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Tearoom Trade Impersonal Sex In Public Places

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  • Pages: 7
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  • Category: Sex

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1) The type of research used in the study. What was Humphrey’s procedure in obtaining data?

Humphrey targeted the married heterosexuals, who lived the normal life—men who have sex with men. In his year-long research, he observed male-male sexual activity in tearooms (public restrooms) in an undisclosed city in US. Without mentioning the genuine purpose, he interviewed those men, whom he had earlier seen ‘performing’, as part of the general sociological study. A number of questions as for their background and personal lives formed part of the questionnaire. In some cases, the approach was direct. He interviewed them openly in the tea rooms. Humphreys describes his method as participant observation and structured interview. The method adopted by him had the touch of a suspense movie. He stationed himself right near the action spot, the tearoom, and offered to keep a watch. He would alert the concerned individuals by coughs, when a stranger approached or when a police car showed its presence. Thus he observed hundreds of acts of fellatio. He soon won the confidence of some of them and succeeded in persuading them to tell him more about their lives and how they came to indulge in this activity. He introduced himself as a social scientist. Many better educated men co-operated with him in his endeavor. Humphreys then followed another method by recording the license numbers of their cars, which proved controversial later. The suspense part of the ‘movie’ was  carried out to its logical end, when after one year, the carefully disguised Humphreys called on them, introduced himself as a health-service interviewer and the information with regard to their marital status, job, race  etc. was easily obtained from them.

2) Summarize Humphrey’s findings. What type of people participated in the behavior?

With his authentic study, Humphreys demolished many assumptions about male-male sexual activity. Some of his findings are :i) The activity is mostly voluntary. Unless one behaves in a suggestive manner, one won’t be approached for the activity in a public restroom. ii) Seduction of teenagers doesn’t happen and in fact teenage boys are not allowed to participate, even if they desire. iii) The guardians of the law, the policemen on the vice squad who are supposed to eliminate sex in public places do blackmailing and this encourages criminal behavior. The observation from one of the participants as quoted by Humphreys reveals the obvious: The interviewed individual says, “Call me what you like — adventurer, pervert, or slob — some of my best tricks and thrills have come from public episodes. The excitement and the danger of being caught in the act make it all the more exciting for me, to pursue it further. I’m not interested in having a ridiculous “love affair” with some hair burner and taking up “housekeeping” — I’d much rather solicit the momentary services of some stud in the bushes and finish it right there; this is more thrilling to me, and the more dangerous the better I like it. The more I can get, the happier I am, whether it happens in a head, through a glory-hole — or dilly-dallying around in the bushes with four or five guys at a throw.”(p.149)

The realistic position came to the light with the data published as per the research findings by Humphreys. i) Fifty four percent were married and lived ‘happily’ with their wives. They could be counted as partners in an ideal married life. ii) Thirty eight percent were neither homosexual nor bisexual. Their married life had problems and tensions. Most of them were Catholics (wife or husband), and the conjugal relations since the birth of their last child was rare. The tearoom alternative was best suited according to them, because they did not wish to further complicate their already complicated married life. This relationship was without any strings, quick, impersonal and inexpensive. They were responsible fathers of their children and they wished to maintain the standing in the society. They were not interested in permanent love relationship and wanted another mode of enjoyment as compared to the less exciting act of masturbation. Further analysis of the data revealed that of the sixty two percent, twenty four percent were from excellent backgrounds as for education, financial status , respect in the community  and they were happily married. Another twenty percent were single. They were covert homosexuals. The percentage of his subjects on whom homosexuality stamp could be put with authenticity, were just fourteen. They formed part of the gay community. An interesting fact came to the light after Irs’s (wife of Humphreys) death. His son came to know that his father was a regular visitor to New Orleans and had sex with men.  The urge of homosexuals is uncontrollable. This behavior was later termed as “breastplate of righteousness.”

3) What were the ethical issues associated with the study?

Stunning facts surfaced with the studies conducted by Humphreys. A bitter controversy ensued over sociological ethics and propriety over the study, and his approach to the collection of the data. The controversy still continues. The question was not whether Humphreys did was wrong. How he did, what he did was bitterly criticized by the sociologists, ethicists and the journalists. They alleged that the individual’s privacy has been invaded. The hidden agenda in the methodology in securing the data in a clandestine manner was not to the liking by a cross-section of the society. Until then homosexual behavior, though prevalent, was not a public issue. Though several participants had no objection for the study and the types of questions asked, the danger of confidentiality being broken loomed large. It could well destroy the peace in many families! The objective knowledge can not be gathered at the cost of an individual’s privacy and honor, it is argued. He was criticized from more than one quarter for his field work ethics. He was not working like a social scientist, but more like the police detective.

The false pretense and coercion that he used when he interviewed the men was objectionable and this approach was difficult to condone. The matter reached the flash-point, when the President of Washington University received the petition to rescind Humphreys’ Ph. D degree. A fistfight ensued amongst the faculty members. Many left the University to take up appointments in other Universities.  The public outrage on the subject continued unabated and the members of the Sociologist Department gave details to Journalist Nicholas von Hoffman and he condemned the social scientists thus in his article. “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.” (von Hoffman, 1970).

The enraged Chancellor of the University wished to have Humphrey’s degree revoked, rather on legal grounds that the secret observations of sexual felonies are tantamount to actual felonies. He also blocked a major National Institute of Mental Health grant to him.

4) Was the study a valuable contribution to the field of Sociology?

 This study is a valuable historical document, notwithstanding the controversy surrounding it. The facts can not be disputed, the style of gathering facts can be! The book has been hailed as the invaluable contribution, an authentic scientific work, on the subject. Correct analysis about human nature has been provided with an open mind, with bias towards none, on a subject related to sexual diversity. It is not a deviant sexual activity as such and having said that correct appraisal as to its causes and as for the need, if any,  for remedial measures is necessary. Viewed from this angle the painstaking research by Humphreys is praise-worthy. He has tendered evidence, how this act of homosexuality was kept secret from their families and neighbors. Majority of the homosexual arrests in USA are done in tearooms. A consequential benefit of his research was the police departments had to review their budgetary proposals—their spending spree on the tearoom trade was wasting the resources because there was no crime, no complainant and no respondent. His work therefore contributed to social benefit.

The formation of the Sociologist’s Gay Caucus (later Sociologists’ Gay and Lesbian Caucus and Sociologists’ Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus) was the outcome of his active efforts and involvement .This was his major achievement in the relative branch of Sociology which led to the legitimization of gay and lesbian studies within the American Sociology Association. Homosexuality as a deviant behavior came to be challenged. He was also a consultant to the police forces and gave testimony on behalf of it in court cases. He was disengaged from teaching later, as student complaints continued to pour in against him.

References Cited:

Article: Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places by Laud Humphreys.

questia.com/library/book/tearoom-trade-impersonal-sex-in-public-places-by-laud-humphreys…Retrieved on November 28, 2007

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