The legal status of "cottaging" in the UK

What is cottaging?

The term ‘cottaging’ is a slang term which refers to the act of having sex in public toilets. It is derived from the use of the word which goes back to Victorian times; referring to small houses/public houses.

The offence of cottaging applies to both heterosexuals and homosexuals, but some high profile cases involving celebrities has made it more associated with homosexual sex. ‘Cottage queen’ is a slang term for a gay man who frequents public conveniences for the sole purpose of engaging in sexual activity. The phrase ‘tea-room’ is given to a venue for public gay sex in the US.

Is cottaging illegal?

Yes, under s 73 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (SOA 2003) ‘engaging in sexual activity in a public lavatory’ is outlawed. This applies to heterosexual and homosexual sex acts. If an offending couple are caught committing/having committed a sexual act in a toilet to which the public or a section of the public has or is permitted to have access (whether on payment or otherwise), they may be prosecuted. You risk being arrested for cottaging regardless of whether you are being discreet or not. For example, having sex in a cubicle behind closed doors is still against the law.

Penalties for cottaging

Possible penalties for being caught having sex in a public convenience include:

  • A prison sentence on summary conviction of up to six months and/or a fine.
  • A caution. If you accept a caution as an alternative to prosecution, this forms part of your criminal record and can be used as evidence of bad character if you’re prosecuted for another crime. Unless a conviction is a certainty, therefore, don’t accept a caution.
  • A ban from specified premises. If you’re found cottaging in, for example, a shopping centre by security staff, they could ban you from the premises in future.
  • Your name could be added to the Sex Offenders Register in some circumstances if you’re cautioned or convicted under the SOA 2003.

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