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Unveiling the Notorious Legacy and Resurgence of Glory Holes

In the wake of the pandemic’s onset, health officials pondered how to satisfy intimate needs while prioritizing safety. Experts recommended outdoor encounters, self-pleasure, and non-face-to-face positions as ways to maintain satisfaction while avoiding the risk of airborne pathogens. Even the New York City Department of Health weighed in with specific suggestions, including this intriguing notion: “Get a little kinky. Be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like walls, that allow for sexual contact while preventing close face-to-face contact.”

Yes, you read that right — the NYC health officials were essentially recommending glory holes.

While this announcement sparked intrigue, the concept of anonymous sexual encounters has long been integral to the LGBTQ+ community. If walls could talk, the history of glory holes would certainly offer a plethora of stories. If you’re unfamiliar with the term (or even how it actually works), read on for enlightenment.

What Exactly is a Glory Hole?

The concept of a glory hole is fairly straightforward. One of the more unconventional Wikipedia searches you might ever undertake could yield this definition: “A hole in a wall or other partition, often between public lavatory cubicles or adult video arcade booths, for people to engage in sexual activity.” It even notes, “Fingers as well as the penis may be inserted.” So, yes, glory hole sex can involve pretty much anything that gets the job done.

A Historical Deep Dive into Glory Holes

Let’s dive into the history of glory holes. They arose out of necessity, believed to have emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when same-sex encounters were deemed illegal in many parts of the world and were thus relegated to more discreet settings. According to LGBTQ+ lifestyle site Queerty, by the 1950s, gay bathhouses and glory holes were appearing all over the country. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, many establishments had become primary hubs for the gay community.

The Origins of the Term "Glory Hole"

The term “glory hole” actually predates what we now commonly associate it with. According to, the phrase was first recorded around 1820 and was initially slang referring to a rubbish bin (with no innuendo intended). In the 19th century, it was sometimes used to describe small compartments on ships. However, by the 1930s, it began to take on a more sexual connotation. It initially referred to slang for a vagina and later evolved to signify the hole in the wall that we think of today. According to Swasarnt Nerf’s “The Homosexual’s Guide” (circulated around 1949 within NYC’s gay community), the official definition of a glory hole was: “A hole the size of a penis in the partition between toilet cubicles. Sometimes used only as a peephole.”

The Allure of Glory Holes

Beyond the obvious benefits of discreet encounters, the appeal of glory holes lies in their anonymity. They allow you to shed the societal pressures associated with sex, even the basic interpersonal interactions. You’re no longer concerned about body insecurities, saying the right things, or even being yourself. Your sole purpose is to focus on giving or receiving pleasure. Mark Simpson, who coined the term “metrosexual” in 2002, fondly recalled his encounter with a glory hole in Northern England in the 1960s in The Huffington Post. He described the glory hole as the ultimate symbol of anonymous, “unconditional” sex: “… even bricks and mortar can’t stop it. Desire nameless and shameless.”

While glory holes initially emerged as a fast and dirty cruising culture within the LGBTQ+ community, their allure has extended to a broader audience over the decades.

Quick Guide to Finding Glory Holes

Before the internet, finding the best spots required some searching and insider knowledge. Gay bars and bathhouses were always a safe bet, and at one point, adult bookstores distributed print versions of glory hole guides monthly in certain areas (mostly major cities). But, like most things today, a quick Google search can direct you to the nearest glory hole near you. Depending on where you reside, there might even be a Yelp listing. If you’re part of the kink or swingers community, you can also find private glory holes through networks like FetLife, BDSM, fetish-oriented social media websites, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions about Glory Holes

Do women use glory holes? Sometimes! Although glory holes are predominantly popular within the gay male community, people of all gender identities and sexual orientations might enjoy them — although cisgender women using glory holes is less common. According to a 2020 BuzzFeed News report, some cisgender women within the swingers community (many of whom identify as pansexual or bisexual) have engaged with glory holes at swingers’ parties or sex shops as safe spaces for experimentation. However, many note that adult theaters, for safety reasons, often prohibit entry for single women, as these environments are typically male-dominated.

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