Financial Travel Tip #106: Beware – Couch Surfing for Sex

by Nora on January 24, 2014

I’ve extolled the virtues of couch surfing (aka hospitality exchanges), and I even include a section about it in my latest book. I’ve discussed how to stay safe with basic precautions.

But I’ve never talked about couch surfers prowling for sex. I’ve never experienced it (at least, not quite like that), but we need to talk about it. Now.

In December, Business Insider published an article called Couchsurfing’s Sex Secret: It’s The Greatest Hook-Up App Ever Devised.

It discusses various Couchsurfing hosts (and couch surfers) who use couch surfing as a tool to hook up. And if you land on one of their couches and don’t want to hook up, you might be in for an awkward night.

 

I posted the article above to my social networks to see what other people thought. It evoked quite a reaction. Many people were horrified, and had very few kind words for the article’s main character “Riccardo”, who hooks up with well over half of his couch surfing guests.

Other readers balked at the idea that this could be happening, citing their own couch surfing experiences in dozens of countries, with hosts who were solely interested in the cultural exchange.

 

Couch Surfing Profiles: Choose Wisely

Riccardo’s profile reads like an ad in the personals – he even states that he only accepts female guests. I’m willing to bet a good majority of his guests know what they might be getting themselves into well before the lights go out.

I’ve never had a couch surfing experience that ended up in the sack (nor have I looked for one); but then again I would never have responded to Riccardo’s profile either.

 

It boils down to what you want, and finding the profile of a person who matches your interests. I only contact people who have fully completed profiles, testimonies from other guests, and something in their profile/interests/career that gives us common ground.

Some people only choose to stay with families. Others prefer a certain age range. It’s all out there; it’s up to you to choose your poison.

 

Here are some suggestions other travelers shared about how they make sure they have a safe and purely cultural exchange when couch surfing:

– If I was a single female I would never stay with anyone who says they will only host females.

 

– Be very intentional for who you are and what you are about, and leave no room for others to ‘wonder’ about your intentions. In your profile, you could state that very clearly – at least, that’s what we do.

 

– I stay well clear of the profiles that start speaking like a dating profile and generally keep clear of men, although I’ve just spent 2 nights at my first male host – he had 4 of us girls there and one was sharing his bed.

 

– But what if you were 21…might be a different ball park… I don’t think us ‘older kids’ use CS as much as the young ones do…and when I have inquired I only look for peeps in there late 30’s and older.

 

 

Hooking up is Natural

Reading this article was a little surprising to me too, but then again not so much.

For any traveler, connecting with locals is a draw; for the single traveler, the heightened emotion of travel in general and the intensity with which travelers connect on the road can easily convert into something physical if the moment and circumstances permit.

 

Travel accelerates all relationships, be they platonic or romantic. People come into and out of your life at a dizzying pace on the road; so if there’s a connection, it cultivates very quickly. And sometimes, that means you end up in the sack while staying with your couch surfing host. That’s totally fine by me – as long as both parties are clear on the terms.

 

But…

What I found surprising about the article was the degree to which some people use couch surfing specifically to hook up. I’m all for going with the moment, but trolling for sex on couch surfing sites? That’s poor taste in my mind. Go use one of the dedicated hook-up sites for travelers (and yes, there are dedicated hook up sites for travelers – read the Business Insider article for links).

 

 

It’s not Just Guys

Ladies, before you go and get all up in arms about Riccardo and his sleazy approach, remember it’s not just guys who do this. I was chatting with a fellow when I was in Berlin recently, who had traveled extensively with couch surfing. He consistently stayed with women (often women much older than he) who propositioned him – some even quite aggressively. (I’m still not sure whether he was complaining or bragging).

 

 

Have you had any dodgy or bizarre couch surfing experiences? Please share in the comments!

 

 

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 The Guy January 24, 2014 at 7:57 pm

I’ve never tried couchsurfing and to be honest it does not really appeal to me. This is partly due to my age and the level of comfort I have become accustomed to when I travel and I travel a lot.

I am reading more and more about this “sexual element” to couchsurfing and it is portraying a very negative image on the whole concept. When I read articles like this (there are more and more talking of couchsurfing v sexsurfing) you get 2 very distinct level of replies. The first are the “how dare you say such a thing” who are exceedingly defensive and maybe blind to what goes on. Then there are those “yeah it happens”.

I’m with you Nora on how you portray it. If it happens naturally then it happens. But if people purposefully use this concept purely for sexual perks then the whole system needs monitoring. No one should be put in an uncomfortable position and stalkers should effectively be banned from the whole couchsurfing community.

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2 theprofessionalhobo January 25, 2014 at 11:26 am

Hi Guy – Hmm….sexsurfing….interesting term! The fact that it begs its own definition, indicates there are people out there doing it. But I’d still like to think it’s not the majority. I wonder how a monitoring system would work…

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3 Elaine January 25, 2014 at 4:38 am

urgh … that is so sleazy! Haven’t used Couchsurfing before, but I hope I don’t run into an awkward situation like that :/

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4 theprofessionalhobo January 25, 2014 at 11:26 am

Elaine – I don’t think it’s the vast majority at this point; more of a niche group that is getting some attention. I also think it’s easy enough to stay away from those experiences….like they say, it takes two to tango! 😉

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5 Anna January 25, 2014 at 9:36 am

That’s not really surprising. I never couch-surfed, and I hadnt even stayed at a hostel since my college days a decade ago, but just reading about that whole ‘cultural exchange’ universe it really seems like lots of young folks would be using it as an opportunity to hook up. While the possibility of that would be stressing me out (so many unknowns till you meet a person, so much potential for mental discomfort, let alone more sinister consequences), I am totally looking forward to cute, buff beach boys at my Florida watering hole when I get there for my vaca… and all the, um, possibilities 🙂

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6 theprofessionalhobo January 25, 2014 at 11:27 am

Anna – LOL! 😉

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7 manu January 25, 2014 at 11:06 am

I couch surfed often and always got amazing experiences and great new friends.
Just use common sense when choosing it…like with everything when you travel.

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8 theprofessionalhobo January 25, 2014 at 11:27 am

Manu – I’ve had great experiences as well. It boils down to what you’re looking for, I think….

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9 Sylvain January 25, 2014 at 3:48 pm

My favourite CS profiles still are the ones of gay nudists men that state that clothing is optional after 8 PM. 🙂

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10 theprofessionalhobo January 26, 2014 at 9:35 am

LOL – Now that sounds like a good time! 😉

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11 Deia @ Nomad Wallet January 25, 2014 at 9:46 pm

I’ve never done couchsurfing because it doesn’t really match the way I travel. (I generally stay for quite a lot longer than is appropriate for house guests.)

But I once booked a room through AirBnB and the host sometimes lets couchsurfers sleep in the living room also. He and his housemates were really hospitable and accommodating. I’d guess that most couchsurfing hosts are similarly awesome.

It’s just a few bad apples that make the whole site look bad. And as always, bad news make better news, so it’s these people who end up on the news.

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12 theprofessionalhobo January 26, 2014 at 9:37 am

Hi Deia – You know it! One bad apple sours the bunch….or something like that! 🙂
I also don’t couch surf much because I’m not a big fan of short stays; it wears a long-term traveler down really quickly! I haven’t done the shared accommodation thing through AirBnB yet….

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13 Joshua | Engineer on the Road January 27, 2014 at 3:39 am

As it happens I’ve never officially Couchsurfed as I get all my time off VERY last minute, and I often don’t have the time to organise it as such short notice, and money is not so much of an issue for me that I’m happy to pay for hotels, sticking to a consistent budget with each trip. That said, I’ll be honest that I often end up staying with guys I’ve met through online dating (the running joke amongst friends was I Grindr my way around the world), although I always have a hotel booked for a few days first and there never starts off with any expectation, simply coffee… But I don’t go on online dating websites and say I’m looking for a place to stay and will whore myself out for a bed – that doesn’t seem classy either. I think there’s definitely a balance to be struck, and things are best left organic and not forced in my opinion, but also people need to be realistic and recognise that humans are human.

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14 theprofessionalhobo January 27, 2014 at 10:05 am

Hi Joshua,
Interesting that many of your hosts came through dating sites!
And I agree with you – there are classy ways to find a place to stay without setting sexual expectations, and instead letting things happen as they may.

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15 Dana January 27, 2014 at 4:53 am

I’ve only couchsurfed once in Rome and stayed with a very nice girl. However, when choosing the profiles to whom I sent the request, I’ve come across 2 guys who seemed ok but then started to act strange. One said that it’s his house, his rules, implying that he could even walk around the house naked, while the other told me that I should expect some sexual tension between the two of us.
Nevertheless, these 2 cases won’t make me change my opinion on the website, through which I met several extraordinary people!

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16 theprofessionalhobo January 27, 2014 at 10:08 am

Hi Dana,
Yep – a few bad apples can tarnish the whole thing; glad you’ve kept your perspective through it all!
I’m glad these guys gave you their “terms” before you arrived….it’s obvious they had certain expectations of the “cultural exchange”, and gave you a chance to say yay or nay – before it was too late.

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17 Jp January 28, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Wow this is quite interesting, I never even considered that side of couch surfing.

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18 theprofessionalhobo January 28, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Jp – Neither had I, until I read the article in Business Insider!

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19 Tracey - Life Changing Year January 28, 2014 at 9:28 pm

My 18 year old daughter had a very unpleasant experience in Singapore – she only lasted a few hours before she was back sleeping on the couch in our hostel for the night! Her host was very sleazy and very touchy and very drunk by the end of it all. She complained to couch surfing with very little response and swore to never use them again. Then she wrote a post about how awful it was and they contacted her and took some action. She’s pretty pleased about that and I think would consider using couch surfing again – I suspect with only female hosts though! She didn’t tell us the problem at the time while we were in Singapore – we might have paid him a late night visit ourselves!

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20 theprofessionalhobo January 29, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Hey Tracey,
I’m glad that Couch Surfing responded – but sad that it took her publicly raising hell to get the response.
I’m also glad that she’ll reconsider using them; it’s not the service, but the users that are the problem – and not all users are the same.

Having said that, she may want to try using http://www.hospitalityclub.org instead; I’ve had good experiences with them, and they tend to have a slightly more mature user base.

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21 Tracey - Life Changing Year February 6, 2014 at 9:51 am

Thanks – will let her know. It sure hasn’t dampened her love of travel and meeting new people!

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22 Couchsurfing HQ February 5, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Couchsurfing is NOT a hookup site. It is against our Terms of Use to go looking for a date and may lead to the deletion of an abusive member’s profile.

In Couchsurfer Malia’s words: http://youtu.be/eQVP0Dk9LhM?t=3m10s

@theprofessionalhobo – As you mentioned, “choosing wisely” is great advice to all Couchsurfers! We encourage all members to take their safety seriously.
Check out our Safety tips: http://www.couchsurfing.org/n/safety.

Members are also strongly encouraged to always leave others a truthful reference after each encounter. References help other members make informed decisions.
More tips to be a great Couchsurfer: https://www.couchsurfing.org/n/resources

If you have a negative experience, please report it to our Trust & Safety Team here: https://support.couchsurfing.org/hc/en-us
Your report may help make the community safer for other members.

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23 theprofessionalhobo February 6, 2014 at 10:18 am

Couchsurfing HQ – Thank you for your input and resources!
As one of the leading hospitality exchange sites, you have the advantage of having a corner on the name; people tend to refer to hospitality exchanges as “couch surfing” even if they don’t use your site per se. As such, I believe the “hook-up culture” probably exists in all the hospitality exchange sites! So in this case, the branding has been a double-edged sword for you.
But it’s very good to know that you have measures and systems to stem this sort of activity – and ultimately, couch surfing is in the hands of the users to exercise proper judgement.

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24 zuub March 6, 2014 at 10:36 pm

My girl friend and 2 other friedns got raped yesterday by an italian jerk who drug them first then abused after pulling out a gun and telling them he is a police man…they are so afraid to complain and i’m so desesperate i don’t know what to to do…he chased them out when the drug effect was still working on them they don’t remember anything except he said “yes i Cum 4 times in 12h” and he does it with other girls as well drug them then chase them away…is that really the values of Couchsurfing…what if he shot them after abusing them…now the 3 of them are so shocked that the dont even want to go to the police since the still in italy and are afraid he might find them and kill them…how can they let this kind of things unpunished…i’m so confused…i wrote them a complaint mail and they didnt even give a shit about it…i’m so upset i use to recommend a lot couchsurf but now their value are not that much true….

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25 Nora Dunn March 7, 2014 at 11:24 am

Hi zuub,
That sounds awful! I am surprised if Couchsurfing hasn’t responded…..I am glad the girls are okay, and I hope that Karma takes care of this guy. I believe the girls will need to complain directly to Couchsurfing, who can deactivate his profile and maybe charge the guy as well….I don’t know – but that is what I would do.

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26 zaki August 15, 2014 at 2:20 pm

How did that happen….. How did he drug them? Why did they drink? Did he host them?

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27 AJ Walton October 15, 2014 at 8:47 am

I like the balanced approach you take in your review, in that hooking up is not intrinsically wrong or bad – though it’s not to my taste. I think it’s a matter of expectations, and both sides being clear upfront what’s going on. Of course, there are some manipulative or dishonest people out there – but those people might also work at a hotel or hostel – not just hosting on CS.

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28 Nora Dunn October 15, 2014 at 11:55 am

Hi AJ,
You’re absolutely right – ill intentions are certainly not limited to couch surfing. Like you say, being up front and clear about expectations on all sides is the way to navigate so many things in life, including traveling and staying with people.

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29 B March 29, 2017 at 12:35 am

I was forced to have sex by much couchsurfing host in New York. He is a photographer and hosts only girls – has hosted more than 120 girls so far in 2 years. Only one other girl was brave enough to write a negative review, which I have saved a copy of. Unfortunately, Couchsurfing took the negative review down. In the review, the girl had described precisely his modus operandi and what had earlier happened to me. The guy particularly chooses Asian girls because he knows they won’t raise a hue and cry.a
I complained to Couchsurfing but all they have said is that the guy has been issued a warning. A warning for rape!? And why did they take down the negative review?

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30 Nora March 29, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Hi B,
I’m sorry you had such a rough experience. I don’t know why the Couchsurfing site is acting this way – how sad.

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31 Gigi April 16, 2017 at 3:44 am

Hi ! I feel very disappointed about couchsurfing. It was the first time i’ve used couchsurfing. Having sex is not my goal at all. I was hosted by a danish guy. The first time we went to the bar. And then 3 hours later he kissed me. I felt really embarrassed because i’m not the kind of girl that likes casual sex. I’m not able to have sex without love. Anyway i began to be romantically interested in him. But i’m afraid that he is using to having sex with all the girls he meet on CS. That’s why i’m feeling disappointed about CS. Some guys fucked up the welcoming and friendly experience that the website offers.

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32 Nora April 16, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Hi Gigi,
Hard to say if your host felt an isolated romantic connection to you, or if this is his standard procedure. But if you feel romantically interested in him, and if you both are communicating openly, then maybe it doesn’t matter….
And if you want to avoid this the next time around, maybe choose a different kind of CS host (like a family, or a woman). There are lots out there…..so I hope you don’t let this experience colour the whole CouchSurfing scene for you. Happy travels!

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