Therapists Talk 
Shrink Rap 


    Michael E. Holtby, LCSW, BCD



for Public Indecency & Soliciting

City Attorney's Office, Denver, Colorado


March 28, 1999



In the Fall of 1997 I was recruited to provide a diversion program for those individuals arrested for public indecency, as what was being offered up to that point did not address the fact that most of these men are homosexual. At that point they were required to attend a class with heterosexual men arrested for soliciting prostitutes. I began a program which involved addressing the underlying reasons men seek out anonymous sex in public places with the recognition that these reasons can cover a gamut of underlying psychodynamics.

The program was successful enough that I was asked in June of 1998 to expand the program to include heterosexual soliciting cases. Since I was seeing each case individually, this did not pose a conflict for the men involved. In January of 1999 I also began to see women arrested for prostitution.


With each case I evaluate the individual for a period of two sixty minute sessions. Prior to the first session I have them complete the following questionnaires:

1. Basic Participant Information

2. Required Professional Disclosure Form

3. Alcohol Abuse Checklist (Am. Council on Alcoholism)

4. Childhood Abuse Checklist

5. Carnes Sexual Addiction Screening Test

6. Holmes & Masuda Life Change Checklist

7. Burns Relationship Satisfaction Scale

8. Burns Depression Scale

9. Purpose in Life Test

10. Multiple Loss Checklist

11. Social Supports Survey

12. Burns Anxiety Rating Scale

Between the first and second interviews I may give them other homework, depending upon what we discuss -- most typically a Life Script Questionnaire which has them detail family background, childhood issues, and current attitudes about themselves. This questionnaire takes participants 30 to 60 minutes to complete.

For the interviews themselves I cover the following areas:

1. Family Background & Current Relationships

2. Primary Relationship History, ie. Marriages etc.

3. Sexual History

4. Interest in Paraphilias and Deviant Sex

5. Physical & Mental Health

6. Mental Status Exam

7. Drug, Alcohol and Other Addictions History

8. General Level of Interpersonal Functioning

9. Self-esteem & Ego Strength

10. Level of Violence Potential

11. Level of Deception and/or Denial

12. Risk of Re-Offending

The contents of the interviews are confidential (unless sex with a minor is reported, or an impending violent threat to a specific individual). The Diversion Coordinator receives a report from me which does not detail what actually occurred in our sessions, but specifies if the requirements were met by the client. I make referrals and recommendations to the client at the end of the two sessions, but it is entirely up to them whether they follow through on what was suggested.


The program is restricted to individuals who admit their guilt, who have no prior offenses beyond traffic violations, who wish to have their records cleared upon completion of the program rather than just paying a fine. Payment is due at the time of the first appointment. See Fees & Policies


For this report I used a sample of 24 soliciting cases, and 27 public indecency cases. One of the most interesting aspects of this inquiry is that the two violations: soliciting prostitutes, and public indecency yielded very similar men. The biggest difference is that those arrested for public indecency were 85% gay men. However, they were exactly the same average age, 42 y.o., and had similar proportions of those in a primary relationship. The heterosexual men were more likely to be in a relationship (58.33% versus 40.74%), but unexpectedly the gay men had the longest average number of years in their relationships: 17 years versus 15.92 years. The range in number of years in a relationship were also similar: 3 to 31 years for the indecency cases, and 2 to 32 years for the soliciting cases.


I have narrowed down each case to a single primary reason for the purposes of getting some modal trends. However, human behavior is far from this simplistic and when multi-factors were considered there were a number of other underlying issues besides those highlighted here. For example, depression played a part in 22.2% of the public indecency cases, and alcohol or drug abuse was present in 11.1%. In both types of cases there were also subcultural factors. For gay men there is some social support for anonymous sex. The Kinsey Institute found that one third reported going to the gay baths, 43% cruised the public parks, and 31% looked for sex in pornographic movie theaters at least once a month. Of course this study was published in 1978 and does not accurately reflect today's post-AIDS subculture. However, given the average age of this sample, many of these gay men are a product of those times. Among the straight men soliciting prostitutes, you find a similar phenomena, like the individual who got a prostitute as a gift from his friends at his bachelor party.

It was rare that a single factor could be identified, although usually one factor stood out as primary. Again, what struck me is how many factors these two groups of offenders shared in common:




UNDERLYING ISSUE Soliciting Cases Public Indecency Cases
DON'T GET CLOSE 20.83% 22.2%
ISOLATED 12.5% 3.7%
LIFE CRISIS 12.5% 22.2%
NAIVE 12.5% 0
OTHER 0 3.7%
SEX ADDICTION 16.67% 18.5%



This category applied only to public indecency cases and involved gay men who were often married to women, lived in the suburbs, but were hiding a gay identity. Their secretive sex with men was the only way in which they could "be gay", as they were not a part of the gay community or subculture. Since it is something they feel a great deal of shame about and need to keep secret, social contacts with other gay men are also out of the question.

Here are a few case examples:

Public Indecency Case #9:

46 y.o. man who has been in a 25 year marriage. He initially identified himself as "bisexual", but after additional therapy sessions concluded that he is, in fact, homosexual. He is very isolated with no friends outside of his wife. He is also a man who is very subassertive and shy. Both he and his wife grew up in a very small town, and have lived a somewhat sheltered life. The fact that they have been married since college, that they lost their first son to a progressive genetic disorder, as well as their bond to their seven year old second son has made this man see coming out as not an option.

Public Indecency Case #4:

39 y.o. gay man arrested in Cheeseman Park whose behavior is in part due to probable alcoholism. He is single, lives alone, and is so far in the closet he dates women. His first sexual experience was with a Catholic Priest when he was 16 y.o. He views himself as a Conservative Republican. His hope is that he can overcome his shameful desires for men and eventually marry a woman, but as he gets older he is losing faith in this belief. He cannot face coming out because all his friends are straight, and he anticipates a disaster if he is known to be gay in his place of work or within his family.


This proved to be the primary factor in roughly one in five of all the cases in both men arrested for soliciting as well as public indecency. Anonymous sex is viewed as an expedient sexual release with no emotional involvement and complications. In many of these cases they involve men who are have a history of being very "burnt" in previous relationships, like the man who came home from a business trip to find his wife had left him and stripped their house of everything down to the bare floors. Or they are men who have seen their parents in highly conflicted, dysfunctional relationships and as children concluded it wasn't safe to be too close to anyone.

Public Indecency Case #6:

33 y.o. gay man who is "out" with a reasonable support network. However, he views relationships as "smothering" and seeks anonymous sex for validation, a sense of "control and dominance"; and due to loneliness. Reports going to bookstores at a 1x/week frequency.

Public Indecency Case #13:

59 y.o. man who views anonymous sex as an acceptable outlet for a single man. However, when examining why he has been single most of his life, it came out that his mother died when he was 16 y.o., and he has been through a number of other losses through people dying. Emotionally, he feels, "If I get involved emotionally with someone, he'd die."

Public Indecency Case #20:

This is a 34 y.o., openly gay man who has had two significant relationships in his life, the longest for four years with a partner he never lived with. In both instances they "sort of drifted apart". He is not looking for a relationship, saying he's "too busy" with friends and work. This is probably a chronically single man who, because of an abusive step father and experiencing a childhood in which his parents were constantly in conflict, views an intimate, committed relationship as more negative than positive. He is not a sex addict, preferring boyfriends for sex. He is also not a barfly, not liking to drink. However, as a single man he occasionally seeks out casual sex when more relational sex is unavailable.

Soliciting Case #8:

40 y.o. single man who doesn't see any benefit in being in a relationship. This man is a classic narcissistic personality disorder: grandiose sense of self-importance, preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, believes he is "special", has an inflated sense of entitlement, lacking in empathy or ability to identify with feelings and concerns of others. He is particularly vulnerability due to going through a significant business and income loss, and using sex as an ego boost.

Soliciting Case #11:

55 y.o. man who married a woman 30 years younger than himself, set her up in a house in Nashville to launch her singing career only to have her clean it out and leave him while he was on a business trip... and attempt to do the same to their home in Utah. This man is traveling almost 100% of the time and many of his relationships are mutual usury where he will pay the bills for trips etc. in exchange for a sexual relationship with a much younger woman. He has had relationships with a number of prostitutes, feeling they are more trustworthy in that the contract is more above-board.

Soliciting Case #18:

73 y.o. divorced man who is alienated from his children. He was a POW during WWII, and still suffers from some PTSD. He said he learned from this experience "don't get involved" because in prison it would be at the risk of your own life, or that person may be dead the next day. This experience, and the fact that when he returned his wife had already remarried (thinking he was dead), he felt trusting others or allowing himself to become emotionally involved with others was at a fairly high risk. And finally, he is half Blackfoot Indian and says culturally, he was taught, that being open with people gives the other person the advantage. A prostitute is uncomplicated, emotionally undemanding and "safe". Another factor for this man is that his distrust of others has lead to isolation that leaves him with no social supports, and he is quite lonely. This is exacerbated by the fact that his identical twin was killed while they were both serving at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed. He described being a twin as a "split soul".


These are men who vary somewhat from the "Don't Get Close" men in that they would like a relationship, but due to a lack of social skills or a sense of inadequacy they have been unable to. They also are less likely to have friends, tend to be much more lonely and spend the majority of their time alone. As a secondary factor it also is noteworthy that isolation was a factor in 22.2% of the public indecency cases, and 20.8% of the soliciting cases.

Public Indecency Case # 27:

43 y.o. gay man who grew up in a small town, and has an enmeshed relationship with his mother. He has been diagnosed as chronically depressed by his regular therapist, and probably also is an avoidant personality disorder. He is "out" as a gay man, but socially isolated. He was so self conscious he would sit in silence with contorted facial expressions in a tortured effort to express his feelings. He lives alone, and is underemployed given his level of education.

Soliciting Case # 9:

36. y.o. single man living in mountain town with small ratio of men to women. This is also an individual who has never dated a woman more than a few months, and finds himself extremely reticent to relate to anyone he is attracted to. He is wanting a relationship, and is feeling he is getting older especially in light of his father's death in his early 50's. He is also prone to addictive behavior, ie. TV, workaholism, and pornography, which clearly correlates to his feeling stuck in his life with the relationship aspect unfulfilled.


I found that a life crisis was often the precipitant for sexual acting out, and it appeared to occur in almost twice as many public indecency cases as those arrested for soliciting. However, it was present in both.

Public Indecency Case #24: (Heterosexual)

36 y.o. heterosexual who left the bookstore because there were too many people in the booths. He was arrested masturbating, in the dark, in his car, in the bookstore parking lot. This man was separated from his wife at the time. He had also gone through a motorcycle accident, which involved 17 major surgeries, and five years of disability. He is now working as a mechanic making $8.10/hr., after having been a highly paid welder. He does not have a pattern of anonymous sex, or the regular use of pornography.

Public Indecency Case #19: (Homosexual)

This is a 39 y.o. gay man in a 21 year relationship with a man who has AIDS. They have an "open" relationship, and this man's partner was arrested last year in a bookstore for public indecency. Why both of them seek sex outside the relationship is in part due to a separation of sex and love for both which may be attributed to coming out in a pre-AIDS culture of promiscuity. This man also sees a correlation as his partner has gotten sicker in the past six months. He is less sexually interested, as well as less able to pursue their common interests (working out & travel); and both men are dealing with anticipatory grief.

Soliciting Case #16:

This man's arrest occurred within days of his losing a court battle to keep his kids from moving out of state with his x-wife, and her fiancee who was telling his children, "I am your Daddy now." He has three grade school age children. He is 42 y.o., who has suffered a heart attack from which he hasn't adjusted, as he continues to have an incurable heart condition which could kill him at any time. He has a pacemaker, and has recently gone on disability, and fighting his boss for his benefits. He had previously been quite athletic, and has had to give up all his active interests. Prior to his disability, he worked up to 90 hours a week as a restaurant manager. He is divorced from a wife who has been diagnosed bi-polar and had a number of hospitalizations, and suicide attempts, whom he is still bailing out when she can't pay her rent etc.


These are all soliciting cases in which the men responded to an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute, and waving at them on the street. In all these cases the men didn't have enough cash to pay for what they agreed to. They did agree to sex for money, but intended to drive off without actually completing the transaction. They were enjoying the attention, and flirting, and in one instance there was a significant language barrier.

Soliciting Case #24:

43 y.o. man who had a spinal cord injury in a car accident leaving him quadraplegic in '71. In the recent past he has had to go on disability due to the increasingly degenerative arthritis in his shoulder, causing chronic pain, insomnia and having to go to a motorized chair. He also has just broken off a relationship of 2 years. An undercover cop posing as a prostitute waved him down. He played along because the attention was flattering. He was arrested when he drove off. I believe him when he says he didn't intend to follow through because he had no cash on him, and he would have had her get in his van which has curtains and tinted windows whereas a hotel room would be difficult with his disability.

Soliciting Case #25:

26 y.o. man from Ethiopia whose command of the English language was so bad his cousin came to translate. He had been waved over on Colfax by an undercover cop, who asked him for a ride. He thought she was "beautiful" and asked her to come to his house. He wanted to get to know her. He did agree to have sex for money, but that is not what he was looking for. He denied ever soliciting a prostitute here or in his own country, even though it is legal in Ethiopia.


These are all men who scored high on the sex addiction scales devised by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., who is probably the foremost professional in this area of specialization. Sex addicts experience an altered state in the entire ritual of procuring sex. It is a "high" which keeps them from experiencing the pain in their lives. A high proportion of them were sexually abused as children, and among the gay men a high proportion had a significant amount of anonymous sex as teenagers or upon first coming out in their early twenties. Sex in a relationship is often not exciting for them, and many don't have sex with their partners. Like other types addicts, sex addicts often "binge" on sex going for multiple sexual contacts in a brief period of time, as well as the use of pornography and frequent masturbation. They often organize their daily activities around their sex compulsions, devoting an inordinate amount of time, and thereby inhibiting their productivity at work, and their closeness with partners.

Public Indecency Case #23:

33 y.o. sex addict who answered 17 (out of 25) on the G-SAT. He went into the booth of an undercover cop at a pornographic bookstore. Through gay sex phone lines he has been able to arrange daily sexual contacts. This behavior has increased since last Summer when he broke off a 3 month relationship. He states he has an "incredible" family of friends, but still feels "empty". His most significant relationship was 10 years ago with a man who denied his HIV status, but died of AIDS. They were together 3 years, having unprotected sex. This man remained HIV-negative, but he sero-converted within the last year, probably from oral sex with an anonymous partner. He scored a 25 on the depression scale (clinically depressed), and 65 on the Purpose in Life Test (seeing life without meaning).

Soliciting Case #21:

28 y.o. male who is the classic consequence of early sexual abuse as a child from the ages of 4-7 y.o. by his adoptive father resulting in a sex addiction. This young man has always felt love was conditional, and through the abuse love became sexualized. As he stated, he can "never get enough", which compels him into a cycle of sexual addiction. He has regularly solicited prostitutes, and has had multiple affairs most of which were one-night stands. He recognizes he is an addictive personality and is an x-coke addict, as well as "driven" in his athletic interests (working out & basketball), as well as in his work. He is married with a young son. His relationship satisfaction scored relatively low, and he experiences his spouse as somewhat conditional with her love. They mutually avoid heart-to-heart talks. He also scored relatively high on depression scale.


I was impressed by the number of men in long relationships, averaging 14-17 years. However, I found that many of these were "stale" in the sense that they were emotionally estranged, and the relationships had stopped growing a number of years before. In some instances, there was still conflict between the partners and the sexual acting out was a way to unconsciously send a "wake up call". However in the majority of cases the conflicts had given way to resignation, and distance. Sex within the relationship had often waned or stopped entirely.

Public Indecency Case #21: (Heterosexual)

51 y.o. straight man arrested for pulling out his penis as a prostitute approached his car, he said with the intention of urinating. This is a man who travels 3 days every week, and has been in an ongoing affair with a woman for four years in Denver. He lives out of state with his wife of 31yrs. He is a very emotionally closed man whose relationship with his wife is distant and dead. Sex with her stopped 3 years ago and was minimal before that. He is isolated with no confidants, and few interests outside work, and he describes himself as a "couch potato". Their focus has been on the soccer events of their daughters who are now in college. Two years ago they also went through a bankruptcy due to his spending while on the road.

Public Indecency Case #28: (Homosexual)

46 y.o. gay man with a relationship of 15 yrs. with a man who is 13 years younger than himself. They have sex infrequently as this man has had a chronic impotence problem for the past five years. The onset appears to be from a medical condition. He believes, "if I can't get it up I'm letting him down" so he just refused all of his partner's sexual advances. He reports that he has only been to a bookstore on two occasions. On this instance, after a long time of mutual cruising with an undercover cop, he was arrested for groping the officer in a booth. He said he feels the bath are "too wild" for him, and he has never been. This man has a great amount of difficulty talking about his feelings, emotional needs, or sex including with his partner. He comes from a family with very little communication, even when his brother was killed in Viet Nam. He and his partner don't drink or go to bars, and he describes them as "loners." He has never talked with his partner about his feelings and stated he told me more than he has told anyone about his inner life.

Soliciting Case #17:

A 33 y.o. man with two children, ages 18 mths and 3 years. His wife is a bank vice president and her work combined with her community service activities, she is home very rarely. This is to the point of spending less than 10 hours per week with her family. Due to this man's feeling of his parents viewing him as a burden, he has reacted by being very devoted to his children and is their primary parent. His soliciting a prostitute was a way to get his wife's attention, and make it clear to her how serious a problem this is. He is close to giving her an ultimatum: "Either she gives more time to her family, or they divorce."


I hope that this report makes it quite clear there are a number of underlying issues which cause men to seek out prostitutes or anonymous sex in a pornographic bookstore or public park. The drag net created by undercover arrests by the Vice Squad is sort of like seine fishing where the net brings up not only the fish you want to eat, but everything else as well. Not only do you get those people who are truly socially undesirable, but also the lonely, naive, inept, and emotionally crippled. For this reason there is no cookie cutter approach which would work with these men: one size does not fit all in these cases.

Obviously, in the cases I see where it is their first offense, they are choosing to see me in lieu of a relatively small fine and a permanent record. The Diversion Program offers the possibility that they will be "diverted" onto a path of some form of psychotherapy or recovery program, and stop the behavior which lead to their arrest.

Respectfully Submitted,

Michael E. Holtby, LCSW, BCD

To learn more about sex addictions, see my article on "Sex Addictions and HIV", published in the Shrink Rap Column


Last messed with November 15, 2001

Copyright(c) 2001 Michael E. Holtby, LCSW. All rights reserved.