The birds and the bees sex off the beach at Coney Island

Although its relationship to the trope of "external nature" is less obvious than that of animals, disasters and freaks, the clever manipulation of human sexuality played an enormously important role in Coney's formative history, as several commentators have noted. "It is clear from the descriptions of the time that one of the most important aspects of Coney Island was the way its entrepreneurs commodified sex as mass entertainment", notes Carlin (1989:10), while Snow remarks that "Coney's clang and glitter always had a current of sexuality running through it" (1984:15).

The overcrowded beaches and the debauchery of the Bowery were not the only factors which helped to earn Coney Island the scandalous moniker "Sodom by the Sea". Many of the rides themselves—particularly those commissioned by Tilyou at Steeplechase—were specifically designed to heighten heterosexual tension and create a space for the public transgression of sexual mores. The ride for which Steeplechase was named allowed a man and woman to snuggle together in double saddles astride wooden horses that "raced" round a track in imitation of the real thing. The exit from the Steeplechase ride led patrons through the Insanitorium and Blowhole Theater, a stage where couples would be poked, prodded, and generally humiliated slap-stick style by park actors while compressed air shooting up from holes in the floor would send a woman's skirts sailing over her head—a near-scandal in the first decade of the twentieth century—to the raucous amusement of the audience members, who had just endured the same ordeal themselves (Adams 1991:45; Stanton 1999). Moreover, many of the Tilyou's rides, including Barrel of Fun (which was the only entrance to the park itself), the Earthquake Stairway, the Dew Drop, the Whichway, the Human Roulette Wheel, and the Wedding Ring, were designed to throw riders off balance and into each other's arms. Human sexuality was an integral part of Tilyou's rides, shows, and spatial forms.

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