How to Not Be Creepy in Public

Recently we had a Krampus event in the town where I live and it was pretty impressive. And yet – in spite of the awesomeness of the larger than life Krampus figures showing children (and adults) what happens when one is naughty or nice – I was dealing with another issue. Not a Krampus, but a Creeper.

You see, there was a long procession that involved the crowd of people who had come to see the Krampus actually get to walk along a pathway with the various Krampus and angels. My two friends from work and I were part of the throng.

But so was this one man. He kept popping up alongside me and, often when he did, he would stare uncomfortably (for me) at my breasts to the point where – even though I was warm from all the walking – I eventually felt compelled to zip up my hoodie just to feel like what was mine was really mine. The whole experience bugged me. I was there to be a part of my first Krampus experience (I love learning about traditions from other cultures, especially ones involving Christmas) and yet there I was, nervously scanning the crowd so that I could try to keep an eye on this man and make sure I could keep my distance from him. Plus, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was familiar to me in some way until I realized, after quite a while, that he had ogled me at an event about 10 years earlier. At the earlier time, he had shown up wearing chainmail and would approach, and yet not approach, me and my friends. Rather he had stood fairly close to us and stared at us in ways that creeped each of us out.

Maybe he likes staring at people like that, but I doubt it’s winning him many friends. Which is why I thought it might be good to go over a few basic rules of how to not be creepy in public because sometimes men in particular ask me about this. They often want to know how to express sexual interest in someone in an appropriate way that might get them somewhere other than a protective order.

A few tips, then: If you’re interested in someone, try to make eye contact and hold it for a second or two (but not 5 or 10 Mississippi seconds; that starts to get creepy). Try smiling, too; it may help you to look approachable. If you’re genuinely interested, you can even walk up and introduce yourself. But if the person you’re interested in dismisses you, accept the rejection and move on. There’s no point in trying to make someone like you if they don’t like you.

The man who’s ogled me twice in a decade did several things wrong, in my opinion:

First, he stayed largely on the periphery, but every time I was able to spot him he was typically staring at me for strange amounts of time. He didn’t smile except in that creepy 10% smile way (not a happy smile, but a creeper smile). And he spent far too much time looking at my breasts (3-5 Mississippis is too long for a stranger). The one time he decided to speak to me, it was full of sexual innuendos. When I expressed disinterest, he kept up the creepy stares from a distance.

Being creepy isn’t good for anyone. It doesn’t help you meet people. It may give you a reputation. And it may freak people (like me) out, changing their otherwise relaxed evening into one in which they feel perpetually on guard and watchful, scanning the crowd (which in itself can promote mixed signals; after all, he may have saw me scan the crowd and interpreted it as a sign of interest, whereas I was simply trying to keep an eye out for where he was so that I could avoid being in his path yet again). With a little effort to try and make conversation and/or to engage with others (rather than zero in on one particular person in a creepy way) you may be able to make the kinds of connections you want, without being off-putting.

Good luck out there! And beware the Krampus.

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About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at

  • Sam Sabri

    Staring at breasts for more than any Mississippis is way too long if it’s a stranger. Oh, and thanks for reminding me about the Krampus. I grew up in Swizterland and had almost forgotten those parades… almost.