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The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student


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Pillowtalk – Navigating public sex


Hi Eli! I have been in a couple situations where things have gotten hot and heavy with sexual partners in public places (in the nighttime when no one is around). I know I’ve heard about other people doing this kind of thing too, but at what point should I stop myself before it’s ‘too’ public? Is there a safe and ethical way to have public sex?

From the mile high club to remote controlled vibrators to sex on the beach, there’s no shortage of public sex and sexuality in our culture. Exhibitionism certainly makes the list of relatively well known kinks, and it’s not a secret that people regularly have sex outside of the home. There’s a lot of controversy around the topic of public sex, though, and we’re looking at a pretty complex concept, so I’m going to try to address this with a lens of ethical subjectivity. I can’t tell you what your morals should be, you need to decide those for yourself, but I’ll give you a pretty clear illustration of the ethical balls we’re trying to juggle, and you can decide what to do with them.

First, in terms of safety, I have to emphasize that being caught and/or arrested for a sex related offense is absolutely not a safe situation, especially for people of color, sex workers and queer and trans people. In engaging in any behavior that has a high risk of legal trouble, reconsider! Then make sure someone knows where you are, that you have a charged phone and take any precautions you can to ensure your safety and anonymity. 

The first huge glaring issue, and arguably the most important one, is consent. While we certainly don’t consent to everything we see in public, many people feel that sex is something that onlookers should always consent to see. Laws, for the most part, back this up. The charge for “indecent exposure” in Illinois (720 ILCS 5/11-30), for example, forbids public sexual conduct and/or lewd exposure of the body with sexual intent. However, what’s considered public sexual conduct or lewd exposure may vary, and there’s no guarantee you won’t be arrested even if you don’t “technically” meet the criteria. For example, public urination isn’t illegal under that law unless the person doing it is getting off on it (sexual intent), so whether or not to stop and arrest someone in that case is going to be left up to the judgement of the officer at hand.

There’s a dilemma there already. Since personal experiences of sexuality are different, what’s considered sexual is also necessarily different from person to person. Take our public urination guy for example. Maybe he has a piss kink. He could be filming himself peeing, or maybe he’s just having a good time and saving up for a wank afterwards. Maybe he just needs to pee. Do his sexual intentions change the impact of his actions? We have no way of knowing when anybody is doing anything with the intent to sexually arouse themselves, much less whether those around them (“the public”) are aware of those intentions, which complicates conversations about public consent.

Another line people tend to have issues drawing is usually around what could be called “implied” sex or sexuality. Is it appropriate for someone to wear a vibrator in public if it’s entirely discreet? Can you walk around with your partner on a leash? Can you dirty talk on the phone? If you consider sex and sexual body parts to be subjective concepts, then it’s a lot harder to figure out what it means for the public to need to consent to a “sex act.” What if “the public” considers gay people kissing to be sexual? These questions especially get complicated when you introduce morals around children’s exposure to sex and sexuality. 

In your situation (alone in the dark) we’re not really worried about an audience. In that case, the moral issues you’d have to consider would be primarily involving property rights (are you allowed to have sex on others’ property or in their home without their permission?) and the so called social contract.

So, we have toss ups in the areas of property, public consent, sexuality, the concept of the “public” in general, rights of expression, social contracts and children. You take it from here in determining ethics. 

Practically, you should be concerned about any audience and legality. The fewer people and the more secluded, the safer. However, both of those things are major drawbacks if you’re into it for the exhibitionism and risk factor. In that case, try finding a kink community or sex club where you can go for the explicit purpose of having sex in front of other people. As always, have fun, be safe and use lube!

Have a question for Elleri? Send it to http://bit.ly/2LZTHeY or scan our QR code here!

Have a question for Elleri?

Send it to http://bit.ly/2LZTHeY

or scan our QR code here!

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