Majority of gay population has never been to a gay sauna in their lives. Some of them have very negative opinion about what happens in a gay sauna. Let’s try to answer that question and maybe change their perception.
Different parts of the world are grappling with the logistics of Covid-19 in different ways. One of the businesses hit hardest has been gay bathhouses, saunas, and sex-on-premises venues.
Due to the nature of the business and the layout of the premises, it’s difficult for gay bathhouses to comply with social distancing requirements. Having sex (gay or straight) and “social distancing” just cannot fit together.
What is a gay sauna?
Gay saunas – which are also referred to as gay bathhouses and sex-on-premises venues – are the venues where guys go to have sexual encounters with other guys. However, there are differences.
A sex-on-premises venue are usually fairly basic. Some sort of a space where guys can have sex. On the other hand the full spa and steam-room in a gay sauna is experience inspired by the Ancient Greeks.
Why are saunas impacted by social distance regulations?
Different cities and countries have different rules. Only some saunas are able to adapt their facilities more easily than others.
The easiest comparison to make is with gyms. All businesses with locker-rooms, shared equipment, showers, and steam-rooms. If you’re running a gym, you have to be able to demonstrate ability of managing the infection risk. That rule applies for protecting your employees and your guests.
For saunas, that means you need to have tight controls over the number of people coming in. You also need extra cleaning, and to demonstrate that you’re putting in the systems required to meet whatever local guidelines your business needs to follow.
Saunas have traditionally been fairly anonymous places. They’re frequented by all sorts of guys – including guys who are closeted or don’t identify as gay. Providing of personal information isn’t generally something that you’d expect to do at a bathhouse. In many countries and cities businesses have to get personal information from their guests. It is required for a contact tracing if someone is infected.
Another challenge with saunas is that they’re generally not the most modern of buildings. They could be situated over a number of floors and they’re generally cramped spaces. They are designed for bringing guys together not keeping them apart. Most of Sydney gay saunas are located in old buildings redesigned for that purpose.
The other aspect with gay saunas is that the reason that you’re going there is to get hot and sweaty with other guys. At a gym, you’re going there to work out. In a bathhouse, you’re going there to get naked and have sex. In most cases with guys you don’t know and will probably never see again.
What’s the history of gay bathhouses?
Bathhouses - or saunas, as they’re generally referred to in the UK and Australia – aren’t a new thing.
The Ancient Greeks were obviously a big fan, but communal bathing is something that can be found in most parts of the world. Of course, anywhere where there’s guys getting naked, you’re going to find guys getting off with each other.
We tend to get detailed historical records of bathhouses when something has gone wrong or there’s been some trouble or drama. Places such as Florence in 1492, when there was a crackdown on sodomy that was targeted at bathhouses. Also, Paris in 1876, when there was a police raid on a bathhouse and six men – aged 14–22 – were charged with offenses against public decency. In New York in 1903, police raided a bathhouse and arrested 26 men – charging a number with the offense of sodomy.
The style of bathhouse that we’re familiar with today began to emerge in New York and London in the early 20th century. They deliberately took their inspiration from the Ancient Greeks.
It was the late 1960s and 1970s in the US when gay bathhouses came into their own. This was around the same time as the concept of gay liberation began to build momentum.
Gay saunas survived quite many challenges
While the devastation caused by HIV to the gay community around the world also impacted saunas and bathhouses, sex-on-premises venues continue to play an important part in the lives of many gay men. Even the emergence of location-based hook-up apps hasn’t made saunas redundant. They are often a preferred meeting point once you have connected with someone online. Like a neutral ground.
Today, in most major cities, you’ll be able to find a gay sauna.
Bathhouses continue to play a really important role in creating a space where men can get together, get naked, and get off. And, quite frankly, most of them provide decent level of hygiene, free condoms and posters with calling for being responsible and respectable.
What type of guys go to a gay bathhouse or sauna?
Honestly, all types of people. From young to old, body-conscious to comfortable. Everyone from proud gay men, to young guys beginning to explore. And to guys who need to exercise a bit of discretion. What they have all got in common is that they’re looking for sex, for an encounter, for intimacy. Majority of them is there because they do not want any relationship with their partner in sex. However, it does not apply for all. If you find someone that you really like, consider offering him to get to your pad. It might work. And cost you nothing. Except for the entry ticket.
What happens in a gay bathhouse or sauna?
Unlike sex on premises venues, gay saunas give you a locker and a towel. You take all your clothes off and put everything in the locker, then wrap the towel around you. Very simple. There are showers located close to the entry. It is not compulsory but is usual that you take a shower before start “cruising”.
Generally there will be a shower area, a steam room, a hot tub, a dry sauna, and a series of cubicles.
A good starting point is to have a shower first and then get your bearings as to the layout of the venue. Giving yourself a bit of a tour of the venue is also a great way to scope out who else is there.
After your shower, if you’re not sure where to start, head for the hot-tub or the porn room. These are usually good meeting points where other guys will be congregating and looking for action. These are also spots where you can see other people better than in some dark rooms.
You hang out, you wander around, you make conversation. If you connect with a guy, or more than one guy, then you have sex. No one forces you to do anything, no one is forced to do anything. All saunas I have ever visited also had some sort of café where you could socialize. Do not ask me how many I have visited please. I honestly do not know. Eh…
Why do we need gay saunas?
Some people seem to have a perception of saunas as representative of a time when being gay was something to be kept hidden, when encounters between guys were illicit and a little bit dangerous. Why do we need saunas now that we have marriage equality? Why do we need saunas now that gay men can create ‘normal’ families like everyone else?
Having great sex is one of the huge advantages of being a gay man. Being able to meet up with other guys and have hassle-free sex is fantastic. Having no-strings sex doesn’t make you a bad person. It just simply helps satisfy the sexual needs that all men have.
Going to a sauna doesn’t have to involve any compromise of whatever committed relationship you are in. A lot of couples will go to a sauna together, not necessarily to have sex with other people but just to spice things up a bit.
Being a bit sexually adventurous is one of the great things about being gay and sex-on-premises venues are an important part of our community and our identity. However, if there is to make a choice between sex on premises or saunas – I would always chose sauna.
We’re hoping that it will be possible for them to return to business before too long. Like, seriously. We’re missing a solid session at the sauna.