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date: 05 February 2023

Representations of Public Sex in Crime, Media, and Popular Culturelocked

Representations of Public Sex in Crime, Media, and Popular Culturelocked

  • David BellDavid BellSchool of Geography, University of Leeds


Public sex is a term used to describe various forms of sexual practice that take place in public, including cruising, cottaging (sex in public toilets), and dogging. Public sex has a long history and wide geography, especially for sexual minorities excluded from pursuing their sex lives in private, domestic spaces. Social science research has long studied public sex environments (PSEs) and analyzed the sexual cultures therein, providing a rich set of representations that continue to provide important insights today. Public sex is often legally and morally contentious, subject to regulation, rendered illicit and illegal (especially, but not exclusively, in the context of same-sex activities). Legal and policing practices therefore produce another important mode of representation, while undercover police activities utilizing surveillance techniques have depicted public sex in order to regulate it. Legal and moral regulation is frequently connected to news media coverage, and there is a rich archive of press representations of public sex that plays a significant role in constructing public sex acts as problematic. Fictionalized representations in literature, cinema, and television provide a further resource of representations, while the widespread availability of digital video technologies has also facilitated user-generated content production, notably in online pornography. The production, distribution, and consumption of representations of sex online sometimes breaches the private/public divide, as representations intended solely for private use enter the online public sphere—the cases of celebrity sex tapes, revenge porn, and sexting provide different contexts for turning private sex into public sex. Smartphones have added location awareness and mobility to practices of mediated public sex, changing its cultural practices, uses, and meanings. Film and video recording is also a central feature of surveillance techniques which have long been used to police public sex and which are increasingly omnipresent in public space. Representations as diverse as online porn, art installations, and pop videos have addressed this issue in distinctive ways.


  • Crime, Media, and Popular Culture

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