A brief history of glory holes.
The legacy and resurgence of the notorious hole in the wall.
At the outset of the pandemic, health officials thought long and hard about how people could satisfy their needs for intimacy in a way that kept them as safe as possible. Experts recommended outdoor sex, masturbation, and positions that avoid face-to-face contact all as ways to stay sexually satisfied and safe from airborne pathogens. The New York Department of health even went so far as to share specific tips, including this stand-out: "Make it a little kinky. Be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face-to-face contact."
That's right—NYC health officials recommended glory holes.
While this announcement titillated plenty, the concept of anonymous sex through a whole has been a staple of the gay community for decades. If walls could talk, there’d be a lot to share about the history of the glory hole. If you’re unfamiliar with this term (or even how, exactly, it works), read on for some enlightenment.
So, what is a glory hole?
The concept of a glory hole is pretty straightforward. Potentially one of the weirder Wikipedia searches you’ll do will result in this definition: "a hole in a wall or other partition, often between public lavatory stalls or adult video arcade booths, for people to engage in sexual activity." In addition to the penis, fingers or tongue may also be inserted into the hole.” So really, glory hole sex is can be whatever gets the job done for you.
Where did glory holes come from?
Let’s dive into glory hole history. They were born from necessity. It's believed they came about in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when gay sex was considered illegal in many parts of the world and therefore was carried out in more clandestine settings. According to Queerty, a gay lifestyle website, by the 1950s, gay bathhouses and glory holes were popping up all across the country. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, many had become staple institutions within the gay community.
Where did the term “glory hole” come from?
The term “glory hole” actually predates what we think of as glory holes today. According to Dictionary.com, the phrase was first recorded around 1820, a time at which it was a slang term for a junk drawer (no innuendo intended). In the 19th century, it was also sometimes used to describe small compartments on ships. But by the 1930s, it began to take on a more sexually inclined meaning. It started as a slang word for a vagina, before ultimately coming to reference the literal hole in a wall that we think of today. According to Swasarnt Nerf's Gay Guides, a collection of booklets that circulated to the gay community around 1949 in New York City, the official definition of a glory hole became: “Phallic size hole in the partition between toilet booths. Sometimes used also for a mere peep-hole.”
What's the appeal of a glory hole?
Aside from the obvious perk of getting your rocks off, the joy of the glory hole lies in its anonymity. Glory holes free you from normal social pressures related to sex, or even basic human interaction. You're freed from insecurities about your body, pressure to say the right thing, from even being yourself. Your sole purpose becomes focused on giving or receiving pleasure. In an essay for the Huffington Post, Mark Simpson, who coined the term "metrosexual" in 2002, fondly recalls seeing his first glory hole in Northern England in the 1960s. "The glory hole itself is the ultimate symbol of anonymous 'no-strings' sex...Even bricks and mortar can't hold it back. Nameless, shameless desire."
While glory holes are a legacy of the quick and dirty hookup culture of the gay community, their appeal has branched out to a broader audience over the decades.
A quick guide to finding a glory hole:
Pre-internet, it used to take a little hunting and know-how to find the best spot. Gay bars and bathhouses were always a safe bet, and for a time, adult bookstores would circulate a monthly printed guide to glory holes in certain areas, mainly major cities. But like most things today, a quick Google search can point you in the right direction to your nearest glory hole. Depending on where you live, there's even a Yelp list. If you’re a part of a kink or swingers community, you may also be able to find a private glory hole through a network like FetLife, the BDSM, fetish, and kink-focused social media sites.
Glory Hole FAQs
Do women use glory holes?
Sometimes! Although glory holes are predominantly popular amongst gay men, people of all gender identities and sexualities may enjoy using them—though it is not very common for cis women to use glory holes. According to reporting by BuzzFeed News in 2020, some cis women in swinger communities (many of whom identify as pan or bisexual) have used glory holes either through swinger parties or sex shops, as these are places where they can safely experiment. However, many note that single women are often not admitted to adult theaters that may have glory holes out of safety concerns, as these environments are typically male-dominated.
Are there risks when using glory holes?
As with any sexual encounter, you’ll have to consider the risks of STIs. Although anonymity is a big appeal of glory holes, it’s important to put your health and safety first. Use protection and ideally communicate your sexual history with any potential partners. If you’re using a glory hole at a sex party or a private meet-up where all parties communicate beforehand, that’s a great way to check in about STI status, so everyone can feel comfortable—without having to slow down once you get into the heat of the moment.
It is worth noting that public sex (yes, even bathroom sex) is illegal in most states—but privately owned and operated glory holes should be a safe bet. Just a few short decades past when glory holes arose as a necessary solution for the gay community, they’ve become less of a taboo, even if they’re not extremely common.