Main | Thursday, January 04, 2007

Steam Heat

The old issue of sex in gyms has reared up in San Francisco after the Department of Public Health there observed men having sex in the steam room of Gold's Gym in the Castro, forcing them to order management to address the situation. In addition, men being screened for syphillis at the SF-DPH have reported sexual encounters in the Gold's steam room and members of the club have complained to management about sitting in semen. This story echoes an incident in 2005 when a member of Manhattan's David Barton Gym sued the club for $25,000, claiming it was allowing open sexual activity.

In 2005, when the Castro Gold's was last cited for sexual activity, the late Eric Rofes, a noted sociologist and member of the Castro Gold's, said it might be difficult for the gay men's community to reach consensus about sex in places not intended for sex, adding, ""You can't assume a population of gay men share a political vision of anything so broad. We are in a different moment in our understanding of the politics of gay men's sexuality."

In response to this latest situation, John Sellwood, Castro Gold's manager (and a gay man) took this action:

In addition to safe sex posters, Sellwood posted a sign in the men's locker room last month that began by asking the "gentlemen" for "help with your actions in the steam room. It's no surprise to anyone about what happens here and the Health Department visited me today to confirm this fact." Sellwood explained DPH's visit, the threat of possible closure of the steam room, and concludes by acknowledging, "Attraction is normal. It happens every day. I'm asking that you don't act on it on the premises. Please."

The reasons that men have sex in public places are many and varied, of course. The closet, the convenience, the availability of partners, the cheating on their own. Not to mention the enormous aspect of the erotic thrill so many gay men enjoy when they convince themselves that the guy blowing them is "straight", and therefore "hotter" than other, most easily accessible partners, a sort of homophobia-laden cognitive dissonance that has always, always baffled me.

Some of my closest friends chase steam room sex on a daily basis with a ferocity that both appalls and impresses me. I try (but mostly fail) not to be a judgmental queen on this issue, as I do think that I'm very sex-positive and that gay men have the right to act on their attractions wherever it's appropriate. In my mind, "appropriate" means "wherever it won't upset others." Of course, some would argue that if you get upset seeing a blow-job in a Castro gym, then you are in the wrong gym. Perhaps, but does that license include all health clubs? From Chelsea to Chippewa Falls? We don't seem to know where the line is drawn, perhaps because somebody just shot their load on it.

RELATED: Janitors at NYC's Equinox health club chain just filed suit against the company, claiming they were "exposed to inappropriate, lewd, embarrassing and humiliating sexual behavior and activities occurring in the showers, saunas, steam and [men's] locker rooms" that they then had to clean up," resulting in a hostile working environment.

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