For straight travelers, the word “cruising” may only imply traveling via cruise ship. But in queer culture cruising has an entirely other meaning, the act of seeking sexual partners in public spaces, be they parks or bathrooms or alleyways. The sexual encounters that occur in these spaces are usually anonymous one-time liaisons.
In Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime, Alex Espinoza argues that the origins of the practice trace back to Ancient Greece. Attitude notes that cruising in England (and efforts to use the culture to “catch” gay and bi men) was documented in 1698 when the first recorded instance of entrapment involved a gay man lured to a private room in a London tavern.
Cruising was once one of the only ways for gay men to meet other men for sex, but in the age of hook-up apps it seemed to have lost its relevance or become a past-time of only those with public or outdoor sex fetishes.
Sure, there were still reports of the practice persisting, like when Attitude reported on 2017's first Let’s Go Outside party “at George Michael’s former stomping grounds on Hampstead Heath.” Which Zia X, a 28-year-old Londoner described as “a celebration of him refusing to be shamed into silence and to make a video about how wonderful it is to fuck outside.”
But mostly, cruising was considered consigned to the history books — until the pandemic hit. In 2021, the Grindr blog BLOOP reported on “a notable resurgence in the classic act of cruising.”
Sex and relationship therapist, Joe Kort explained the phenomenon, saying, “I think that there’s fatigue in the social and physical distancing. Cruising offers the opportunity to have physical connection, but from a distance, so it’s a perfect fit for the current pandemic situation.”
Although many use Grindr to order sex direct to their homes, there have always been those who still used it to hook up in public places. Newer apps like Squirt (which has a cruise feature), and Sniffies (a map-based app perfect for cruising) are helping to direct a new generation to cruising grounds.
And walking through public parks or along public beaches looking for sexual opportunities is still a common practice. We’ve all heard stories about men wandering through the Ramble section of Central Park and stumbling into a sexual experience. And for some, that’s the biggest turn-on.
“Cruising and public sex is a kink. It’s taboo, and the risk of getting caught and/or watched can really charge folks’ erotic energy,” licensed therapist, Todd Baratz, told Grindr last year.
“Cruising’s intrinsic connection to nature, in combination with the vulnerability of exposing yourself to participate, make it an almost spiritual and very humbling experience,” argues John Ripploh, writing for coupleofmen.com. “While cruising is certainly not without risks…[by] breaking through the societal norms that restrict us in our everyday lives, cruising is a celebration of lust, equality, and attraction.”
Ripploh calls traveling and cruising “the perfect match,” writing, “The vulnerability of being nude in a strange place, protected only by a few dunes or a forest, is liberating and extraordinary. Beyond our conventional mating rituals, the cruising area is an arena of male virility that allows individuals to feel like an elemental part of nature again…it’s the men that visit it that keep it alive.”