By-the-hour hotels have a universally terrible rep among Americans. They inspire giggly, sex-touristy journalism about sketchy johns, blacked-out windows, and mirrors on the ceiling. The word “seedy” was practically invented for this type of establishment. They’re a dime a dozen in parts of Asia and Latin America, where many people live at home until they’re married, but in the U.S., they’re so disreputable that a councilman in Philly tried to outright ban them last year.
Yet if we put aside the sordid cliches, the concept itself is brilliant. Hourly hotels are traditionally a staple of sex workers and affair-havers, but given the current state of the country, they’re ripe to go mainstream. Living with parents is now the most common living arrangement for young adults—for the first time since the 1880s. Free time is waning as sinking wages necessitate side-gigs and white-collar work bleeds beyond the workday. Commutes are worsening, which wastes quality boning time and discourages farflung lovers. Meanwhile, procuring casual sex is easier and more efficient than ever before. Given Silicon Valley’s propensity to disrupt anything from hotels to car rental to cabs to flophouses, I’m shocked they haven’t reinvented the hourly sex room for the Airbnb generation.
When I emailed some of my friends to see if they’d use an hourly hotel app, I got lots of thumbs-up from people willing to pay anywhere from $25 to $100 an hour. A new mom would use the app “for a night when we have a babysitter so we can have sex in the prime of the evening and not when we get home and are exhausted and drunk”—an idea that, frankly, sounds super-hot regardless of whether you’re a parent. Linda*, 33, can “see the appeal” as a “non monogamous person who doesn’t bring outside interests home.” Travel distance could be cut in half: “As someone who seems to only date people who live in a different borough than me, I think these hypothetical apps would be great,” wrote 24-year-old Cara.
And for a generation fluent in Tinder and Grindr, it could provide a buffer for more anonymous encounters. “Most people don’t want a complete stranger to have access to where they live (even if they don’t mind them having access to their bodies),” said Ellie, 31. Mike, a 33-year-old frequent Tinder user, would just “use it for fun.” Several suggested integrating the sex-room option right into dating apps—synergy!
Technically, there are apps already solving this problem. Airbnb can be used for fuck-dates, although an app tailored for sexual encounters would probably be cheaper, more private, and more stringent about cleanliness. There’s also the Breather app, which offers “quiet meeting rooms” for $35-$55 an hour, and the brand-new Recharge app, which lets you rent hotel rooms for 66 cents per minute. Both have the infrastructure for a functional sex-room app—especially Breather, which favors punch-codes over human interaction and doesn’t require a deposit. They’re less kitschy and decentralized than, say, the Liberty Inn, which provides porn and lube and, according to one person who’s stayed there, has “a weird vibe” because “you are always running into the other guests in the hallway.”
The problem is, both Breather and Recharge disavow their services as enabling sex, and not in the wink-wink kind of way. “Inappropriate purposes” like “pornography” or “sexual activity” are explicitly against Breather’s terms of service (although the founder swears he “would never” install cameras in the rooms). When TechCrunch asked Recharge’s founder about the risk of “hanky panky,” he replied they hadn’t yet seen the “rock-and-roll customers.”
The message is shockingly retrograde: If you want to have sex for an hour in a location that’s not your home but you can’t afford to shell out hundreds for a fancy hotel, you must be a “hooker,” a miscreant, the absolute dregs of society. The reality is that the same demographic needing quiet, clean places for quickies probably overlaps considerably with the rarefied, respite-starved urban dweller courted by Recharge and Breather. The same factors that cut down on our sex time infringe on our lives in other ways. Which is exactly what could justify a pro-sex, multi-use “quiet room” free of stigma or shame.
Sure, sex workers would use this app—but they already use “respectable” hotels (and in this near-future utopia, sex work is decriminalized, anyway). Yes, adulterers on a budget might avail themselves—but isn’t it more polite to use a neutral location than, say, one’s own bed? More likely, the users would just be short on time or privacy or both. They could indulge in either a nap or a nooner, depending on their mood.
A few were turned off by the idea of cleaning up the hourly sex hotel, precisely because they’d lose the seaminess factor. “The appeal of hotel sex for me has always been the sleaze/decadence combo,” said Maureen, 31. “So an economical friendly yuppie-fied version just isn’t appealing.” As Charlotte Shane points out, there’s something quaint and honest about the tacky sex shops of yore, and something bloodless and depressing about their slick, pricey counterparts. When I asked her about my sex-room idea, Charlotte thought it would be “kind of amazing to lean way into the seediness of it all” with cameras and other exhibitionist accoutrement, but then admitted “those would be the same things a lot of people would object to.”
Besides, some of the very people who most crave a private space to bang wouldn’t necessarily have extra dollars to throw around. Barry, 26, has “four roommates and it’s always a tad awkward when they hear me fucking,” but given that he makes around $32,000 a year as a server, “I’m not sure I would waste money on that.” For many, $40 quickies are still a luxury item, albeit a low-stakes one—basically the Drybar of sex.
But if hourly sex apps were truly as varied as the choices on Airbnb, the implications would go further than logistical problem-solving. Like sex in general, the way Americans think about fuck locations is wildly polarized and hews closely to class: Either it’s discreet, demure, and expensive (and therefore sexy), or it’s squalid, gaudy, and cheap (and therefore gross). What if, instead, it could be any of those? What if choosing where to bone was an experience you could customize—a kaleidoscope of options, wherever and whenever you wanted, for the price of lunch for two?
*most names have been changed