When two men are negotiating a sexual encounter or even compatibility to date, the phrase “What are you into?” will inevitably come from one or both.. Quite often in “Grindr” chat, this is shortened to be simply “into?” — just like ships used cyphers (flags) to communicate, we gay men have our own way to communicate sexual preferences and proclivities. It’s called the Hanky Code.

Originating in the early 1970’s in either New York or San Francisco (let’s not even try to settle that debate), the hanky code is a system of signaling sexual preferences, fetishes, and roles by choosing to wear a specifically colored bandana on a particular side of the body. With just a glance at your rear end, (the bandana being tucked in your back pocket) anyone who is in-the-know will know what you’re “into!”

So how do you know which color to wear, and where to wear it? The first critical variable is the side of the body on which you choose to wear your colors, because this signals your preferred role:

  • Left side of the body = Top/Dominant Role
  • Right side of the body = Bottom/Submissive Role

As a way to remember which is which, consider that we read left to right, so left comes first. Similarly, the top/dominant role is primary, with the bottom/submissive being secondary. Therefore, when “reading” the backside of a hanky-wearing man, if he’s wearing it on the side that “comes first,” he identifies as top/dominant, and if it’s on the side that “comes second,” he’s bottom/submissive.

The second signal is the color you wear, which specifies the scene or sex act you are seeking. This is where it can get complicated, depending on your source of information, but we will keep it simple with some agreed-upon basics:

  • Black = S&M
  • Dark Blue = Anal sex
  • Light Blue = Oral sex
  • Brown = Scat
  • Green = Hustler/prostitution
  • Grey = Bondage
  • Purple = Piercing
  • Red = Fisting
  • Yellow = Watersports
  • Orange = Anything goes

For those who like to keep their options open and/or reject all of this with a flat “I don’t like labels,” take note of the flexibility inherent in this system: You can change your colors as quickly as your mood shifts, wear several colors at once, switch sides if you change your mind, and for the truly versatile, why not wear the same color hanky in both pockets to indicate your openness to different roles!

The Hanky Code For Gay Men, Gay Sex, Palm Springs

Obviously some thought and logic went into the system of choosing which colors represent which scenes, and if you check out this expanded reference, you’ll see the system specialized even further. Some interesting examples:

  • Dark Green = Daddy/Boy Scene (a relative of the hustler green?)
  • Light Pink = Dildos (they’re often that color)
  • Dark Pink = Nipple Torture (might make them that color)
  • Fushcia = Spanking (rosy cheeks)
  • Rust = A Cowboy (ruddy complexion)
  • Khaki = Military Sex (naturally)
  • Gold Lamé = Muscleboys (think Rocky Horror)
  • Mosquito Netting = Outdoor Sex (that’s just being pragmatic)

Herein lies the potential for confusion: with at least six different blues and six different pinks, can you really know you’re seeing the same color intended by the wearer? Just ask! Maybe this is the best thing about the hanky code: it’s an icebreaker and a conversation starter. In a world where we often seek compatible playmates through online profile photos, negotiating that spark of attraction in person, with the help of a low-tech system, could be a refreshing return of old-school ingenuity.