How Glory Holes Became The Symbol Of COVID-19 Sex

Photographed by Karen Sofia Colon.
It started when the new New York City Department of Health sex guidelines for COVID-19 were sent into our office Slack group. The document, titled "Safer Sex and COVID-19" delved deep into how we should approach getting off during a worldwide pandemic. The safest option, according to NYC (and also every sex ed class in America), is having sex with yourself. But if you're having partnered sex, they recommended that people wear face masks during the whole shebang. But another, far out suggestion immediately caught our eyes.
"Make it a little kinky," the document says. "Be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face to face contact."
So to have safe sex we should incorporate... a wall? How would that work? As we were Slacking back and forth about the absurdity of the suggestion, one Refinery29 staffer came to the rescue. "So... they mean a glory hole?"
Yep. A glory hole.
And it makes sense, when you think about it. Coronavirus is transmitted through infected respiratory droplets. They're the little beads of water, mucus, and saliva that are produced when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks, something that's pretty hard to avoid when you're getting down and dirty. So, yeah, when you put up a wall — and install a glory hole — it could cut down on the transmission of those droplets from one sexual partner to another. It's pretty out there, but even Gabi Levi, a sexpert who runs the erotica site Shag Story, previously told Refinery29 that the "safest way to have sex [right now] is really through a glory hole."
Even YouPorn, a porn website, has pledged $100,000 to the Canadian government to install glory holes across the country to provide people with safer sex options in the COVID-era — although we're not sure that Canada actually took them up on their generous offer.
According to Urban Dictionary, a glory hole is "a hole made in a thin wall or other type of partition where someone can insert their penis for sexual stimulation by an anonymous person on the other side." Those without penises can enjoy glory holes — anyone can — as they can be used for peeping, putting your fingers through, and pretty much anything else you're capable of doing through a hole in the wall.
Queerty, a gay lifestyle website, says that glory holes, along with bathhouses, became popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when homosexual acts were still illegal. "By the 1950s, gay bathhouses were popping up all across the country, and by the late 1960s and early 1970s, many had become staple institutions within the gay community," writer Graham Gremore explains. But that doesn't mean glory holes weren't around earlier than that. Stigma coupled with the illegality of queerness in the past has made it difficult to place the exact moment the glory hole came to be.
As for if glory holes still exist now, signs point to yes. Under the question "Do glory holes actually exist? Is there always someone at one, for constant service?" on Quora, an anonymous responder said, "Yes, they do. In public restrooms and in adult video arcades." Donald Sasser, another responder, says, "In my experience, yes they do exist and they come and go, LOL."
While we're sure NYC's Department of Health guidelines weren't telling you to scour your local restaurants and arcades for a hole in the bathroom wall, the thought of a DIY glory hole in your home — or trying to have sex with a barrier — seems like a lot of work. If the global pandemic hasn't swayed you and you're still interested in pursuing sexual partners, it's still important to be safe, even if you're not up for a barrier-like glory hole situation.
"Face-to-face contact, such as touching, kissing, and all of those things puts you at risk," Jennifer Berman, MD, a urologist and women's sexual health expert at The Berman Women’s Wellness Center in Beverly Hills previously told Refinery29. "So clearly if it's a person that you don't know or if you haven't confirmed that they've been quarantined with no symptoms and no fever for at least two weeks, you're being put at risk."
We get it. Having sex right now isn't exactly ideal. Eventually, we'll all be back drinking at bars and going out in public without having to worry about wearing face masks and standing six feet apart. Until then, though, you may just have to wait out your next sexual venture. Or go ahead and build that glory hole.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.

More from Wellness

R29 Original Series