The pursuit of dogging can be furtive and fumbling - but then so is the law around it as S.S.Bal finds.

Even the seasoned dogger experiences stomach knots when the car slows to a halt in a semi-deserted car park. The excitement of the unknown is part of the pleasure of course. A warm night, a hot couple and an appreciative audience. But what if part of the unknown is the police officer who might have joined that audience?

Well, there's still no particular reason to panic and the more brazen among you might wish to continue with panties at half mast. But it's panties up fast if the officer is there to investigate a complaint. As with most illegal incidents, a complaint made to the police will invoke the power of the law.

Yes, weighty legislation does exist in the form of the Sexual Offences Act (SOA) 2003 but it doesn't specifically address dogging, let alone attempt to define it. Instead it relies on the offences of exposure and voyeurism to potentially stop your fun.

Section 66 of the SOA looks at the offence of exposure while s67 and s68 stakes out voyeurism. Section 66(1) stipulates that an offence is committed if an individual "intentionally exposes his genitals and he intends that someone will see them AND be caused alarm or distress."

The first part of this is standard dogging practice ie. that genitals are exposed with the intention of being seen. It's the "and" provision that needs attention because, let's face it, causing "alarm or distress" isn't a sociable pursuit. It's unclear whether the poor guy cursed with the snake-like cock should be criminalised for alarming watchers by virtue of his enviable size. Luckily, the law isn't concerned with envy - what it is concerned with is protecting unsuspecting members of the public from your, er, suspect member. The law has a point. Clearly, dark and dirty deeds should be kept out of sight of those who might accidentally witness them and didn't wish to, especially unwitting kids and parents.

For responsible doggers exercising a modicum of common sense there's no reason that they should fall foul of s.66 of the SOA. Dogging isn't an activity that you suddenly decide to take up to while away your night after watching mid-week Coronation Street. Some research is assumed about where the designated dogging spots are in your area. Knowing this not only increases your chances of action but, importantly, it avoids you being a s.66 casualty.

The alternative ie. not doing your research, could lead you into unwelcome areas. For straying into murky woodland to witness couples in passion could lead you straying into the even murkier s.67 of the SOA.

Under s.67(1) of the SOA the offence of voyeurism is committed if the watcher "for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification" observes another doing a private act, and he knows that the other person does not consent to being observed for his sexual gratification.

Again, this is quite simple to get around if you know where your local dogging spots are. Couples who are enthusiastically shagging away on the bonnet of a car would hardly claim that they didn't consent to being watched, particularly when there's a queue of applicants waiting to join in.

The problem lies with the Mr Bean approach to dogging. Yes, that couple in the car are coupling. But before you saunter over, ponder some questions. Are other people congregated around the car? Are any of the common signals at work eg. flashing headlights beckoning you closer? In short, do you know - or care - that they want to be watched? If the answers are negative and you still choose to make an approach then you richly deserve the s.67 that you might be awarded. The prospective smack on the mouth is an optional extra.

For those who have worked out that genuine dogging action is under way there are still potential pitfalls. Sections 67(2) and (3) SOA make it an offence to record the action without the consent of the performers. This is no time to test the picture resolution of your new Nokia camera phone.

The law comprises statutory law - enacted by Parliament - and "common law" which is composed largely of precedents decided by judges in court. Doggers should be aware of the common law offence of "outraging public decency".

Under s.320 of the Criminal Justice Act, this offence is "triable either way" - a bit like a creative dogger - and conviction brings a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment and/or a £5,000 fine.

"Outraging public decency" is a subjective concept. We wouldn't expect the readers to be "outraged" by the sight of a couple (and friends) fucking with the fervour a 2012 Olympic heat. Of course, the reality is that there's a time and a place and Skeggy beach during the afternoon isn't it.

Complaints by members of the public trigger the legal process so don't ask for trouble by pitching up near residential areas or similar where you might be spotted by the blue-rinse biddy out walking her poodle.

To summarise, Swinger Meets advocates the SHAG help guide to would-be doggers. Use the SHAG acronym to avoid an acrimonious time; S is for Safety and sense - make sure you (and partner) know what's involved before you set out and don't compromise your safety by hoping that the nearest dark site with cars is a dogging site. Sexual safety should be organised before you leave. It's risky hoping that someone else will have a stash of condoms and it's a real momentum killer getting people to forage through their pockets too close to playtime.

H is for Homework - with websites like Swinger Meets featuring practical advice and forums on dogging there's no excuse for not doing your research. Even seasoned doggers would do well to cast an eye over the status of updated lists of dogging sites. Remember, areas can fall out of favour and so can you if it turns out that you're trespassing.

A is for Approach - on arrival at the site don't just stride over and assume it's all up for grabs. If you're a couple intent on putting on a show assess the situation first. How many cars are there? Do you really want them all screeching towards you when you give the signal? It's essential to set the ground rules and manage the situation, especially when you have half a dozen guys waiting with testosterone spilling from their ears. Harness their horniness and control it for your comfort zone.

G is for "Go for it" - after all, with the above in place you've minimised the risks and should be rewarded with the freedom to creak those car axles to your horny heart's content.

Before we go, let's spare a thought for the police. Unless you breach the SHAG code they won't really be interested in your activities. If a police officer becomes too interested in your activities then help him with the cautionary tale of a Bristol PC.

The bristol PC's alleged crime? Joining in with a couple who were having sex in a car park near Weston-super-Mare while he was on duty. His punishment? Dismissal on the grounds of misconduct. He reportedly "strongly denied" the allegation and claimed he would appeal against the decision.

lot of ladies love a man in uniform but if you find yourself in this situation do make sure he's off duty - for both your sakes! For more information on this read the full story here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/bristol/5345518.stm