Being that I work in the field of HIV prevention and sexual health I oftentimes conduct outreach in venues that some would call seedy, disgusting and a shame before God. I visit places where sexual activities occur in a manner that would turn the stomachs of many and shock others. I sit in locales that promote sex on levels unbeknownst to those who only view sex as a purpose for reproduction. Many of these establishments appear to be places of innocent business, with average looking persons entering and exiting. However, in reality that are a hedonistic refuge where uninhibited sexual fantasies occur.
One of the places I provide HIV education is called a bathhouse. You may be asking 'what is a bath house?' and I am more than happy to share. A bath house or "all-male spa" is a legalized venue for men to have sex with men without fear or threat. It is a place where they can engage in random acts of sexual liberation and be themselves. A meeting ground where new acquaintances can be made and old ones resumed. It is more than just a sex club; it is an escape from the confines many have to live within. Here they are allowed to be themselves (if only for a few hours) away from a world where their natural desire is frowned upon. Yes, bath-houses are perceived to be the low-point of the gay experience, but that view is extremely debatable.
Follow me as I give you a glimpse of what goes on inside. Depending on the location a bathhouse (or, male spa) is full of amenities. Pools, Jacuzzi’s, steam rooms and saunas; many even have weights and other exercise equipment. One would assume that a person visiting is only there for sex; but, I have had the opportunity to engage in quite a few interesting conversations that enlightened me on things. You may wonder how that is possible in a space where a majority are only wearing a towel or in some cases nothing at all. However, it happens and the dialogue can cover a gamut of topics without even entering the sex-zone.
When it comes to the sexual escapades inside a bathhouse, I won't bore you with descriptive detail, but know that I have seen it all and nothing at this point amazes me. But, as one who is passionate about HIV education and prevention I have no problem providing education -and testing- where the rate of infection may be highest.
To women this topic may seem gross but, consider this, I could quite possibly be the guy who convinces your boyfriend, fiancé' or husband to use a condom with the gorgeous male stranger he is about to have sex with. I may be the man who notices his wedding ring and begins to make small talk about the risks he is putting his wife and unborn child in. I am the brother who is trying to save your life; so be glad I'm giving your "boo" a condom while he's here. Yes, I'm the cock-blocker (excuse the pun) you want as a friend.
A bigger question still remains; "Why don't men just be honest about their preference? Why is there a need for 'straight' men to venture into these types of establishments?" The answer is quite simple. Being gay, by most of the world's standards, is just not cool. No man wants to be called a punk, fag or sissy, especially when it's because he has a desire that is beyond his control. It's much easier to dwell in the dark underworld of all-male spas where the only ones who will see you are those who share the same secret. No man wants to lose his family, friends, job and respect behind a sexual desire; yet for some, those have been the casualties of being gay.
I can go on and on about how HIV is contracted and all the other blah blah blah, but the real issue is much deeper than this blog. The phobias, fears and ignorance that people still have about sexual orientation, sexual desire and sexual behaviors are not being talked about at the family meeting or church functions. It's easier to condemn and excommunicate someone than it is to try to get to the root of what is really going on.
I go, sit, hand out condoms and do my best to explain to these men the importance of being safe, I pray that they use them. There's nothing worse than hearing a brother say, "I would come out of the closet, but it ain't cool with my family," and then watch him walk into a room with a total stranger. We're talking about saving lives and believe it or not, gay people are worth saving as well. Nevertheless, all I can do is share knowledge and pray that I got through to your loved one: be it your son, sibling, father, or pastor. But yet again, I'm only one person and this is just one of many all-male spas.