Katy, a 27-year-old from London, remembers the first time she ever had car sex. It was a cool April evening during the height of the city’s coronavirus lockdown, and she had planned the moment meticulously. After packing a bag with a small towel, condoms and fresh pair of underwear, she headed to the kitchen to lie to her housemates. “I feel kind of sick,” she told them, as nonchalantly as possible. “I’m just going for a quick walk to get some air.”
It was 10 p.m. and Katy’s boyfriend of four months was already waiting outside in a battered, red Vauxhall Corsa. She walked out the door, cast a quick look back to make sure no one was watching and slipped into the passenger seat. Her cheeks were hot, and her heart was punching through her ribcage. “Drive!” she ordered. “Drive!”
For people who aren’t living with long-term partners, this story might sound familiar. The pandemic has turned casual sex into a high-adrenaline sport; one that requires careful navigation, cunning and a readiness to break the rules. The mere act of hooking up has become an international taboo — in the U.S., much of the population is still under mandatory lockdown orders (New York’s guidelines stress that “you are your safest sex partner”), and in the U.K., restrictions have gone even further: It’s now officially illegal to have sex with someone you don’t already live with.
There are obviously plenty of legal and safe alternatives. You could try an online orgy, share your nudes on Reddit or enjoy a lone anal beading session. But for the many people who have weathered weeks or months of celibacy, these options simply aren’t enough. Sex in public, away from intolerant parents and housemates, is becoming an increasingly popular option for society’s most horny — or is it “quarny”? — and apparently, not many places are better than your car:
Since lockdown began, there have been reports of pandemic car sex arrests in Italy and South Africa, with even Katy Perry dropping hints about her newfangled enthusiasm for it. In Switzerland, things are so desperate that people are actually having sex WITH their cars (it’s called mechanophilia, and no judgment).
“Having sex in a car feels like the only option,” says Katy (the Londoner, not the international pop sensation). “My housemates aren’t understanding at all. There’s no way they’d let me have my boyfriend around. It’s fair enough in a way — one of them is a frontline worker, and the other is really paranoid and OCD [about germs]. But also, I can’t just go for months indefinitely without sex. I’d go totally crazy.”
She’s had sex four times in her boyfriend’s car since lockdown began and claims to know of others who have done the same. The couple, who both live in East London, tend to go to quiet spots “near railway arches” and industrial parks. “The first time was awkward and I was scared we’d get caught, but we’ve got the hang of it now,” she tells me. “It’s not romantic or scenic or anything. But it’s something.”
Car sex is, of course, nothing new. The concept of “Lover’s Lane” — a secluded area where people drive to kiss (“neck”) or engage in sexual activity — has been part of pop culture for decades, with the phrase’s first usage tracing all the way back to 1853. The appeal makes sense — cars are versatile spaces that can offer good views and privacy, whether you’re teenagers wanting to escape your parents, or adults trying to flee your crowded house (or your married partners).
But the Lover’s Lane phenomenon has morphed and evolved over the decades. It’s opened the door to cruising, and has even spawned its own U.K. subculture in the form of “dogging” (where people meet in parking lots or in public spaces and watch each other have sex). Serial killers are also a big association: There are lots of gruesome tales of murders happening on Lover’s Lanes, a cultural pattern that’s inspired its own slasher film and a genuinely chilling urban legend. (Honestly, nope! No thank you!)
But for Mark, a 39-year-old in Chicago, these horror stories are no deterrent. He’s been a car sex enthusiast for years and reels off his reasons for loving it — the scenery, the danger of getting caught, the intimacy, and the gymnastics of the act itself. “My most memorable experience was in the front seat of a Honda Civic hatchback under the Golden Gate Bridge,” he recalls fondly. “The girl was in the passenger seat while I knelt on the floor in front of her. She left footprints on the inside of the windshield that I never cleaned off. Precious memories.”
On Reddit, there are countless threads of users sharing similar stories, as well as advice for car sex success (backseat, doggy style, one leg on the seat and one leg on the floor seems to be the widely favored position). The logistics discussed are always impressive: One woman suggests “riding the handbrake” or using “the gear stick as a dildo”; another seasoned pro boasts about being able to drive while boning (“I had her sit on my lap”). Although these are extreme examples, their appeal remains the same as more vanilla Lover’s Lane acts — novelty, and the thrill of getting caught.
It’s no niche interest, either. According to a 2018 study, “adventure and novelty” is the third most common sexual fantasy in the U.S. “We’re turned on by the taboo of doing things we’re not supposed to,” explains Gigi Engle, sexologist and author of All The F*cking Mistakes: A Guide to Sex, Love and Life. “Having sex in public is illegal and there is always a chance of getting caught. People may also be acting on a voyeuristic or exhibitionist nature, like the desire to see and be seen by others.”
As hot as this all sounds, though, the reality can be considerably less sexy than the fantasy. Car sex is difficult. Due to the layout, positioning will be a struggle: You will bump your head repeatedly on low ceilings and doors; ruin your legs with carpet burns and cramps; and have to deal with stains, smells and conspicuously steamed-up windows. Not to mention, the mortification of getting caught which, if you’re living in a larger, overpopulated city, is quite likely.
Mark, a 19-year-old from California, has had car sex twice with his boyfriend, but found both experiences disappointing. “The first time was awkward because we were trying to get positioned properly, and eventually, a car came by which made us worried. So we stopped,” he remembers. “The second time was better. We were able to make it work by having me sit in the passenger seat, which was reclined slightly, with him on top of me. Again, it didn’t last long because we were worried about being caught.”
We’ve also got a pandemic to deal with, which brings up a whole new set of ethical issues. With more than two million cases of COVID-19 currently in the U.S., and over 100,000 deaths, the pressure to follow the rules is heavier than ever. Is it worth risking it all for a quick, contorted and probably uncomfortable reverse cowgirl?
“I wouldn’t want to break the lockdown rules,” Mark continues. “I know people who are doing it — in their cars too — but I feel like it’s not responsible to risk it just because I’m horny and bored. The sooner people follow quarantine, the quicker things can get back to normal.”
For others, however, it’s not so easy. With the future uncertain and lockdown limping into its third month, a snatched moment of intimacy in an industrial park is among the only things to look forward to. “I haven’t told anyone [about what I’m doing], because I know they’ll think I’m selfish,” says Katy, her voice wavering slightly. “But we’re doing it safely. We’ve got it down to a fine art now: We’ve got spots where we won’t get caught, and we’re discreet. We’ve both been isolating. What’s the problem?”
“I just feel like this [coronavirus] has been going on forever, and I’m tired and bored,” she adds. “So I guess if it’s going to get me, I’d rather go out doing something I love.”