In the latest scandal to receive wall-to-wall coverage from Toronto's hallowed media institutions, two men and one woman caught in what investigators dryly called a "sexual activity incident" on a King St. streetcar last night. The incident, which has become immortalized with the hashtag #torontostreetcarsex, has unearthed the not-so-distant memory of two people who had sex on the platform of the Spadina subway station. In their report, CBC Toronto re-ran video footage of that infamous sexcapade from the not-so-distant past—which is still hilariously emblazoned with the WorldStarHipHop logo—to remind us all that yes, sometimes people like to do it in public.
Rob Ford, in his final act as mayor, reverses his anti-streetcar stance #TorontoStreetcarSex
— Jesse Hawken (@jessehawken) November 21, 2014
Why the TTC is, seemingly, the preferred location for such naughty behaviour is a perplexing question. Every surface on the streetcars, buses, and trains of the TTC is likely to be covered in the fur of rats, the pee of humans, and the stray hairs of cute (but mangy) dogs. Though I presume the crowded nature of the TTC, and its prevalence of security cameras, makes the thrill of getting caught that much more boner-inducing.
Getting arrested, yelled at, or at the very least given cut-eye while doing the nasty out in the open certainly has to be part of the appeal. And police forces the world over have long targeted public-sexers in their unending quest to combat crime and preserve civil decency. In Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex, by Patrick Califia, the attempt by various police forces around the United States to deter those who like practice baby-making out in the open is described as such:
"[The police] have several favorite techniques for invading arenas where quasi-public sexual encounters take place. One technique is to alter or disrupt the physical space as to make protective, camouflaging behavior difficult or impossible. They cut down underbrush or trees that provide a screen, or they put up bright lights. In Indianapolis the vice squad and the local chapter of the Moral Majority got an ordinance passed that required adult bookstores to cut the doors on their movie booths in half. In Los Angeles the bookstores must remove the doors entirely. This has been done deliberately to transform private places into public ones. Police officers set up hidden cameras, climb on the roofs of public toilets and peek through skylights, or secrete themselves in broom closets. Cops pretend they are available for sex, then arrest the luckless and gullible. Dignified isn't it? And to think that many vice cops are volunteers…"
As a society, we're, for the most part, disinterested in allowing people to do it on our public transportation system. And there are great, obvious reasons for that. For one, it's unsanitary. No one wants the most intimate of bodily fluids splashing on them while they're commuting to work. And secondly, it's quite grotesque. Porn is weird at the best of times, and to be forced into observing someone having sex is unpleasant.
But all of this societal unacceptance must be fueling the thrill of those who want to make whoopie in front of strangers. In Califia's book, he talks about the essential need of humans to find thrills and excitement, and sex is a great place to scratch that itch. In a chapter entitled, "Sluts in Utopia: The Future of Radical Sex," Califia writes about sex work, stating: "Since human beings are a curious species, and many of us need adventure, risk, and excitement, I would hope that the sex industry would continue to be available to fulfill those needs in positive ways."
This is, indeed, a great argument for the therapeutic nature of sex work. A properly regulated sex industry can provide both men and women, with somewhat high-risk fantasies, a clean and safe way to explore those desires. This possibility, unfortunately, has been squashed by new anti-sex work laws that Canada's Conservative government has championed and passed into law. But regardless, there's really no safe way to practice public sex, unless you do it in a European sextopia where such things are legal, or through, maybe, some kind of virtual reality porn that doesn't yet exist.
The crux of all this, is whether or not public sex infringes on public safety or puts others at risk. While there is no impending physical risk to people, there could be legitimate trauma incurred by observing people having sex in public, especially for children. I remember one particular family wedding I went to as a kid that went south after one of the bridesmaids was caught having sex on the lawn in front of the banquet hall, with a groomsmen; a sight I only narrowly avoided witnessing, thanks to my dad who pushed me away from the scene of the "crime."
In a report published by Oxford Brookes University, entitled "Setting the Boundaries - tackling Public Sex Environments in Country Parks," a practice called "dogging" is defined, which seems to fit the mould of the Toronto streetcar sexcapade, as it can be summarized as: "Engaging in consensual sexual activity in public to attract an audience; the audience either observes or joins in."
When reached for a comment, Jack Lamon, owner of Toronto co-op sex shop Come As You Are, said "So many people love public sex—whether it is the thrill of being watched or being caught—but for a lot of people who don't have access to private space of their own, public sex can often be the only way to experience intimacy and touch." It's uncertain if the people engaged in this particular instance of dogging did it out of necessity, but I imagine there are better places to go than the TTC if you want an intimate three-way.
This quest for an audience, it seems, is certainly a huge part of the excitement. And in the safest circumstances, where consent has been secured and no minors are present, public sex is a victimless crime. It's wholly understandable, however, that the authorities would want to put a stop to it, but obviously this is a real and present fetish that will be explored by sexual daredevils here and there. It seems, too, that the more stigma we put on it, and the more media coverage it receives, the greater thrill those who wish to bone in public will gain from getting freaky on the TTC. So maybe we should stop making such a big deal of this particular sexcapade, lest our city buses and streetcars be full of sexually curious thrillseekers.