By pretending to be a simple voyeur, Humphreys explains that he systematically observed these activities and even recorded the license plate numbers of a sample of tearoom participants. While the systematic observation part of his study permitted an understanding of the rules and roles, patterns of collective action, and risks of the game associated with impersonal gay sex in public restrooms, his tracking down and interviewing a handful of the subjects allowed Humphreys to better understand the identity, lives, and rationality of those men involved in the so-called tearoom trade. While the author defended the ethics behind his research early on, he was still stunned by the backlash it received. In response to such issues, I will use this post to critically evaluate the strong and weak points of his book. Secondly, I found it interesting that Humphreys classified the participants by occupational status and marital status: trade, ambisexuals, gay, and closet queens.

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Laud Humphreys, a sociologist, recognized that the public and the law-enforcement authorities hold highly simplistic stereotyped beliefs about men who commit impersonal sexual acts with one another in public restrooms. Humphreys decided that it would be of considerable social importance for society to gain more objective understanding of who these men are and what motivates them to seek quick, impersonal sexual gratification. For his Ph.

He stationed himself in "tearooms" and offered to serve as "watchqueen" - the individual who keeps watch and coughs when a police car stops nearby or a stranger approaches. He played that role faithfully while observing hundreds of acts of fellatio. He was able to gain the confidence of some of the men he observed, disclose his role as scientist, and persuade them to tell him about the rest of their lives and about their motives.

Those who were willing to talk openly with him tended to be among the better-educated members of the "tearoom trade. A year later and carefully disguised, Humphreys appeared at their homes claiming to be a health-service interviewer and interviewed them about their marital status, race, job, and so on.

Humphreys' findings destroy many stereotypes. Fifty-four percent of his subjects were married and living with their wives, and superficial analysis would suggest that they were exemplary citizens who had exemplary marriages.

Thirty-eight percent of Humphreys' subjects clearly were neither bisexual nor homosexual. They were men whose marriages were marked with tension; most of the 38 percent were Catholic or their wives were, and since the birth of their last child conjugal relations had been rare.

Their alternative source of sex had to be quick, inexpensive, and impersonal. It could not entail any kind of involvement that would threaten their already shaky marriage and jeopardize their most important asset - their standing as father of their children. They wanted only some form of orgasm-producing action that was less lonely than masturbation and less involving than a love relationship.

Of the other 62 percent of Humphreys' subjects, 24 percent were clearly bisexual, happily married, well educated, economically quite successful, and exemplary members of their community. Another 24 percent were single and were covert homosexuals.

Only 14 percent of Humphreys' subjects corresponded to society's stereotype of homosexuality. That is, only 14 percent were members of the gay community and were interested in primarily homosexual relationships Humphreys, Informal inquiry Knerr, indicated that Humphreys' research has helped persuade police departments to stop using their resources on arrest for this victimless crime. Many would count this as a social benefit.

There were also social costs. The research occurred in the middle s before institutional review boards were in existence. The dissertation proposal was reviewed only by Humphreys' Ph.

Only after the research had been completed did the other members of the Sociology Department learn of it. A furor arose when some of those other members of the department objected that Humphreys' research had unethically invaded the privacy and threatened the social standing of the subjects, and petitioned the president of Washington University to rescind Humphreys' Ph.

The turmoil resulted in numerous other unfortunate events, including a fist fight among faculty members and the exodus of about half of the department members to positions at other universities. There was considerable public outrage as well. Journalist Nicholas von Hoffman, who was given some details of the case by one of the angered members of the Sociology Department, wrote an article about Humphreys' research and offered the following condemnation of social scientists: "We're so preoccupied with defending our privacy against insurance investigators, dope sleuths, counterespionage men, divorce detectives and credit checkers, that we overlook the social scientists behind the hunting blinds who're also peeping into what we thought were our most private and secret lives.

But there they are, studying us, taking notes, getting to know us, as indifferent as everybody else to the feeling that to be a complete human involves having an aspect of ourselves that's unknown.


Tearoom trade: A research update

Laud Humphreys received his divinity degree from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and spent fourteen years in the ministry of the Episcopal Church. After returning to graduate school, he received his Ph. Lee Rainwater is professor emeritus of sociology at Harvard University and research director emeritus of the Luxembourg Income Study. He was an editor at Transaction, the associate editor of theJournal of Marriage and the Family, and a member of the review board of Sociological Quarterly. Tearoom Trade : Impersonal sex in public places.


Laud Humphreys and the Tearoom Sex Study

We'd like to understand how you use our websites in order to improve them. Register your interest. Like many studies of covert deviance, this paper is based upon a captive sample of persons who have come to the attention of law enforcement agencies. Because police observations were so detailed, a rare opportunity to replicate a qualitative study presented itself. This research largely substantiates the picture drawn by Humphreys in his classic study, Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. Consistent with his observations, most tearoom participants a communicate through non-verbal gestures and seldom speak, b do not associate outside the tearoom or attempt to learn one another's identity or exchange biographical information, c do not use force or coercion or attempt to involve youths or children, d are primarily heterosexual and married, e depart separately with the insertor leaving first, f commit their sex acts out of sight of the entrance and accidental exposure, g do not undress or engage in anal sex, h break off sexual contact when someone enters the washroom, i rarely approach straight men, j read and write sexually explicit homosexual graffiti, and k linger inside and outside the washroom for someone to appear.

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