GMFA A modern guy's guide to cruising By Gareth Johnson | @GTVlondon Image © www.flickr.com/johnhopephotography As a young gay man, 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, or hanging out in a park. 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 it was either illegal or socially unacceptable to be gay; 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. In the UK, police used to actively patrol known cruising areas, 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 would 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? Perhaps surprisingly, the proud tradition of cruising is still going strong. Wherever you are in the UK, 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. Contrary to the approach of a few decades ago, police in the UK will generally only turn their attention to cruising if they receive some sort of formal complaint that needs to be investigated. There is no 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 is shown that your actions are likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress to others. No matter how discreet 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, less-educated about HIV and other STIs, and more inclined to have sex without condoms. The other day my boyfriend announced that he wanted to have sex outside our flat. We live in a mews above a row of shops – there’s kind of a landing out the back that is private from the street but surrounded by the flats of our neighbours. “I’ve been keeping an eye on when it’s quietest...” he explained, “...there’s hardly anyone around after 11pm, or when it’s raining.. let’s fuck outside when it’s raining!” As much as the idea appealed to me, the “don’t shit where you eat” rule clearly applies, so instead I’m going to take him for a walk on Hampstead Heath – something he’s never done before. We can get our cocks out and have some fun, always keeping an eye out for who might be passing by, who might be watching us, who might be wanting to join in. My Tom of Finland fantasy lives on. Cruising, cottageing and your safety Most of the time, men cruise without getting into any trouble or difficult situations. However, it’s useful to be aware of ways to look after yourself – and other cruisers. Here are some suggestions. We’ve also included some tips for making your time cruising more enjoyable. CRUISING GROUNDSWhen the weather gets warmer, a lot of guys fancy some outdoor fun. Here are a few handy hints if you like a bit of al fresco cruising. Take condoms and lube Even if you don’t plan to fuck at the cruising area, you might change your mind in the heat of the moment. If you haven’t got any condoms and lube, other guys may be happy to spare some. Wear something suitable Don’t wear expensive gear or a new pair of shoes. The ground may be muddy and if it’s dark you may not be able to see where you’re walking. Put your keys, money and anything else you don’t want to lose in a secure, zipped pocket. Leave valuables at home You won’t need your credit cards or a lot of cash. If you take your phone, put it in silent mode and keep it out of sight. Don’t walk around checking Grindr on your new smartphone. Not only will you be advertising it to potential pickpockets, but you may not notice if guys are cruising you.Get to know the area If you don’t already know the area well, walk around and check it out when you get there – especially if it’s likely to be dark by the time you leave. Find out where the exits are and where any paths lead to. It’s a good idea to stay fairly close to where most guys are concentrated.Be clear about what you want Even once you’ve hooked up with someone, there may not be much verbal communication. However you can’t expect him to read your mind. If you’re confident and make it clear what you want, the chances are he’ll be more relaxed too. If you want to fuck him, tell him – or take out a condom – and see how he reacts. If you want to get fucked, he’ll definitely get the message if you put a condom on his cock.Keep clear of trouble There may be occasions when you need to refuse unwanted advances or find yourself in a difficult situation. Try to avoid confrontation, but be prepared to raise your voice or push someone away if they continue trying to do something after you’ve said no. If you’re the victim of a crime, like theft, assault or homophobic abuse, or if you witness something happening, you might feel reluctant to go to the police in case you get asked why you were there. In fact, it’s not against the law to go to a cruising area or even to have consenting sex with someone there, as long as you can’t be seen by other people who might be offended. If you don’t want to contact the local police, you can report an incident by calling Galop’s helpline on 020 7704 2040 or through their website www.galop.org.uk. They can liaise with the poilce and you can remain anonymous if you wish. TOILETS/COTTAGES “Who still has sex in public toilets?” is a question we hear all the time. Well, actually, quite a lot of people. Grindr may be on everyone’s phone but many gay men still get a thrill from jacking off in a public toilet. If this is your thing or maybe you want to try it, here are some tips you should know. Sex in a public toilet is illegal: If someone complains and you are caught with your pants down you could be prosecuted. Punishment: Up to six months in prison, and/or a fine. So be careful at all times. Sex in public places: The Sexual Offences Act 2003 doesn’t legislate specifically against this practice. Public order offences exist that guard against outraging taste and decency (like fucking in the supermarket aisle), but the act permits sex in an isolated place so long as you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Sex behind a toilet door does not count. Voyeurism: It is illegal to seek sexual gratification by observing/recording/ broadcasting another person doing a private act (such as undressing, having sex, or anything you would not ordinarily do in public). This is designed to protect you from being watched without your knowledge or consent via anything from hidden webcam to a hole in the wall. The law exists to protect you, and prosecute people caught with their pants down. Punishment: Up to two years in prison, and/or a fine. If you are arrested you are entitled to free legal advice and should ask for a solicitor to be present. You are only required to give the police your name and address. The police may ask you for proof. You do not have to give information about your job or where you work. You do not have to reveal your HIV status unless you require medical help – and then only to a police surgeon. You will be required to sign a number of documents. Always read them carefully and make sure you fully understand what you are signing. Never plead guilty if you have not committed any offence. SAFER SEX AND CRUISING Using condoms and plenty of water- based lube when having anal sex is still the best way to reduce the risk of transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Regardless of HIV status, using condoms protect you and your partners – it is not only about HIV but also other sexually transmitted infections. If he doesn’t want to use condoms, don’t assume he is the same HIV status as you.Oral sex is low risk as far as HIV is concerned, but you can still pick up other sexually transmitted infections.You have the right to stop having sex whenever you want. You do not have to carry on if you don’t like it or feel unsafe. Don’t flush your condoms down the toilet. Dispose of your used condoms carefully – wrap them in a tissue and put them in a rubbish bin or take them home. More complaints are received about used condoms left lying around than about men using the sites. CRUISING, COTTAGING AND THE LAW If you go cruising in open public spaces, such as parks or lay-bys, you need to be aware of the law around sex in these areas. Here is some information from Galop, the LGBT organisation against hate crime. There is no specific law against cruising. Sex in public places is not illegal as long as other people who might be offended cannot see you and are unaware that you are having sex. According to police guidelines, the police should only respond to complaints from the public and should not go to an area to proactively try to catch people cruising. However, there are times when the police may investigate an area, for example if there are reports of homophobic attacks or robberies. It is not against the law for people to loiter, engage in conversation or walk around a cruising ground with the purpose of meeting others. In other words, you cannot be arrested simply for going cruising. If you engage in sexual activity or behaviour that may cause alarm or distress to others, such as indecent exposure or voyeurism, you could be arrested or prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 or the Public Order Act 1986. Therefore it is advisable to be as discreet as possible to avoid attracting attention. For example, use secluded areas, and not anywhere you might be seen from a public road, path or houses, particularly during daylight hours. Remember to stay close to other cruisers though, in case of any trouble. If you feel that you have been unfairly treated by the police (or others) while cruising, you should contact Galop for more advice. You can call their helpline on 020 7704 2040 or report an incident at their website, www.galop.org.uk. Cottaging is looking for or having sex in a toilet available for use by members of the public, including toilets in the street, shops, leisure centres and other public transport venues such as train stations. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it illegal to procure or engage in sex in a public toilet and it is against the law for both gay and straight people. You can risk being arrested for cottaging regardless of whether you are being discreet or not. For example, having sex in a cubicle behind closed doors is still illegal.