Public sex has been a part of gay culture for many decades. Beats were places where men under the shadow of homosexual criminalisation could freely mix, socialise, and engage in sex.

The existence of beats in Melbourne can be traced back to the 1860s to a toilet block on the corner of Lonsdale and Swanston Sts.

These days beats can be public toilets, parks, beaches and other places where men meet to have or arrange to have sex. While the rise of internet sites for meeting men may have largely replaced the beat, they still exist and men still use them.

Inherent in beat use is a degree of risk, in terms of sexual health, the law, and personal safety. If you use beats or are considering visiting a beat, there are some safety tips to keep in mind.

Sexual health

Be prepared. Unlike saunas or other sex-on-premise venues, beats will not have condoms and water-based lube available. Carry these with you if you think there is a chance you’ll visit a beat when you go out. Also, the more new sexual partners you have, the more often it is worth getting a regular sexual health screen.

Personal safety

Beats can be violent places, attracting people intent on gay-bashing. There are many things you can do to improve your safety at a beat. Make sure you know all the exits, park somewhere discreet, leave valuables at home, wear clothes and shoes you can run in and don’t attend a beat under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There are more suggestions at the reference at the bottom of the article.

The Law

It is your right to be in any public place, including a beat, as long as you’re not breaking the law. If discovered by police, they can ask your name and address only if they think you have or are about to commit a crime. You are committing a crime if your penis or ass is showing publicly or if you are caught having oral or anal sex publicly. This includes in a car or in a toilet cubicle if the door is open.

info: Visit www.whereeversexhappens.com to learn more about the law and staying safe at beats. For information on the history of beats in Melbourne, see the new book Secret Histories of Queer Melbourne, produced by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives and available at www.alga.org.au

By GRANT O’SULLIVAN, VAC

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