Fantasy or Necessity: Public Sex is More Common Than You Think by Betty Butch

For his book Tell Me What You Want, Dr. Justin Lehmiller surveyed over 4,000 Americans about their sexual interests and fantasies. Public sex was a fantasy shared by 81% of men and 84% of women polled.

This fascination with sex in public settings can be seen all over the internet. There are over 45,000 videos in the “Public” category on Porn(that’smostlystolen)Hub. On Archive of Our Own – a fanfiction hosting site – there are about 21,000 works under the “Public Sex” tag. And on kinky networking site Fetlife, around 411,000 kinksters have noted their interest in “Sex in Public.”

There are innumerable reasons why having sex in public is such an appealing fantasy. For many, it can harken back to youthful fumblings in parked cars, when sex was a mysterious prize worth the risk of a reproachful tap on the window from a nosey police officer. For others, it’s about the opportunity to show off for consenting onlookers, indulging in fantasies of being desired, envied, or even joined. There are also those who are aroused by the risk; after all, getting caught can mean everything from some serious embarrassment, to legal action or social and occupational repercussions.

For some communities, sex in public isn’t just about erotic thrills – it’s a necessity. “In cultures where openly gay relationships are criminalised or made dangerous, public sex provides a rare avenue for intimacy...,” Regan Lynch wrote in the Archer Magazine piece Cruising: Public sex and the queer resistance to gay assimilation. “Simply put, when sex is deemed inappropriate for the home, it will be pushed out into the public.”

The places people seek and the methods they employ for public sex are as varied as the people doing it. There are, of course, the classics, like awkward backseat hookups and quick handies in the back of movie theaters. But sordid stories of public sex aren’t limited to what you got up to in high school. We’re all grown up now, and we’re having sex in airplane bathrooms, hotel elevators, and our snowbird neighbor’s pool! (Or at least we’re claiming we do, when it’s our turn to dish at brunch.)

According to a survey reported on by Bustle, the most commonly traipsed tryst spot is the good ol’ outdoors: 26% of people polled said parks, fields, and forests were chosen for their raunchy rendezvous. In a 2010 NSFW Sunday roundup, Autostraddle contributors were asked the “craziest place you’ve had sex” and the answers were uniquely queer and delightful, including: “under the Fashion Week bar tents at Bryant Park circa 2 a.m.,” “church basement before performing at a wedding,” and “the costume closet of the theater hallway.” For lower risk locations, a Redditor in a thread on the topic suggested, “public golf courses at night [or] on the balcony of a hotel overlooking a busy street.”

As for methods, well, there’s no one way to have sex regardless of where you’re having it. Some people wear skirts or other loose clothing items and forgo undergarments so they can easily get to the goods. Others utilize wearable or remote-controlled sex toys to get off without getting naked. Some stick to crouching and performing oral – after all, you can always claim you were tying your partner’s shoe! Generally, public sex puts the quick in quickie: it’s whatever gets the job done before the fun police (or, you know, the actual police) arrive.

In my own sex life, public sex is divided into two categories: fantasy, and foreplay. Consent is important to me; I keep my public play subtle so that I don’t risk exposure to nonconsenting parties. (Safety is important to me too; we’re already in danger as a visibly queer couple perceived as women, the last thing I want to do is get frisky in front of someone looking for an excuse to harm me.) But in fantasies, I can either presume strangers’ consent or eroticize the risk.

One of my most returned-to masturbation fantasies is fucking around in a stall in a dingy bar bathroom. I’m on my knees, either hoping passersby assume my position is due to drinking too much, or hoping some hot queer cutie realizes I’m blowing my partner’s strap-on and barges in to join. The idea is arousing because blowing my partner in a gross bar bathroom would be such a desperately horny, brazenly needy act: a display of just how badly I need to choke on some silicone right here, right now. It’s filthy, it’s risky, it’s rude – and for me, it’s best left as a daydream.

In actuality, most of our public play is secret, fluster-inducing moments of foreplay rather than full-blown (heh) scenes. The occasional tease is easier to conceal, and can help build heat that we can capitalize on when we get home.

We use discreet, remote-controlled or app-controlled underwear vibes (specifically, the We-Vibe Moxie) or butt plugs, and play with unexpected or cleverly-timed bursts of vibration to spice up otherwise mundane shopping trips or errands. We also utilize kink gear that passes as alternative fashion – collars, chokers, cuffs, boots – to connect with our dynamic when in public. I don’t play with toys (or power settings) that are loud enough to be heard over the bustle of a public space, and I don’t touch my partner in overtly sexual or kinky ways unless we’re alone (such as in an otherwise empty public bathroom or stairwell.) But even with momentary privacy, it’s usually just a quick grope for a growl or giggle’s sake.

As Dr. Justin Lehmiller notes in his blog post 3 Sex Fantasies That Are More Common Than You Think, fantasies tied to public sex aren’t the same as eroticizing inflicting non-consensual exhibitionism on strangers; there was a far smaller number of study respondents (7%-13%) who fantasized about the latter. Lehmiller also went on to say, “Just because someone has fantasized about something doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to do it. In other words, not all fantasies are desires.” So we are far from alone on finding public sex hot as hell, but not wanting to make other people uncomfortable (or worse.)

If you’re among the apparent majority who find sex in public appealing, there are plenty of ways to indulge ethically, and without running the risk of ending up on an offender registry or traumatizing a fellow concert-goer.

For those looking for the full experience, there are sex-friendly adult resorts, kinky camping trips, swingers’ parties, and sex clubs all across the world where like-minded people come together to, well, come together.

For those just hopeful for a thrill, there are subtler methods than full-on fuckery: exchanging sexts, dirty talking in code, playing with toys, sneaking a stroke or a grope beneath the table… Just take care that you don’t wind up on YouTube, because however clever you might think you’re being, according to surveys, a vast majority of people are just as hip to public indecency as you are.

Betty Butch is a queer, sex-positive blogger who reviews pleasure products and writes about identity and kink at You can find her on Twitter via @betty_butch.

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