By William J. Furney
In the southern part of the volcanic island of Gran Canaria, certain types of men like to build nests. Big ones, made of sticks and palm fronds, and enough for several men, the only gender that populates the hills and bush areas among the towering dunes that make for a spectacular backdrop and attract tourists from around the world.
But these men are mostly not on the Spanish isle off the west coast of North Africa for the natural beauty of this protected area, but the visual appeal, and touch, of those around them. It’s not unusual to see their coupling acts, involving two, three or more sweaty bodies, as they indulge in open-air intimacy while the year-round hot sun keeps them warm and negates the need for clothing.
Outside these abundant human nests, men — many portly, naked and middle-aged and beyond — stroll about and try to hook up with those who take their fancy; they don’t appear choosy. On a recent sweltering afternoon, in early November, I witnessed three such individuals engaged in a sex act, in an open area and for all to see.
There are almost 300 of these “cruising spots” in the stunning nature reserve covering 400 hectares and home to unique species of plants and animals. That’s according to the results of research due for publication in the Journal of Environmental Management in January that tracked sexual activity in the Maspalomas Dunes Special Natural Reserve bordering the popular tourist town of Playa del Ingles and its many hotels.
Titled “Sand, Sun, Sea and Sex with Strangers, the ‘five S’s’. Characterising ‘cruising’ activity and its environmental impacts on a protected coastal dunefield”, researchers discovered 298 sex spots and that the men wandering about in them were harming the environment by damaging plants and leaving rubbish such as beer cans, cigarette buts and condoms behind.
An indigineous creature — the Gran Canaria giant lizard (Gallotia stehlini) — likes to eat jellyfish washed up from the nearby Atlantic Ocean but often mistakes the used and discarded prophylactics for its favoured meal, dying soon after consuming the rubbery and translucent items, one of the study’s authors, Professor Patrick Hesp, laments.
The research — carried out during a gay pride event in 2018, using GPS devices to pinpoint each area where people cruised for sex and funded by the European Regional Development Fund — found that “the development and expansion of the cruising activity and sex spots has led to the complete abandonment of environmental educational uses in the dunefield, one of the original primary activities the reserve was established for”.
Hesp, a strategic professor of coastal studies at the Beach and Dune Systems Lab of Flinders University in Australia, says he’s not against sex in public but he does want to make people who engage in outdoor lovemaking in protected areas to realise the harm they’re doing to the environment.
“We’re not calling for an end to public sex — but we do want people to be aware of the damage it can do,” he said.
So what’s the solution to all this destructive frolicking? I asked, separately.
“The local government has already acted to clean up a great deal of the rubbish, the dead vegetation, and begin work with the resorts to educate the tourists regarding use of the dunefield,” Hesp said. “If the environmental police regularly operate in the dunefield to restrict the practices, and educate folks, the use will eventually decrease or stop.”
Lead author of the study Leví García Romero, of the University of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, told me that just two environmental officers are patrolling the expansive nature reserve every day, looking out for illegal activities like going off designated paths, cruising and drinking alcohol — all of which were pervasive during several recent days when I visited the area, and there were no officers in sight. Dozens of men cruised among the palm trees, hills and bushes during a week-long Winter Pride that attracted large numbers of gay men to the island, and the Maspalomas Dunes.
Romero admits that with thousands of people visiting the dunes daily — many of them sticking to several roped-off pathways, to reach the beach — it’s hard for a mere two officers to keep up with what’s going on. “I know that the environmental police are focusing their efforts on the most fragile areas of the dune system, such as the exclusion zone, because as two policemen are not enough, at least they will monitor the most fragile areas. They have had to make that decision,” he said.
“In my opinion, to ensure the Maspalomas Dunes Special Natural Reserve is used correctly, there must be a mix between effective vigilance and users who are aware that the area they visit has protection for its environmental values,” Romero said. “And in this sense, protection entails rules that must be met. Therefore, [the dunes] should be enjoyed for [their] environmental values and not for other purposes.”
He said the local authorities were working on a plan to erect signs around the cruising areas warning people that it’s not permitted to enter these protected zones and is, in fact, illegal. A large sign at an entry point to the dunes and in several languages, including English, says as much, but appears generally ignored.
Sex in the Sun: Something for Everyone
Gran Canaria’s sex industry is not confined to the dunefields, however, as there are nearly a dozen swingers’ clubs dotted around Playa del Ingles — and an entire swingers’ resort, in the upmarket Campo International area of adjoining Maspalomas.
“There is no guarantee of sex and all normal rules of swinging apply,” the property, La Mirage, says on its website. “Rules of swinging are very simple: Good manners, discretion and no offence taken for a polite refusal … We have designated areas and playrooms along with the bedrooms for sexual encounters.”
And there are any number of massage parlours where guests will be greeted by beautiful women who know less about massage and more about pleasures of the flesh. Rounding out the Gran Canaria sex attractions are gay and straight sex clubs where anything really does go.
So for visitors to this somnolent, subtropical, hedonistic place, it’s a case of sun, sea, sand and just about everything else they desire. Even if it’s at the expense of a protected natural area that they’re blithely destroying for a fleeting thrill.
- Title photograph, of men in a protected area of the Maspalomas Dunes, is by William J. Furney.