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A few recent headlines have revealed an odd new trend: nudity vandalism.

The Egyptian government recently denounced a pornographic video that turned up online that had been shot a year ago in the shadows of the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. It was apparently made by Russian-speaking tourists. Egyptian newspapers found out about it last month and printed some censored stills, causing public outrage. The Minister of Antiquities vowed to prosecute the guerilla strippers. But of course, they are long gone and unlikely to be found.

Similar consternation emerged in Cambodia, where the Phnom Penh Post reported a "spate" of naked photos being taken at the Angkor Wat temple. The Cambodian government has recently deported several American and French tourists – all female – for taking naked pictures at Buddhist temples.

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Immediately following these stories, we had our own Canadian public-sex scandal: the cam-girl who got caught broadcasting her live sex shows from between the stacks of a Windsor, Ont., public library. The library is not exactly a holy site, but it's certainly respectable, and the choice of the most straitlaced of environments for a sexy subversion is no accident.

Flashing for photos in front of major tourist sites has become common: Peru, for example, has had to crack down on streakers at Machu Picchu, which was also once a religious site.

There are a few motivations for national-monument flashing, and they are not all very well thought-out. When the roller-coaster rider raises her top to flash her boobs for a security camera, she is expressing a kind of abandon that is meant to match the extreme experience. And she is trying to be naughty in a moon-the-neighbour kind of way; there is a smidgen of hostility to her fellow suburbanites, especially amid the family-targeted branding of an amusement park. It's an intentional disruption of the place's respectability, not unlike graffiti. And like graffiti, it's difficult to remove – once online, your naked body is forever superimposed over whatever monument or shrine you chose to mock. One can see how the guardians of certain holy sites can see this non-erasable association as a kind of vandalism.

I asked friends on social media whether any of them had enjoyed similar documented exhibitions. One woman, who wanted to be anonymous, said, "My husband took a picture of me mooning the city of Toronto, on the roof of a parking lot in Yorkville. The mooning felt good, like flipping a finger toward the conservatism that is Toronto."

One media professional wrote to me to say that she had been a cam-girl in her 20s and had done a lot of nude posing for photos inside university buildings. "At the time it felt cheeky to be in a solemn, elitist, academic place making porn. It was before I went to grad school, so I felt very separate from university life." She added that some of her exhibitionism was explicitly ideological as well: She and her girlfriends would make out in commonly toured sites, such as Parliament Hill, just to scandalize the squares.

A parallel but non-pornographic movement in photography is "infiltration." Its practitioners gain illicit access to buildings, usually abandoned or dangerous (power plants, radio towers) and take photos to document their entry and climbing skills. It is not uncommon to bring along a naked model to pose against the crumbling brickwork or toxic waste barrels. (The model is always female and slim, of course – for a bunch of risk-taking guys, they have pretty conservative ideas.) These artists think of themselves as transgressive as well, even if their transgression is only to disobey a rusting "No Trespassing" sign.

But boob-flashing selfies in front of tourist checkpoints – Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Grand Canyon – are less obviously artistic or political in intent. There are whole soft-core websites devoted to "nude in public." National monuments recur there.

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One wonders if there is anything to these poses but a desire to stand out on social media. Nudity in tourist snaps is a gag, a way of linking a series of travels with one motif. It's rather like the garden gnome who travels the world and sends back pictures of itself in front of the Taj Mahal and the Brandenburg Gate. Or like Matt Harding, the guy who made the popular YouTube videos of himself dancing badly in exotic locales around the world.

Most touring exhibitionists have no real desire to desecrate a sacred site, but they may be insensitive to local customs, as tourists often are. ("Angkor Wat is so beautiful and spiritual, you know, we just felt so free there!")

Was the Windsor library cam-girl attempting a deliberate desecration? It's interesting that libraries are a common location for sex-cam shows. (A quick keyword search of sex-cam sites with the word "library" – all in the name of research – will prove this. The sexy librarian is a porn trope as hackneyed as the French maid.) This is because libraries are obviously erotic places. One spends hours in there alone in silence reading books, an activity known to inflame. The purely cerebral for hours on end makes one crave the physical. And solemn places require a symbolic defiling.

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