Larry Craig

Desire for anonymity drives men who seek sex in public places

Many men who solicit sex in public places like a park or airport bathroom are often conflicted sexually and seek sex at those places to maintain anonymity, psychiatric experts say.

Dr. Fred Berlin, an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School, compared homosexual sex at public places to heterosexual men who go to secret parts of town to solicit prostitutes and to drug addicts who find dealers on street corners away from their neighborhoods.

“This is not as complicated as people think,” Berlin said. “It is often a case of people with very strong sexual cravings that are difficult to resist, people who are very conflicted and struggling” with their feelings and the stigma of embarrassment of having family members or the community find out.

A place like a public bathroom often is the only place these men feel they can safely risk such an encounter, he said.

“I think the main goal is for those people to meet like-minded people,” said Nevada psychiatrist Sally Skewis, who has worked as an expert witness on sex-related court cases in the Reno area.

Berline and Skewis said they could not comment on the specifics of the case involving Idaho Sen. Larry Craig but did talk in general terms about the issue.

Such solicitations came to light this week when reports were published that Craig was arrested in a Minneapolis airport bathroom in June by an undercover officer who determined Craig was trying to solicit sex. Craig has consistently denied that he was seeking sex and characterized the arrest as a misunderstanding.

Police said Craig tapped his foot and made finger motions that were recognizable signals for men attempting to solicit sex from each other.

The undercover officer was part of a sting operation prompted by complaints about sex in the airport bathroom. Local police officials said the last such stings in Ada County were done by Garden City at different times between 2001 and 2003 on Plantation Island near the Greenbelt. Garden City police Chief Jim Bensley said his officers arrested about 10 men who attempted to solicit sex from undercover officers.

“I think all but one were married, all were Caucasian, and almost all were over the age of 45,” Bensley said.

Men who frequent these places are not trying to target or approach men using the bathroom for its intended purpose.

“They are not looking to force people who are uninterested,” Berlin said.

That would lead to increased scrutiny and public complaints for police and could lead to a physical assault — both of which would wreck the anonymity the men want.

Several adult Web sites have lists of public bathrooms and other places where men can seek each other for sex, including the Minneapolis Airport.

Keith Griffith owns such a Web site. He agrees anonymity is important and that men seek other men with similar interests.

“That is the reason this sounds so new to people when it has been going on for years,” Griffith said. “This is a code that is supposed to lead to discretion. That is what it is for.”

Griffith said foot tapping and finger motions are standard communications by men seeking sex in public places in the U.S.

“It’s is fairly universal code. I don’t know who invented it, but it is common,” he said Wednesday.

Griffith said he strongly disagrees with Craig’s voting record on gay issues and public stance against homosexuality but sympathizes with him over the circumstances of his arrest.

“What crime did he commit?” Griffith said. “He sounds like he was cruising, but read the report and it sounds like he was arrested illegally.

“This man is being vilified in the gay community, but I think right now he needs our support,” Griffith said. “We need to rise above our feelings. Gay or straight, I think he is unfairly being victimized.”