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Are Glory Holes Actually Safe Sex During the Pandemic?

Don’t get cocky — no matter what the NYC Department of Health tells you

Last week, the NYC Department of Health issued safe sex guidelines during COVID-19 that raised more than just a few eyebrows. “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,” the guidelines say.

Many took this to mean NYC Health endorses glory holes. After a celibate spring, we might just be able to get our dicks sucked anonymously in the name of safe sex. 

But don’t get too excited. Logistically, glory holes during the coronavirus don’t rise to the occasion. “What is someone to do? Carry a board with them with a hole in it?” jokes Dr. Charles Silverstein, a psychologist for gay men in New York. 

Besides, bathhouses are boarded up, public restrooms are closed and drilling holes into the wall of a rented apartment means you might not get your security deposit back. 

Okay, so what about that portable glory hole? “I haven’t come across it yet,” Silverstein says. He theorizes that NYC Health was speaking figuratively with the whole divider thing. “Whoever’s cock is being sucked should have a condom on. That’s the barrier,” Silverstein says. 

I reached out to NYC Health for confirmation on the apparent glory hole endorsement. Instead, a representative reiterated the same coy message they’ve been pushing for a week. “We trust our audience and New Yorkers are creative enough to know what this means,” Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner for the division of disease control at NYC Health, tells me in a statement.

What about the actual, hypothetical safety? It’s unlikely a glory hole could actually prevent contracting the coronavirus. “There could still be skin-to-skin physical contact and ejaculate,” Dr. Holly Richmond, a sex therapist, tells me. Trace accounts of COVID-19 have been detected in semen, but it’s unclear if the virus can be sexually transmitted. 

Is there such thing as safe sex in a pandemic? Richmond suggests mutual masturbation or teledildonics — remote sex via Bluetooth devices that sync two partners to the same rhythm. These devices can work in unison between partners in two different cities.

Even if glory holes were approved during the pandemic, they’d lose one of their key allures: anonymity. “You don’t know who the person is on the other side of the hole,” Silverstein says. Well, yes, that’s the appeal.

For all their notoriety, Silverstein says, glory holes’ actual popularity remains unclear. While associated with bathrooms, saunas and gay bookstores, the anonymity factor means little data and location databases exist for glory holes past and present.

Instead, Silverstein says, we’re primed for a different gay sex trend to make a return. Over the decades, masturbation clubs — like New York Jacks, Houston Jerkers and DaBurgh Jacks — have remained a space for gay men to explore voyeuristic and communal self-pleasure. “If there were a new COVID New York Jacks club, that would be very helpful,” Silverstein says.

Though even if everyone is sitting on a couch six feet apart, there still must be precautions taken. “The only trouble is they would still have to wear masks,” Silverstein says. The potential for pandemic masturbation clubs gives a new meaning to coronavirus being a real jack off.