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Cruising for sex, or cruising, is walking or driving about a locality in search of a sex partner, usually of the anonymous, casual, one-time variety. The term is also used when technology is used to find casual sex, such as using an Internet site or a telephone service.
In a specifically sexual context, the term "cruising" originally emerged as an argot "code word" in gay slang, by which those "in the know" would understand the speaker's unstated sexual intent, whereas most heterosexuals, on hearing the same word in the same context, would normally misread the speaker's intended meaning in the word's more common (and presumably less threatening) nonsexual sense. This served (and in some contexts, still serves) as a protective sociolinguistic mechanism for gay men to recognize not only each other, but those who may wish to do them harm in broader societies noted for their homophobia.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, decriminalization of homosexual behaviour increasingly became the norm in English-speaking countries. The protective barrier once provided by the term "cruising" as a "code word" has therefore largely broken down and, arguably, become increasingly irrelevant. Thus the specifically sexual meaning of the term has passed into common usage to include the sexual behavior of heterosexual persons, as well.
Public health officials have noted that cruising locations are frequented by men who have sex with men, but do not identify with being homosexual or bisexual, who are closeted, married, or in relationships with women, do not date men or frequent gay bars, clubs or websites, or have otherwise no other way of meeting men for sex.
As with all argot, regional variants abound. In the United States, the term "cruising" continues to predominantly denote exclusively homosexual behaviour. In Australia and the United Kingdom, however, it is used by both homosexuals and heterosexuals to describe their own behaviour, as witnessed in the common male heterosexual derivative phrase "cruising for chicks".
The term has been enshrined since at least the mid-1970s in the name of the gay bar Foxes Booze 'n' Cruise, located on Historic US Highway 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Before closing, the business came under criticism for allegedly encouraging drunk driving by some who did not understand the term's historic usage, but the name and the sign remain a conscious reminder of gay history.
The term has also been adopted, in an altered form, by the website qruiser.com, an online LGBT community based in Sweden. This is a tongue in cheek reference, however, as the community functions as a forum for social interaction for the Scandinavian region, rather than focusing on exclusively sexual encounters. The website has attracted many heterosexual members as well.
Cruising for sex is alluded to in songs such as "Cruisin' the Streets" by the Boys Town Gang as well as "I'm a Cruiser" by the Village People. In 1980, director William Friedkin made the movie Cruising, starring Al Pacino. The film introduced many audiences to homosexual activities and the linguistic codes used for them, but gay rights groups perceived a negative depiction of the gay community in the film and protested its production.