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Perhaps surprisingly, the proud tradition of man-on-man cruising is still going strong. Wherever you are in the world, you’re not going to be too far from a spot where you’ll easily find other men who want to hook up with men. There are plenty of apps and websites dedicated to helping you out if you want to have sex in a public place.

Tom of Finland and the gay culture

As a young gay guy, I learnt pretty much everything I knew about sex from Tom of Finland cartoons. This was a world before the internet.

Tom of Finland created a hyper-masculine world in which sex between men generally seemed to happen spontaneously — at work, in a bar, at a swimming pool, hanging out in a park, or in a public toilet somewhere. These men were constantly hot and horny, constantly on the lookout for sex, constantly cruising.

The sexual landscape drawn by Tom of Finland represented a time not only before location-based dating apps, but also a time when being gay was either illegal or socially unacceptable — a time when there wasn’t ready access to safe spaces for gay men to meet, a time when every sexual encounter had an edge of danger and the thrill of the unknown.

The encounters celebrated by Tom of Finland are still very real for the gay men of today.

Cruising as part of UK’s gay history

In the UK (and many other countries around the world) police used to actively patrol known cruising areas, actively arresting men, even using decoy officers to entrap people. This type of arrest routinely destroyed people’s careers and their lives.

Given the technological and social changes we’ve seen in most Western countries in recent decades, you could imagine that the need for gay men to go cruising for sex has become a bit redundant. If you want a quick, anonymous sexual encounter (or something more) then you can simply put your smart-phone to work, or head to your nearest sauna or sex-on-premises venue. Right?

Contrary to the approach of a few decades ago, police in the UK will generally only turn their attention to guy-on-guy cruising if they receive some sort of formal complaint that needs to be investigated. There is specific legislation that makes it illegal to have sex in a public toilet, but any sort of sex in a public place could be an offence if it’s shown that your actions are likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress to others.

No matter how discrete you are, having sex in a public place clearly comes with some risks. You’re always pretty vulnerable mid-fuck. Homophobic thugs will often target known cruising spots. There are numerous cases of men being mugged or robbed while cruising. Also, the men who frequent cruising spots may pose a greater sexual health risk — they could be closeted, and possibly less-educated about HIV and other STDs.

But all of those risks somehow add to the thrill of it all. There’s entire websites, Tumblr feeds, and Twitter accounts dedicated to recording the exploits of guys getting it on in places where they probably shouldn’t, places where they could be caught or discovered at any moment, places where other anonymous guys might turn up and who might want to join in the action.

Public toilets, Private affairs

Berlin’s Schwules Museum has hosted an exhibition by photographer Marc Martin. His series titled Public toilets, Private affairs celebrates guy-on-guy cruising in public toilets.

Martin’s photos, staged with models and using disused train station toilets as locations, are beautifully observed, and celebrate the anticipation, the sexual tension, and the fraternity that can be experienced in public toilets around the world.

The proud tradition of cruising lives on.

Read more from Gareth Johnson

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Arts & Culture

Outdoors Cruising: the art behind the bushes

On a quest for anonymous and casual sex? ‘Cruising’ is not dead!

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outdoors cruising antonio da silva
© Still from "Cruising in the Park", Antonio da Silva (Edited)

Outdoors cruising is not dead!

We have all heard stories of the ‘old days’, before mobile apps and even gay bars, when homosexuality was a taboo – and in many countries illegal – outdoors cruising was the only way for gay men to be able to find a sexual encounter.

Nowadays, homosexuality is no longer criminal in most of the western world and technology is here to stay. Socialising with our friends or acquaintances behind a screen and finding a sexual partner has never been easier. But some still prefer the rush and the forbidden pleasure of a casual outdoors hook up with a random stranger.

If you think that the rise of new technologies and that the closure of gay adult entertainment venues is killing cruising – think again.

outdoors cruising couple

© Still from “Cruising in the Park“, Antonio da Silva

From underground culture to art

Outdoors cruising has been source of inspiration for many artists, Touko Laaksonen (a.k.a. Tom of Finland) being one of the most recognisable names exploring the artistic potential of cruising.

Many young artists have proved that this element of the sexuality of gay men is alive, well and more popular than ever and their artwork exhibited in screens and galleries all over the world.

A brilliant example of that new generation of artists is Antonio da Silva – a young award-winning Portuguese experimental filmmaker that explores the hidden side of homoerotic culture in a voyeuristic and indie way.

On his official site he explains:

“I have always been fascinated by male sex and sexuality. I became increasingly frustrated with how moving image explored this and have begun to make it the subject of my films over the last three years. I do not consider myself a pornographer but a filmmaker who use my background to choreograph short films with explicit sex themes.”

Since 2011, when he launched his first short film “Mates” – an intimate view into the world of online hook ups – Antonio has been exploring many current themes of the gay culture such as fetish, voyeurism and, of course, outdoors cruising.

Each film is a mystic combination of sound, image and movement that captivates the viewer from the first second and has granted him a space in some of the most wanted film festivals all over the world.

From the ‘hidden camera’ documentary style of Bankers, the dance-based choreographic scenes of Dancers, to the futuristic – and almost stroboscopic – view into the world of online gay sex of Spunk, Antonio keeps experimenting and delighting his viewers with the most captivating homoerotic short films.

“Cruising in the Park” – a sensorial immersion into the cruising scene

On his most recent work – “Cruising in the Park” – Antonio teamed up with Fabio Lopes to take us on a journey into the world of outdoors cruising. Moving away from the mainstream staged pornographic cinematography, it combines low angle and close up shots with a real audio experience and narrative giving us a sensation of first-person experience.

And, if just like me, you are a massive fan of movie/series adaptation of dark themed comic books like Jessica Jones and Watchmen, you will fall in love with Rodrigo Penalosa’s deep voiced narrator’s commentary throughout the film.

Don’t believe me, then watch the trailer (NSFW) below:

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