The thrill -- and taboo -- of public sex

Some enjoy public sex for the sake of it, some like being watched. One downside: You've got to be quick about it

Published July 28, 2015 10:58PM (EDT)

        (<a href=''>rtem</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(rtem via Shutterstock)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet. This story has been corrected since it was originally published.

AlterNetTaking risks can be sexy. When it comes to sex specifically, those risks can take a variety of forms. And one of the most popular choices seems to be taking sex out of the bedroom and into the street, so-to-speak.

The idea of having sex (or at the very least, fooling around) in public is something many have experimented with. And while the reasons why we’re attracted to the act will vary, there are a few that seem to pop up across the board.

For one, it’s thrilling. It’s a rush. And that alone can get your blood pumping. Intimacy coach Rebekah Beneteau told me over the phone, “There is some link in the brain between the systems of fear and arousal. If you think about the physiological symptoms of fear – the sweating, the elevated heart rate, the butterflies in the stomach – all of that is very similar to the feelings of turn on.”

Beneteau started her company Pleasure Evolution back in 2012. She and her partner, Trevor Jones, now work with couples to help reclaim their intimacy and improve their sex lives.

Jones told me, “A lot of taboos have been situated in our minds without ever actually being spoken… You don’t touch yourself, you don’t do this in public, you don’t do that in public... I mean, in a society where you can actually be frowned upon for PDA, the concept of actually having sex where you might be viewed, watched or spied upon brings all that to the light.

"Any taboo-threatening, taboo-breaking is going to instill the flight-or-fight response of increased heart-rate, blood pressure, endorphin rush.”

Of course, the act can take different forms. There are those who enjoy public sex for the sake of public sex. There are those who enjoy public sex for the sake of being seen. Then, there those who enjoy participating in sex that nobody else knows is happening. As Beneteau said, “Not all exhibitionists who want to have sex in public have the same motive.”

If you find yourself in the first group, the thrill of it might be enough. If you find yourself in the second group, you’ll probably find yourself leaning on a very specific group to get off: the voyeurs.

One guy I’ll call Joseph told me, “It’s exciting to be watched.” He added, “It’s fun to hear what other people say or think.  I enjoy listening to the comments. I enjoy how ‘naughty’ it is.

Author Darren Michaels told me in an email, “If you happen to be someone that is very proud of their body, then showing it off, even in its most intimate form, is exciting… I like to show off.  I love the idea of people watching me, whether I can see them or not, knowing that I am ‘performing’ for them is exciting.”

Those who enjoy being watched should probably stick to what Jones calls “sex-permissive” environments, where consent has been given. After all, no one should force a sexual scene onto those who don’t want to be part of it. Attempts to do so tend to end badly.

New York law holds that any person who intentionally “exposes the private or intimate parts of his body in a lewd manner or commits any other lewd act in a public place” can be found guilty of public lewdness, a class B misdemeanor. Not a great title to get hit with.

And that’s not the worst of it. Remember the Florida couple that got caught having sex on the beach? Both Jose Caballero and Elissa Alvarez were found guilty of lewd and lascivious behavior – a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. The two will now also be required to register as sex offenders. Video footage of the couple taken from an onlooker’s cellphone served as a key piece of evidence in the trial.

Joseph explained to me, “I have places [I like to] go. If it is just being watched, then there are other places… The location has a big factor in what is going to happen – and how safe it is.”

Jones asserts, “In our community and in our line of work consent is a cornerstone of our beliefs. So I would never actually condone having sex in such a way that you would inflict your sexual behavior on someone unexpectedly.”

My guess is that most readers can at least identify with the benign thrill of engaging in sex that nobody else knows is happening. Sometimes that means a hand traveling too far north while seated at a restaurant, or a gentle squeeze at a crowded bar. Whatever form it takes, teasing your partner in an environment where they are forced to maintain their composure in a public place is an exhilarating experience. Accessible, and exciting. There aren’t many forms of foreplay that can top that.

But there is one downside to public sex: You have to be quick about it. Beneteau told me, “One of the things I don’t like about public sex is that it reinforces that ‘wham-bam, we’ve got to get this over with quickly before we get caught’ thing that a lot of people had from their masturbation life as teenagers. And then they wonder why they can’t have long, slow sex. Especially guys. They’ve trained themselves to get off quickly, now they have to slow down.”

Attitudes toward sex are progressing, and that means the range of what people will admit to enjoying is starting to widen. And while some may view the idea of putting the body on display as a narcissistic endeavor, it may just be another kink in the series of sexual affinities. Just be smart about it.

Carrie Weisman is an AlterNet staff writer who focuses on sex, relationships and culture. Got tips, ideas or a first-person story? Email her.

By Carrie Weisman

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