Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 13, June 9, 2010


Men’s Success in Online Cruising for Male Sexual Partners

Richard Tewksbury

Department of Justice Administration

University of Louisville




As contemporary erotic oases, websites have emerged as a vastly popular means for individuals to cruise for others seeking mutually shared sexual interests. Though their presence and popularity are well known, the small body of scholarly research in this area neglects to examine their efficacy in assisting individuals to successfully identify sexual partners. This research utilizes survey data to assess the degree to which men who seek same sex impersonal/anonymous sexual encounters are successful when cruising these websites. Results suggest that men do find considerable success seeking sex partners through cruising websites. Men reporting the highest number of sex partners met online are those who are over the age of 35, do not include face or sexually explicit photographs in their ads, are HIV+ and use more than five websites.


Studies of anonymous (or casual) sexual relations among men who have sex with men have traditionally focused on identifying locations where men seek sexual partners (whether sex occurs onsite subsequently or not), characteristics of men found in such locations, interactional processes of cruising, and norms guiding the activities of such settings. However, the emerging practice of men using online resources to identify male sexual partners has not been thoroughly examined for the degree to which such men are successful in their searches and what personal factors and contents of advertisements may or may not be related to successful online cruising.

While scholars have outlined common physical locations and processes of cruising (Delph, 1978; Humphreys, 1970, Tewksbury, 2008), the literature to date neglects to address whether “success” (defined here as actually meeting and sexually engaging with another) in cruising is typical or the exception to such events. Rather, the assumption seems to be that when one cruises for anonymous/impersonal sex partners, success is achieved. This is likely to be a fallacious assumption, however, as few endeavors in social life are universally successful. The focus of the present study is to assess the degree to which men who actively seek male impersonal sex partners through online resources find their cruising activities to be successful, and whether there are specific individual and advertisement factors associated with greater/lesser likelihood of achieving a sexual encounter from an episode of cruising.

Review of the Literature

Men’s same-sex impersonal/ anonymous sexual activities have been the topic of scholarly endeavors for nearly a half-century. The literature on impersonal sex – including cruising activities – primarily focuses on where men cruise and characteristics of cruisers.

Where Cruising Occurs

Locations where men cruise – referred to as “erotic oases” (Delph, 1978) – can be found in all types of settings, and typically involve the usurping of “regular” settings for clandestine, sexual purposes. Social scientists have identified a range of settings as active cruising locales, including public parks (Delph, 1978; Humphreys, 1970; Polley & Tewksbury, 2007; Tewksbury, 1995, 1996), highway rest areas (Corzine & Kirby, 1977; Hollister, 1999; Troiden, 1974; Van Leishout, 1995), public streets (Delph, 1978), public restrooms in a wide range of settings (Delph, 1978; Desroches, 1990; Gray, 1988; Humphreys, 1970), and commercial sex establishments (Douglas & Tewksbury, 2008; Styles, 1979; Tattleman, 1999; Tewksbury, 1990, 1993, 2002; Weinberg & Williams, 1975; Woods & Binson, 2003). One study ( Tewksbury, 2008) analyzed 6,396 online notices of “active” erotic oases and identified the most common locations as public parks, adult bookstores and gyms/health-clubs. These three varieties of locations accounted for 55% of all listed erotic oases; other types of settings that accounted for at least five percent of listings included retail store restrooms, restrooms in university buildings, highway rest areas and public restrooms in “other” types of establishments.

As a somewhat uniquely structured form of erotic oasis are commercial sex establishments. These include adult bookstores (Sundholm, 1973; Tewksbury, 1990, 1993; Weatherford, 1986), adult theaters (Donnelly, 1981; Douglas & Tewksbury, 2008), and gay bathhouses (Tattleman, 1999; Tewksbury, 2002; Weinberg & Williams, 1975; Woods & Binson, 2003). These settings, however, differ significantly from public setting erotic oases in that they are locations explicitly devoted to sexual imagery and consumption, with sexual encounters in such establishments being tolerated, encouraged and facilitated.

Beyond physical locations where men can meet and engage in impersonal sex one of the newest (and anecdotally one of the “safest”) locations for men to cruise for impersonal/ anonymous sexual partners are websites designed to facilitate seeking and meeting mutually interested cruisers. Men seeking other males for sex report such sites as important and common in their sexual searches, at least among men in major cities (Grov, Parsons & Bimbi, 2007). When surveyed about all types of locations where they find sexual partners 53% of gay and bisexual men sampled from New York and Los Angeles report having met at least one sex partner through the internet; bars/dance clubs being the only meeting location reported more frequently (54%). Similarly, the internet also ranked second among locations identified as where men met more than one-half of their recent sex partners. Furthermore, men who reported that their preferred means of meeting sexual partners was through the internet also report the highest mean number of recent sexual partners (Grov et al., 2007). While informative, it is important to keep in mind that these results represent only the experiences of gay and bisexually identified men sampled at gay community events in two major cities.

The frequency of men who have sex with men using the internet to locate sexual partners has been shown by others, including Liau, Millett and Marks (2006) who reviewed 22 studies of men’s use of the internet for seeking sexual partners. They identified that as many as 40% of men use such resources to meet sexual partners. Men who use online resources for meeting sexual partners report a greater number of sexual partners (McFarlane, Bull & Rietmeijer, 2000; Benotsch, Kalichman & Cage, 2002; Taylor et al., 2004), and a greater likelihood of having casual male sex partners (Kim, Kent, McFarland & Klausner, 2001; Tikkanen & Ross, 2003; Taylor et al., 2004).

Building on these findings, use of online cruising sites has also been shown to facilitate sexual compulsivity and distract some men from daily activities (Grov et al., 2008). Men interviewed about their use of websites for finding other men for impersonal sexual activities report that such resources both contribute to a less discriminating search and also perceive this form of cruising as reducing physical risks that may be involved in cruising public locations (Grov, et al., 2008; also see Tewksbury, 1995). Among the commonly reported perceived advantages of cruising online are a greater ease of finding sexual partners, an avoidance of undesirable locations, and for some a perception of actually being able to learn more information about a potential sexual partner than typically occurs when cruising in a real world erotic oasis (Grov & Parsons, 2007). However, there are also perceived negative aspects of online cruising. The most frequently reported negative aspect of online cruising is that men are able and likely to misrepresent themselves, especially regarding their physical characteristics, age and psycho-social well-being (Grov & Parsons, 2007).

Cruisers’ Characteristics

Studies identifying the characteristics of men who cruise online are limited, and have yielded few generalizable results. The limited research addressing online cruisers suggests that these men are predominantly white men, typically in their 30s and of medium height and weight; nearly one-third claim to have at least one tattoo and one-quarter report at least one body piercing (Grov, 2004; Grov & Parsons, 2006; Tewksbury, 2003, 2006). An additional study of men in New York and Los Angeles who report preferences for finding sex partners via online cruising reports a mean age of 37.5 (slightly older than those preferring bars/dance clubs, but younger than those preferring gay bathhouses) with online cruisers predominantly white, less likely than those preferring bars/dance clubs to have incomes below $30,000 and more likely than bar/dance club preferring and less likely than bathhouse preferring men to be HIV+ (Grov, et al., 2007). However, little else is known about the characteristics of men who use online resources to find other men for impersonal sex.

The Present Study

The present study seeks to add to the literature concerning men’s same-sex impersonal/anonymous sexual activities by exploring two research questions. First, the characteristics of men who post advertisements on internet sites designed to facilitate men seeking male sexual partners will be identified. Second, the present research will examine the degree to which men using such websites define their experiences as “successful.” In this context “success” is defined as men actually meeting and consummating sexual relationships with other men via the websites.


The present study draws on survey data collected from men who post and respond to ads on websites designed and marketed for facilitating same-sex casual sexual liaisons between men. The websites from which survey respondents were recruited are explicitly geared toward men. No ads from women were included. The plan for the study was reviewed by the author’s institutional review board.

The sample for the current study is a convenience sample with men invited to participate in two ways. First, the researcher posted an ad stating that he was seeking to “learn more” about cruising on the internet; individuals who responded to this ad were invited to complete the survey. Additionally, men who posted ads on the websites were purposively sampled through responses to ads inviting them to follow a link in the email to a website where the survey instrument was located.

Data were collected from 114 men who responded to an invitation to participate in the study. Respondents reside in 18 states, spanning the continental United States. As discussed below, all men self-identify as either gay or bisexual, are racially diverse and represent an age range from 18 to 68.


The instrument used to collect data for the present study is an online survey written specifically for this research. There are a total of twenty-seven items across three sections in the instrument. The first section includes eight items assessing demographics (age, race, sexual orientation identity, relationship status, HIV status and the state in which the respondent lives). The second section includes six items addressing the information the respondent has in their posted ad and the number of websites on which the individual has a posted ad. The third section includes thirteen items assessing how often the respondent has met men through such websites, the frequency with which they have had sex with men met in this way, what types of ads they are more or less likely to respond to, and three open ended questions inquiring about what the individual likes and dislikes about seeking sexual partners in this way.

Data Analysis

Data analysis is based on descriptive statistics. Due to the small sample size inferential statistical analyses were not possible.


Characteristics of Men and Their Advertisements

Descriptive statistics provide a snapshot of the characteristics of men who use websites to locate other men for impersonal sex. As shown in Table 1, men who reporting using websites to locate and contact other men for impersonal sexual encounters are diverse in age, with a mean age of 43.2 and a median of 35, and racially diverse (with slightly more than one-half identifying as white). Fully 4 of 5 men identify as gay, and no men in the sample reported a sexual orientation identity as heterosexual/straight. A majority of men (55.8%) are single and not dating anyone at the present time, although nearly one in four (23.9%) do claim to be in a committed relationship. Also, 4 of every 5 men (79.3%) say that they know themselves to be HIV negative.

Table 1

Demographic Characteristics of Men Using Websites to Locate Male Sex Partners








18 to 68






Mixed Race



51.8% (n=58)

19.6% (n=22)

12.5% (n=14)

3.6% (n=4)

10.7% (n=12)

1.8% (n=2)

Sexual Orientation





80.2% (n=89)

19.8% (n=22)


Relationship Status


Dating, not seriously

Single, not dating


23.9% (n=27)

20.4% (n=23)

55.8% (n=63)

HIV Status





13.5% (n=15)

79.3% (n=88)

7.2% (n=8)

Stated Preferred Sexual Role




No preference


16.5% (n=18)

26.6% (n=29)

50.5% (n=55)

6.4% 9n=7)

When looking at men’s use of online cruising sites it is evident that using such websites is not a new or unimportant aspect of these men’s lives. As shown in Table 2, a large majority of men report having ads placed on more than one cruising website, with one in seven (13.8%) men in the sample reporting having ads posted on five or more cruising websites. Additionally, a majority of men have had ads posted for more than one year, and they reporting using the websites frequently.

Table 2

Characteristics of Ads on Men Seeking Male Sex Partner Websites

Number of Websites Where Men Have Ads



More than 5



12.8% (n=14)

13.8% (n=15)

How Long Ad Has Been Posted

Less than one month

More than 1, but less than 6 months

More than 6, but less than 12 months

More than 12 months


5.5% (n=6)

19.3% (n=21)

22.0% (n=24)

53.2% (n=58)

How Often Men Log-in to Websites with Ad(s)

At least once a day

2 or more days per week

About once per week

A couple of times per month

Once a month or less often


62.7% (n=69)

31.8% (n=35)

3.6% (n=4)

1.8% (n=2)

0% (n=0)

Accuracy of Information Posted in Ad

All information is accurate

Some information is inaccurate


95.5% (n=105)

4.6% (n=5)

Pictures Included in Ad

Face picture only

Non-explicit body picture only

Explicit body picture only

Face and non-explicit body pictures

Face and explicit body pictures

No pictures in ad


14.6% (n=16)

8.2% (n=9)

6.4% (n=7)

26.4% (n=29)

38.2% (n=42)

6.4% (n=7)

Nearly all (95.5%) of men report that the information they have posted in their ad(s) is accurate. Also, almost all men (93.6%) have at least one photo included in their ad(s). More than three of every four men (79%) report having a face photo in their ad(s), and nearly one-half (44.6%) have at least one sexually explicit photo (nude photo of genitalia or buttocks) in their ad.

The types of photographs included in ads is interesting in that as a place where men seek other men for anonymous/impersonal sexual encounters, it appears that overall attractiveness (as measured through the proxy of a face picture) is considered to be more important than images of one’s sexualized body parts. These presumed values are also seen when examining the responses of men regarding what types of ads from other men they would or would not respond to. Table 3 shows the likelihood of a man responding to another man’s posted advertisement. More than one-half (52.5%) of all respondents would either definitely or probably not respond if an ad did not include pictures, although the absence of either a face or x-rated picture specifically would only preclude a minority of men (25% and 4.1% respectively) from responding. What is seen as most important when deciding whether to respond to a posted advertisement is having some type of picture included, and having a face photograph is considered more important than a sexually-explicit photograph.

Table 3:

Advertisement Pictures and Likelihood of Responding

How willing/likely are you to respond to an ad that .....

Definitely would respond

Probably would respond

Might or might not respond

Probably would not respond

Definitely would not respond

Does NOT include ANY pictures in it











Does NOT have a FACE picture in it











Does NOT have an X-rated picture in it











Success in Online Cruising

When men were queried about their “success” in using websites for identifying and meeting other men for sexual encounters, responses suggest that many men in fact do find success using such websites. When asked the open-ended question of “in the past year, how many times have you had sex with someone who responded to your ad?” the mean response was 8.6, and median response was 4.0. Slightly fewer partners are reported by men responding to other men’s ads. The sample reports a mean of 7.0 and median of 3.0 sexual partners located in the past year by responding to other men’s advertisements. Finally, when asked to recall the total number of different men that the respondent had engaged in sex with as a result of connections made via cruising websites, the mean response was 13.6 (median = 5.0).

Analysis shows that there are differences in the total number of sex partners that men accessing via websites report obtaining by via websites based on age, sexual orientation, preferred sexual role, HIV status, number of websites where ads are maintained and the types of photographs included in one’s ad. In regards to age, when dividing the sample at the median age of 35, results show that men age 35 and younger report a mean of 10 different sex partners met online in the last year, compared with a mean of 18.3 for men older than 35. An even more distinct difference is apparent in regards to self-identified sexual orientation. Men who identify as gay report a mean of 10.4 annual partners met online while bisexual identified men report a mean of 24.6 annual partners met online. When considering sexual role, men who report identifying as either tops (15.4) or bottoms (16.8) do not show a difference in mean number of annual sex partners met online; however, men who identify as sexually versatile (8.8) report only approximately one-half of the number of sexual partners annually met through such websites. Men who report being HIV+ report a mean of 20.2 annual partners met online while men reporting being HIV- report a mean of 10.7. Additionally, it is clear that men who have ads on more websites are more “successful” in locating sexual partners. Men with ads on one website report 5.3 annual partners met online. For those with ads on 2 websites the mean is 6.1, men with ads on 3 websites report a mean of 10.9, those with four ads report a mean of 14.7 and those with ads on 5 or more websites report a mean of 34.9 annual sexual partners met online.

Contrary to expectations, men with pictures in their ads that are either sexually explicit or face pictures report fewer sex partners accessed through websites. Men with sexually explicit pictures on their ads report a mean of 8.3 annual sexual partners met via websites, compared with a mean of 20.3 for men with no sexually explicit photographs in their ads. Also, men who report that they have a face picture included in their ads report a lower number of annual sexual partners met online (10.6) than men with no face picture in their ad (14.6).

Most men report that sexual encounters obtained as a result of website connections comprise only a small portion of their total sexual encounters. When estimating the percentage of their sexual activities in the past year that included men met on websites, 4 of every 10 men reported that such encounters accounted for 30% or less than their sexual activities. In contrast, nearly one in four (24%) respondents indicated that more than 70% of their sexual encounters were a result of online meetings.

When meeting another man in person following an initial connection online, more than one-half (53%) of men report that a majority of their meetings do result in sexual activity. There is diversity in the frequency of in-person meetings resulting in sex though. One in five (19.8%) men say that all of their in-person meetings involve sexual activity. However, 21.9% of men say that fewer than 10% of their in-person meetings result in sexual activities. This suggests that while sexual activities are the common result of in-person meetings following initial online contact, not all men are indiscriminate in their sexual behaviors; a significant minority of men appears to be rather highly selective about which men they engage with sexually.

When meeting in person for sexual activities there is wide diversity in where men report meeting and having sex. Equal numbers (35%) of men report always/usually meeting at their home or the other man’s home. For other men (19.6%) they are less committed to a specific meeting place, reporting that they are equally likely to meet at their or the other man’s home. And, one in ten (10.4%) men report most often meeting those they meet online either in a public or other location.


Results of the present study clearly support that men seeking other men for impersonal sex through cruising websites are successful. Not only do men identify such sites as places where they have met sex partners, but so too do these results show that men cruising online have multiple “successes” in their efforts. Perhaps surprising to some are the results regarding characteristics of men who are more successful finding sexual partners through online cruising. These results suggest that older men (those age 35 and older) report more sexual encounters being initiated through online ads. And, men whose ads lack either face or sexually explicit photographs also report more success using website cruising. One explanation for this finding may be that men who wish to remain anonymous may seek others wishing to do the same, thereby avoiding soliciting others who are publicly identified through pictures. Additionally, the greater degree of success among older users may be attributed to their greater representation among the men posting and responding to ads on such websites. When providing responses to an open-ended question about what they found most attractive about online cruising older men commonly report positive views due to the method’s conveniences, variety, and reportedly having “grown tired” of the process and populations in other erotic oases.

The demographic profile of men using online sources to locate other men for anonymous/impersonal sex suggests that men are unremarkable. The sample is primarily white, in their thirties, single, gay and HIV-. Their preferred sexual roles are diverse and they have been using multiple websites to locate sexual partners for more than a year.

This research is not without limitations, and generalizations are not warranted. The sample for the present study is small, and may not represent the population of men who have sex with men and who use online resources for locating sexual partners. Additionally, respondents for the current study are drawn from only one website; the characteristics and experiences of men using other, similar websites may be different.

Summarily, this research does provide a glimpse into the world of online cruising, and provides a basis for future research. The world of men seeking men for impersonal sex appears to be similar across both real world erotic oases, and in cyberspace. Although only anecdotal evidence supports the degree of success that men may enjoy in real world erotic oasis cruising, the present study clearly shows that many men find success in online cruising.


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