Dylan B Jones on the ins and outs (so to speak) of the gay sauna scene
Just before Christmas, Vada’s very own dashing young cultural commentating chronicler Jonathan Pizarro posted an opinion piece in the Hello Neverland series on gay men and saunas. Amongst other things, he questioned the safety, validity, and socio-political implications of this saucily steamy pastime. But ultimately he simply asked, why?
Jonathan, I’m glad for your sake you put this question to our readers, rather than putting it to me at a house party. I’d have slid off the kitchen counter, spilled half a plastic tumbler of rum down your shirt, jabbed you in the chest and slurred “Why NOT?”
A mantra I’ve always enjoyed shoving in people’s faces to justify my sexual exploits (not ‘sexploits’ I’m not Katie Price) is that NOTHING is off limits as long as you’re safe, it’s consensual, you’re doing it for the right reasons, and you’re not hurting anyone emotionally, or physically, unless that’s what they want and you have a safe word.
And this glib little globule of self-important claptrap applies particularly well to the subject of saunas. One of the best things about living in a comparatively liberal, comparatively secular nation is not having to explain or justify our sexual behaviour.
Apart from anything else there’s no time for it. Who cares, we’ve got better things to do. I don’t need to delve into the psychosexual implications of why I sucked off a drag queen last night, or why I saw my ex making out with my old best friend from uni, or why I went to a sauna and spent a few poppers-fogged hours with a lovely man named Jon (no ‘h’). I haven’t got time for quiveringly frantic shame-filled introspection. I’m living my fucking life. I’ve got Oyster cards to top up, I’ve got Z-list female rappers to interview, I’ve got statuses to post.
Sex in any form is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, and there’s no reason why gay saunas shouldn’t be visible to the public. In fact, they should probably be more visible. The more out in the open places like saunas are, the more understood and less stigmatised they’ll be. We don’t want them pushed underground and end up with mazes of steaming illegal vaults under London, Arab princes smoking opium and algae dripping from the walls (although actually that does sound quite fun).
For those who didn’t know or somehow haven’t already gathered, a gay sauna is a euphemism for a place where gay men go to have sex. There’s something quite grown-up about the whole affair in that, once inside, no-one makes any pretences that its function is anything else. There’s no buying each other drinks or rabbiting on about how Azealia Banks is more edgy than Angel Haze. You pay a cover charge, shove your clothes in a locker, then go and fuck someone in a booth about the size of a swimming pool changing room.
There are usually dance remixes playing out of fairly decent soundsystems, with coffee, soft drinks, and of course condoms and lube all readily available. They’re also all equipped with facilities you’d expect in an actual sauna or health spa. If it’s one of the more reputable establishments there might be a swimming pool, jacuzzis, a plant pot or two. I went to one with a waterslide once; it was fun and incongruous in equal measure.
In terms of the men who frequent them, it’s a complete mixed bag. It probably depends on factors like location and time of day. On my few visits to saunas, it’s only been to ones in Central London very late at night (or very early in the morning) on weekends. In my experience the age range can be anywhere from 18 to 50, with the majority of guys probably being in their late twenties to early thirties. They’re all mixed nationalities, races and body types, but that’s completely useless information really because it’s true of the clientele of any gay venue in London. Probably of any Starbucks in London too.
It also doesn’t always have to be about sex. I once met a lovely young Swedish photographer called Sven (of course). We didn’t click sexually but sat in the jacuzzi for hours and talked, about history, politics, amusing cultural differences between our two nations. In the morning we went for eggs at The Breakfast Club, and a few months later he helped me out on a photoshoot for the magazine I was working for. We still speak regularly.
A lot of men go for an escape. Maybe from their hectic jobs or difficult, perhaps abusive home lives. Some go just for sex, which is absolutely fine. My friends and I go to have fun. Whether that involves splashing around in swimming pools, shamelessly debauched encounters in booths with muscular backing dancers, or friendly chats in jacuzzis. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s never even occurred to any of us that there would be.
If you have any comments or questions, leave them below in that comment box there, tweet me @dylanbjones or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading! Play safe!