A British former soldier and openly gay man, James Wharton, said that if the LGBT community wants to be accepted as normal, it’s time for gay bathhouses to be “history.”
In a column published in the launch issue of Winq magazine, Wharton states, “Sex saunas need to be history. The time has come to close them down.”
He also calls saunas “thorns in our side that mark our community as different for the wrong reasons.”
“If we don’t [close them], we feed the haters and we hand the bigots who remain a vocal minority ammunition with which to attack us.”
He continues, “For me as a gay man, the notion that there exist within our communities a series of places that actively promote the convening of gay men for participation in sex of shades various and in groups of all sizes rather revolts me – and I‘ve been round the block a few times, believe me.
“I’m no prude, not even close, but the days when we gathered in clandestine fashion for the want of a network or a sexual outlet are surely long gone.”
The clinical director for Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), Jason Warriner, told The Independent that following Wharton’s suggestion would “make it more difficult for organizations like Terrence Higgins Trust to provide safer sex information, supply condoms and deliver HIV testing services among groups at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections and HIV,” while having almost no impact on the behavior of those who frequent the saunas.
LGBT activist Peter Tatchell also pointed out that regardless of orientation, visiting such an establishment is a matter of choice: “It would be very wrong if the gay community became proscriptive and moralistic over consenting adult behavior.
“Plenty of gay and bisexual men use saunas without resorting to drugs or unsafe sex. A small minority may act recklessly and that should be challenged but it would be wrong to penalize the majority.”
The article resulted in such a backlash that Wharton wrote an opinion piece for Gay Star News to clarify his position.
“I’m not judging people on what they do sexually,” he writes. “But I am concerned they are not sufficiently aware of the dangers they face.”
He points out that “42% of people living with HIV in the UK are based in London,” a statistic gotten from the THT itself, and adds, “they do lots of excellent work via saunas in mitigating against the risks people run. This is vital and I hugely admire the organization for doing it.
“But those statistics from THT show there is a massive problem despite these fantastic efforts.”
He also quotes the THT in stating that the number Londoners seeking HIV-related healthcare has gone up 76 percent in the past decade, and 22 percent of people living with it in London don’t know it.
Consequently, Wharton says, he wants them closed “not least because of the sexual health impact they have.”
He adds, “And, for the record, I also support the closure of straight saunas.”
Wharton concludes that on the subject of HIV, “complacency is not an option. We have to acknowledge we are simply more at risk and therefore need to evaluate what we do, and try to address how we can start to defeat it. At the moment, we are simply not doing this enough.”