Case Studies – Debates about the ethics of the Tearoom Trade Study Methodology. In the ‘s PhD student in sociology Laud Humphreys studied men who. In the ‘s, sociology doctoral student Laud Humphreys conducted the infamous Tearoom Trade Study . Humphreys’ goal was to. Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. 2. \; f! ri. ‘; i’. ~j. ~. ” I. I.j. Ij. ‘e.:~ f :’ t. lAUD HUMPHREYS. ‘”,. “,. At shortly after five o’clock on a weekday.
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Impersonal Sex in Public Placesone of the most famous and controversial studies in sexology. After changing his hair, attire, dress, and car, Humphreys visited the homes of the subjects.
Under the guise of a social health surveyor, Humphreys interviewed the subjects about their lives without disclosing that he had already met them before. Tracking and interviewing the subjects provided an opportunity to better understand the rationality the subjects used when engaging in tearoom acts.
If conducted appropriately, research studies provide the foundation of new and insightful sources of knowledge. Yet, despite the benefits of this research, The Tearoom Trade raises ethical questions about sociology research: Does the value of gaining information about sexual practices justify the violation of people’s privacy?
This article will evaluate the social context, scientific methods, and ethical issues associated with this insightful, yet controversial study. Laud Humphreys entered the field of sociology after serving for ten years as a clergyman in the Episcopal Church. He preached a message of acceptance and tolerance to any who would listen, and embodied these principles by ministering mostly to the LGBTQ community.
Humphreys was also one of the first sociologists who openly self-identified as gay. He moved to California, earned certification as a psychotherapist, and established his own private counseling service. Towards the end of his life, Humphreys worked as a consultant for police forces and offered his expertise in homosexual subcultures and homophobic violence during testimonies in court cases. Laud Humphreys died in from lung cancer. This study focuses on these interactions through investigation of possible social, psychological, or physiological reasons for this behavior.
During this time, sodomy accounted for the majority of homosexual arrests. However, anti-sodomy laws currently exist in the law books of twelve states. Humphreys noted that the first challenge to studying tearooms was locating the facilities frequented by the subjects. Typically, tearooms were located in public parks. Men would pick a restroom positioned in a remote part of the park, isolated by distance from highly trafficked areas such as the entrance or busy sports fields.
In addition to preventing unwarranted exposure to bystanders, these men also valued isolated facilities to protect their identities.
Around the time Humphreys conducted his study, many superhighways were being constructed, and the rest stops along these roads provided ideal tearoom facilities due to their numerous locations and ease of accessibility.
Police officers were aware of several tearoom locations. On one occasion, an undercover patrolman actually revealed to Humphreys that law enforcement was upregulating activity in a certain area of a park due to an increase in African-American visitors, an event unrelated to the tearoom activities.
He then referred Humphreys to a restroom in another park known to be frequented by homosexuals and isolated from the unrelated presence of African-Americans that had increased police activity. There were several different roles that a man might take on during a tearoom interaction. These roles included an insertor, an insertee, and a lookout referred to as a watchqueen. The insertor presented his penis for fellatio.
The insertee performed the oral sex. The watchqueen would alert the other men in the tearoom if a passerby approached and would notify them when it was safe to proceed again. The watchqueen took on a voyeuristic role, receiving pleasure and arousal from observing the sexual interaction. While conducting his study, Humphreys often took on the role as watchqueen in order to convince others that he meant no harm, giving him the ability to observe tearoom interactions.
The advantages that made tearooms appealing to the men who participated were the inexpensive and liberating nature of the interaction, the impersonal sexual gratification that accompanied the activity, and the speed and efficiency that allowed participants to quickly enter and exit the tearooms.
The act of oral sexor fellatiowas often free as typically all members involved in a tearoom trade achieved sexual release from the experience. As Humphreys investigated the phenomena, noticeable patterns emerged. He found that subjects were often married, identified as Roman-Catholic, and had spouses who did not take birth-contro l.
The couples had various reasons for avoiding pregnancysuch as a preference for a certain number of offspring or no offspring and the costs of raising a child. This left some subjects in a position where their sexual desires were not met by their spouse, who avoided both the use of contraceptives and the chance of an unintended pregnancy.
tsaroom One advantage of tearooms that appealed to a portion of the subjects was that it was rare for insertees to demand monetary compensation from the insertor.
This enticed certain subjects to visit tearooms tesroom they offered a cheaper alternative to the costs of rearing humphgeys unexpected child with his wife or the costs of paying for a prostitute and a hotel room. The tearoom activities were impersonal. If discovered, knowledge of the deviant sexual behavior would threaten the stability hujphreys their families. In some cases, long-term relationships did grow out of these interactions, but for the most part a minimal exchange of words offered the most privacy and anonymity.
A third benefit to tearooms, and an advantage over traditional hotel rooms or other more private locations, was time efficiency. Entering and exiting a tearoom quickly and efficiently resulted in less explaining that a man humphreyss to provide to his family in order to justify his absences. A year after recording his observations of tearoom trades, Humphreys tracked down the subjects using the license plate numbers that he covertly recorded.
He changed his hair, clothes, and vehicle to protect his identity in case any subject recognized him from the times he played the role of watchqueen for them. Falsely presenting himself as a social health worker, Humphreys traveled to the homes of the subjects humphrey asked if he could conduct a social health survey. This survey allowed him to formulate an idea of the home life of subjects in his study. He found certain patterns relating to marital status, employment, and behavior.
Often, these men and their wives were deprived of sexual relations with each other.
Laud Humphreys – Wikipedia
Among a variety of other important factors, this lack of sexual gratification motivated many subjects to frequent tearooms. Loneliness emerged as a prominent characteristic in many of the subjects he surveyed.
In addition, after publishing the study, the public expressed concern over whether a researcher should be allowed to collect data which has the potential to jeopardize the safety of the subjects if it is revealed to the public.
Firstly, Humphreys believed that a scientist should never neglect an area of study or phenomenon because it was difficult to investigate tradr inherently socially sensitive.
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Following the release of his study, police arrests of homosexuals and raids on tearooms actually decreased in frequency, exemplifying how the understanding of human nature benefits everyone. Secondly, Humphreys believed that a scientist should take every possible precaution in order to minimize the degree to which studying a phenomenon distorts its natural occurrence.
It is universally acknowledged in scientific communities that openly observing an interaction between two subjects can change the outcome of their interaction. Publicly identifying oneself as a social researcher while observing the interaction between men who prize their anonymity in a tearoom would produce drastically different results than presenting oneself as a trusted watchqueen. However, there were about a dozen subjects to whom Humphreys revealed his true identity in order to gain assistance in conducting the study, learning the rules, and locating tearooms.
Thirdly, Humphreys believed that a scientist must protect his subjects, regardless of the cost to the researcher.
At the time of this study, anti- sodomy laws were enforced nationwide. Merely engaging in sexual acts with the same gender could merit an arrest, and this risk increased significantly if the acts were conducted in a public facility. He recorded the names, license plate numbers, and addresses of around men. He also bore witness to their illegal activity.
In the event that law enforcement saw fit to arrest Humphreys for conducting this controversial study, the sensitive data he meticulously collected would be demanded by the authorities.
However, years after publishing his study, Humphreys spent some time in a jail for an unrelated incident. After spending some time in this harsh environment, Humphreys admitted that he questioned his own ability to resist if the authorities had questioned him.
The study was met with mixed reviews when published. Though The Tearoom Trade made important contributions to sex research, Humphreys’ research methods violated modern contemporary ethical standards and raised serious questions about the morality of scientific observation. The Best and Worst of Sociology. Sociology Lens, 5 Feb. Understanding Human Sexuality 9th ed. Prophet of homosexuality and sociology.
The Humphrwys of Wisconsin. Skip to main content. The Author Laud Humphreys entered the field of sociology after serving for ten years as a clergyman in the Episcopal Church. Was this article helpful to you?