PUTTENHAM, England — There was the man they called “Bob the Builder,” who wore only a hard hat. There was the naked sunbather who remarked, “Nice day for it, isn’t it?” to a woman taking a walk. And there was the moment, Jules Perkins said, when the dizzying array of sexual forces that have somehow descended on her blameless Surrey village came together all at once, like a scene from a one-size-fits-all X-rated film.
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“There were two blokes sitting side by side, watching a man and a woman having sex,” Ms. Perkins said, describing what happened as she strolled with her dog on the hill between her house and the Hog’s Back ridge. “Nearby, there were two men sunbathing together, wearing nothing but tight little white underpants.”
Later, she found a pink vibrator in the bushes.
“I gave it to the police,” she said. “They said, ‘What should we do with it?’ I said, ‘Put it in Lost Property.’ ”
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Puttenham, about an hour’s drive from London, has fewer than 2,500 residents and is famous for its ancient church; its friendly pub, the Good Intent; and its proud inclusion in both the Domesday Book — an 11th-century survey of English lands — and “Brave New World.”
Unhappily for many people here, it is also famous for being featured on lists of good places to go “dogging” — that is, to have sex in public, sometimes with partners you have just met online, so that others can watch. So popular is the woodsy field below the ridge as a spot for gay sex (mostly during the day) and heterosexual sex (mostly at night) that the police have designated it a “public sex environment.”
Public sex is a popular — and quasi-legal — activity in Britain, according to the authorities and to the large number of Web sites that promote it. (It is treated as a crime only if someone witnesses it, is offended and is willing to make a formal complaint.) And the police tend to tread lightly in public sex environments, in part because of the bitter legacy of the time when gay sex was illegal and closeted men having anonymous sex in places like public bathrooms were routinely arrested and humiliated.
Enthusiasts’ Web sites alert practitioners to known dogging locations — more than 100 in Surrey alone — and offer handy etiquette tips for the confused or overly excited.
“Only join in or move closer if you are asked,” advises one site, Swinging Heaven, which says it has more than one million registered members.
Richard Byrne, a senior lecturer in countryside management at Harper Adams University College in Shropshire, said that modern technology has made dogging much more convenient than it used to be, thanks to search engines, Facebook groups and people tweeting about their experiences. “And of course, everybody’s got mobiles,” he said.
Swinging Heaven says that the practice began in Britain in the 1970s, and that the term comes from the phenomenon of voyeurs “doggedly” following people having sex. Others say that practitioners claim to be “walking the dog” when they are, in fact, going out to meet naked strangers in fields.
Britons are a tolerant bunch, and most probably would not care who watched whom doing what in whatever configuration, as long as they all went somewhere else. Why, Puttenham residents wonder, do they have to do it 400 yards from the village nursery school?”
“We have nothing against gays or whoever it is up there,” said Lydia Paterson, who lives here. “It’s just the principle of, ‘What on earth is going on?’ ”
A stroll through the field the other day unearthed no doggers (it was raining) but revealed much evidence of their existence. Debris — used condoms, things made of rubber, pages torn from pornographic magazines, snack wrappers, discarded tea cups — littered the area. The paths were dotted with black mats that people had conveniently left behind for the next time.
Residents have been pressing the authorities to do something, arguing that the government should simply close the rest stop that provides access to the offending field, just off the busy A31 road. That way, people hoping to have sex would have nowhere to park.
But local government officials refused, saying closing it would unfairly penalize motorists who genuinely wanted just to rest and would deprive the owner of the Hog’s Back cafe, also at the rest stop, of his livelihood.
Alternative suggestions, discussed at a recent meeting of the Surrey County Council Cabinet, included deploying rangers to patrol the site on horseback; encouraging hikers to roust doggers with actual dogs; and filling the field with potentially bad-tempered bulls.
“It was like, ‘Are you taking this seriously?’ ” Ms. Paterson said. “One cabinet member said, ‘If you close this site, there could be an increase in suicides because these people have nowhere else to go.’ ”
Some older residents sympathize with the council. “Honestly, it’s been going on for so many years,” said Jennifer Debenham, 71, a customer at the Good Intent.
Referring to a nearby village, an elderly man at the bar piped up, “At Wisley, there are two sites, one for males and one for heteros.”
Mrs. Debenham said, “I think we should just let them get on with it.”
The man added, “If you want to find out more, just put ‘dogging’ into your search engine.”
Meanwhile, frazzled residents trade tales of woe: The half-dressed men who materialize from the shrubbery and theatrically pretend to be foraging for nuts and berries. The Internet reviews (“One site listed us as the No. 2 dogging site in Europe,” Ms. Perkins said wearily). The occasion when an unsuspecting motorist went for a bathroom break in the bushes, only to be surrounded by a crowd of eager men.
“It was the quickest pee he’d ever done in his life,” Ms. Paterson said.
The council has agreed to institute an “active management plan” that might include cutting down some shrubbery and putting in security patrols. And the police recently put up a sign warning people not to engage in “activities of an unacceptable nature.”
“There was a lot of debate over the wording for that sign,” Ms. Paterson said. “I guess they didn’t want to say, ‘Don’t have sex.’ ”
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