggesting that perhaps they are a reaction to the oppression of homosexuality or that they are due to societal pressure to be promiscuous.

True, most casual sex acts are between men. This is obvious from the literature on the subject and even the difference in the number of Craigslist ads for men seeking men as opposed to any other category.

But these aren’t strictly gay men.

In “Tearoom Trade,” a book about impersonal sex in public places during the 1960s, author and sociologist Laud Humphreys describes how many men who participate in casual sex are married, have children or have girlfriends. And more specifically, how many of these men don’t identify themselves as gay. Many of these men are just looking for a quick sexual release without questioning their sexual orientation.

Because of this, in the academic world, casual sex between men in public places isn’t referred to as gay sex. It’s referred to as men having sex with men.

This terminology emphasizes the difference between popular perception and what is actually happening ““ gay sex implies that casual sex is specifically linked with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, when in fact men from all sorts of communities participate in these acts.

But why men? The most obvious answer seems to be a difference between genders ““ as Joe Carrier, who wrote his dissertation on gays in Mexico and has conducted research in gay communities in the United States, said, “Women tend to look for different things in their sexual encounters.”

Furthermore, while some men may be grappling with identity issues ““ wondering if they are gay ““ other men may be completely comfortable with the fact that they enjoy this “quick sexual outlet,” as Carrier called it, while still dating girls.

Sure, it happens in public places, which may make some people uncomfortable, but that’s part of what makes it casual.

And casual sex is certainly not a response to societal pressure to have more sex. If anything, we’re acculturated to not have casual sex, at least not to the degree of initiating it in a public bathroom.

But just because casual sex isn’t the norm doesn’t mean it’s wrong. As Ronnie Sanlo, director of the LGBT center pointed out, it’s often polite ““ initiated by glances. And it’s not violent.

“You rarely hear about people being attacked in bathrooms,” Sanlo said.

But most importantly, casual sex is not a problem that’s there to be fixed. Sure, some people don’t like the idea of people having sex in a public bathroom that’s being used by others. But that’s not an issue with people having casual sex. That’s an issue of public displace of affection.

“(Casual sex) just happens,” Sanlo said.

And it’s not going to go away by arresting those who participate in it. That doesn’t mean we should all have to put up with people having sex in public facilities that we want to use ““ that’s why there are laws against public exposure.

But that’s different from judging it, and assuming that the people who participate in it are dirty, or oppressed gays, or sick. Especially since most of them are probably not.

E-mail Loewenstein at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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