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Backroom refers to a type of illicit sexual practice that is defined by its location: the back room of a bar, club, or other establishment with an otherwise nonsexual function. This is a type of setting that allows for opportunistic sex: Contact is made in the front, or public part, of the bar or club, and then the back room is used for sexual activity. Back rooms are usually dark, and often mazelike. This configuration allows for a person to walk past a large number of other people to look for sex, or to cruise. The darkness also allows for a degree of anonymity. Group sexual activity is common in such locations.

Backroom sex is popular mostly with people who are excited by exhibitionism and voyeurism, or by those who are looking for casual anonymous sex. It is most common in bars and clubs with a primarily gay male clientele, although it takes place in heterosexual and lesbian establishments as well. Back rooms are most commonly associated with the leather and bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism (BDSM) communities, but are not confined to them. Because backroom activity is often spontaneous and anonymous, it is considered a risky sexual behavior. Much of the campaign against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases has focused on back rooms and other locations of casual sexual encounters.

Backrooms as sites for sexual encounters produce a complex legal situation because they are neither public nor private. Bathhouses and sex clubs are often private, and their primary function is sexual activity. Therefore, people who enter them are likely to be aware of their purpose and what kinds of activity they may encounter. Public restrooms (called tearooms when used for illicit sexual activity), parks, and other such locations are clearly public and have no intended sexual function. Sexual activity in these locations is illegal in almost all cases. Backrooms are usually in public facilities but are not part of the public space of those facilities. Sexual activity in backrooms is usually considered illegal, but is rarely prosecuted. When police raids of backrooms occur, it is usually in the name of public health enforcement, but is often considered a veiled form of homophobia.


Colter, Ephen Glenn, ed. 1996. Policing Public Sex: Queer Politics and the Future of AIDS Activism. Boston: South End Press.

Leap, William L., ed. 1999. Public Sex/Gay Space. New York: Columbia University Press.

Scott, D. Travers, ed. 1999. Strategic Sex: Why They Won't Keep It in the Bedroom. New York: Harrington Park Press.

                                             Brian D. Holcomb