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What happens inside a gay bathhouse?

Here’s why we still need gay bathhouses.

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I caught up with Chris Amos, from London gay sauna Pleasuredrome, to talk about why gay bathhouses still matter.

With the rise of hook-up apps, there was a sense that the days of the gay sauna or bathhouse were finished. Why do you think that saunas like Pleasuredrome continue to have a role to play in the lives of gay men?

The rise of hook-up apps has impacted on the gay social scene - especially bars and clubs. However the sauna scene is still flourishing, perhaps even more so. A lot of people are actually using the apps inside the sauna, or to meet at Pleasuredrome as it’s much safer to meet here than go to someone’s flat. Also, in London, many people share their flats - if you want to hook up privately and can’t take them home, Pleasuredrome offers deluxe pods which provide an alternative to expensive hotel rooms.

Men come to Pleasuredrome for all sorts of reasons. Some come after going out, on their way to or from work, some men prefer to not use apps. Lots of visitors to London come too, some men just come to relax and enjoy the facilities.

Plus, in the sauna you can see other guys in the flesh, and hook-up there and then.

Has the way that gay men use saunas like Pleasuredrome evolved in recent years?

With the rise of apps, and the credit crunch that hit the UK in 2008, there has been an erosion of the gay scene, with less venues to visit. But Pleasuredrome is an institution in the centre of London. We never close - we’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As venues have closed, more and more men have been trying out Pleasuredrome. Plus, we’ve noticed a younger crowd coming in since we’ve offered a discount for under-25s.

We’ll soon be expanding Pleasuredrome to make the spa 50 percent bigger. This will enable us to open an additional 22 deluxe pods - with TV, power points to recharge mobiles, and controllable lighting. We’re also very excited about creating Britain’s first steam maze. A brand new stone spa pool with unique water features will also be added.

What sort of guys go to a sauna like Pleasuredrome?

There’s a lot of diversity in London, and this is reflected in the guests that we have. We get young guys, older guys, bisexual guys, married men, guys wanting to experiment, tourists, all nationalities, jocks, slim guys. We have a very open policy and welcome all guys.

What days of the week and times of day are the busiest at Pleasuredrome?

During the week, we’re busiest between 4 PM and 9 PM. On Fridays, we’re packed from 4 PM to very late, and Saturdays from 4 PM all the way through to Sunday morning and Sunday afternoons. We always have guests.

Is a London sauna, like Pleasuredrome, different in any way to saunas that I might find in other cities around the world?

Pleasuredrome is different to other London saunas, as we focus on offering the best facilities - steam rooms, saunas, spa pool - and keep these clean and well-maintained. With the expansion, we really are aiming to be one of the world’s great saunas. The steam maze will be an experience. The owners have visited saunas across the globe and will incorporate the best of what they’ve seen into the Pleasuredrome expansion.

Do you ever have any shows or performances at Pleasuredrome?

We never do special parties or theme nights - despite many requests from promoters to do so. We’ve found that the few times we did special events, it put off our regular clientele. Our priority is to always offer a clean, safe environment for our guests - an experience that every time that they visit, they know what to expect, no surprises. At Pleasuredrome, you always know it will be busy, you’re welcome, and you know what you’re going to get.

If I’ve never been to a sauna before, but I’m interested in trying it out, what advice or guidance would you give?

Going to a sauna can be daunting experience for first-timers, which is part of the thrill of the experience. There’s a degree of freedom and relaxation that can’t be found elsewhere. So many men to meet and see in the flesh, as opposed to navigating fake profiles and constant messaging on dating apps -  here, you can see for yourself. Most guys are surprised how friendly people are. There aren’t too many men who only come once and never come back - that says a lot.

Read more from Gareth Johnson

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Arts & Culture

Outdoors Cruising: the art behind the bushes

On a quest for anonymous and casual sex? ‘Cruising’ is not dead!

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outdoors cruising antonio da silva
© Still from "Cruising in the Park", Antonio da Silva (Edited)

Outdoors cruising is not dead!

We have all heard stories of the ‘old days’, before mobile apps and even gay bars, when homosexuality was a taboo – and in many countries illegal – outdoors cruising was the only way for gay men to be able to find a sexual encounter.

Nowadays, homosexuality is no longer criminal in most of the western world and technology is here to stay. Socialising with our friends or acquaintances behind a screen and finding a sexual partner has never been easier. But some still prefer the rush and the forbidden pleasure of a casual outdoors hook up with a random stranger.

If you think that the rise of new technologies and that the closure of gay adult entertainment venues is killing cruising – think again.

outdoors cruising couple

© Still from “Cruising in the Park“, Antonio da Silva

From underground culture to art

Outdoors cruising has been source of inspiration for many artists, Touko Laaksonen (a.k.a. Tom of Finland) being one of the most recognisable names exploring the artistic potential of cruising.

Many young artists have proved that this element of the sexuality of gay men is alive, well and more popular than ever and their artwork exhibited in screens and galleries all over the world.

A brilliant example of that new generation of artists is Antonio da Silva – a young award-winning Portuguese experimental filmmaker that explores the hidden side of homoerotic culture in a voyeuristic and indie way.

On his official site he explains:

“I have always been fascinated by male sex and sexuality. I became increasingly frustrated with how moving image explored this and have begun to make it the subject of my films over the last three years. I do not consider myself a pornographer but a filmmaker who use my background to choreograph short films with explicit sex themes.”

Since 2011, when he launched his first short film “Mates” – an intimate view into the world of online hook ups – Antonio has been exploring many current themes of the gay culture such as fetish, voyeurism and, of course, outdoors cruising.

Each film is a mystic combination of sound, image and movement that captivates the viewer from the first second and has granted him a space in some of the most wanted film festivals all over the world.

From the ‘hidden camera’ documentary style of Bankers, the dance-based choreographic scenes of Dancers, to the futuristic – and almost stroboscopic – view into the world of online gay sex of Spunk, Antonio keeps experimenting and delighting his viewers with the most captivating homoerotic short films.

“Cruising in the Park” – a sensorial immersion into the cruising scene

On his most recent work – “Cruising in the Park” – Antonio teamed up with Fabio Lopes to take us on a journey into the world of outdoors cruising. Moving away from the mainstream staged pornographic cinematography, it combines low angle and close up shots with a real audio experience and narrative giving us a sensation of first-person experience.

And, if just like me, you are a massive fan of movie/series adaptation of dark themed comic books like Jessica Jones and Watchmen, you will fall in love with Rodrigo Penalosa’s deep voiced narrator’s commentary throughout the film.

Don’t believe me, then watch the trailer (NSFW) below:

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