Bel Deering 2013

University of Brighton, UK

The kiss of death: sex and love in the cemetery landscape

This paper explores the placing of sex in the landscape of disused burial grounds. Whilst legend-tripping literature considers graveyard sex as an intention-led activity aimed at raising the dead or invoking magic, my research uncovered a different facet of cemetery sex. Everyday conjugation in the sites I studied was driven by convenience, privacy and perhaps the edgework-esque thrill of heightened aliveness in a place of death.  In unpicking the experiences and opinions of research participants, I explore the tensions amongst the living, and between the living and the dead. Within this study there was no consensus amongst participants as to the acceptability of sex in the graveyard. Some felt it was disrespectful to the dead and their relatives, some thought the dead would not mind, and a few postulated that the deceased might even be flattered. Theories of heterotopia go some way to explaining this range of opinions and indeed why sex is ‘allowed’ at all in the cemetery. Within these heterotopic spaces of uncertainty and otherness, rules and norms are subject to flexure. My research found that as long as the norm-bending was within site-specific limits, illegal or unacceptable activities may be overlooked. Extrapolating from the example of sex in burials grounds, I conclude that a symbiosis exists between the spaces of the dead and the living, whereby the everyday is protected from aberrance by the seemingly abnormal spaces of death.


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract