Love & Sex

London’s Gay Saunas: A Guide

Look at the website of any gay sauna in the world and they’ll either describe themselves as ‘the best’ or ‘the busiest’ - then you walk through the door and find the only cocks there are a couple of cockroaches getting it on in the grouting of the Jacuzzi. gives you the real lowdown on London’s finest ‘Gentlemen’s Health Spas’.

The Stable
Tucked away just off Covent Garden, this small but well-appointed sauna was formerly known as Saunabar. Why it’s now called The Stable is anyone’s guess – and the name itself does not necessarily guarantee a parade of horse hung hunks who can take your eye out at ten paces. The main space is a long bar complete with elegant seating and kind lighting; indeed, it rather resembles one of the more sophisticated gay bars – if you can imagine such a thing. Run a tab in between taking a dip in the giant Jacuzzi – the biggest one in any gay sauna in London, and retreating to one of the private cabins for some noisy action.

Chariots Vauxhall
Branches of Chariots used to be all over London – like a fast food chain - for fellatio. The Liverpool street venue, in east London, was for many years the largest sauna in the UK but sadly closed earlier this year to make way for yet another luxury hotel, which will probably just be used for much the same purpose: as a knocking shop – only for fat, middle-aged straight men. Chariots Vauxhall is now the flagship. Its boasts 500 lockers, a dark room and two vast saunas. The place is huge and popular with the clubbing crowd, however, the rigorous door searches and security’s tendency to march up and down the maze of corridors shining lights on the clientele to check they’re not doing anything they’re not supposed to is arguably a downside. But there’s something refreshingly liberating about falling out of here at 10am after a night of infinite shame to face the MI6 building which sits opposite.

One of London’s oldest gay saunas is just across the road from Waterloo train station, and yes, you guessed it – under a railway arch, meaning you can time your squirtathon with the roar of a commuter express overhead. Like European saunas, this one also has a bar (rare for London), complete with cheap doubles and a license to serve them 24 hours a day! There’s a 400-locker changing room, dark room, three saunas, a Jacuzzi and a plenty of private cabins – some of which you can rent by hour – much like some of the men you’ll find in these establishments.

Chariots Waterloo
Just around the corner from Pleasuredrome is Chariot’s only other London branch (it previously had venue in Streatham, south London, now also closed). There’s a 40-man sauna and 35 cabins, along with a mini-café which at least used to serve a reasonable lasagne, but to be fair anything tastes reasonable when you’ve been on a 12-hour bender – including the men.

Sailors Limehouse
After a night of wading through the great unwashed beards of east London’s hipsters, Sailors offers a much welcome bit of civilisation: a large TV lounge (which admittedly on a bad night can resemble the reception room of a retirement home), a 20-man Jacuzzi (if you can find 20 men you’re happy to swish around with) and two floors of cabins. The White Swan pub – an east end institution known for its fabulous drag acts – is close by, meaning that afterhours can bring a fine selection of east end rough trade.

Image: Courtesy of Sweatbox Soho

London saunas don’t come any better than Sweatbox. Situated in the throbbing heart of Soho – a short walk from the gay village – this gay owned and run establishment revolutionises the sauna experience: it’s a sauna and a gym rolled into one. Open 24 hours, seven days a week, you can join as a member or choose from a variety of passes letting you come and go as you please. Let’s face it, when we lie back in that steam room it’s not our pores we’re gagging to get opened. Whatever your taste, you’ll find the hottest guys here – often revved up and ready to go fresh from their workout. Brace yourself indeed!

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Love & Sex

Rekindling the flame

All relationships go through tough times, straight or gay. The trick is weathering them and coming out the other end – preferably stronger. Alex Hopkins takes a look at the ways you can avoid that ‘Brangelina’ breakup.

Get inventive in the bedroom
Once the sex goes, you know you’re in trouble. Hard questions are needed: do you still fancy one another? If not, why is there no longer an attraction? Try out some new tricks. Blindfold him with that floral tea-towel your auntie got you for Christmas or take up dogging/parking lot sex – get adventurous.

The reason most relationships fall apart is because people don’t talk to one another. Sharing your feelings is vital if you’re going to keep things alive. But brace yourself for some cold hard truths. Utter honesty is the ground zero you can rebuild from.

Create moments
Life and routine has taken over. All you both ever seem to do is work, and then you just plunk yourself in front of the TV each evening. Do something special once a week. Recreate the date nights from your early days together. Pretend you’re ‘courting’ again, as the straights said in the old days.

Pros and cons
What brought you together in the first place? What is keeping you together now? Sometimes a good dose of pragmatism is called for. What are the benefits of staying in this relationship? Ultimately, you need to look at the payoffs and decide whether it’s worth investing any more of your time here.

Get funny, get cheeky – even get bitchy. If it means you both find something to scream with laughter about, do it. Lighten things up. Laughing together is a quick, easy way of releasing pressure and getting rid of that anger.

Stop being boring
You know what they say about straights becoming boring once they’ve been together a few years, well it’s no different with gays. You’ve stopped seeing your friends, you’re spending your Sundays at the DIY store, and you’ve now got three cats who you talk to more than one another. It’s time to get back into the real world. Reconnect with others, take up some new interests – together.

When did you stop telling him he looked hot? If you’ve stopped getting compliments from him, it’s probably because you’ve stopped giving them. You’re taking one another for granted; neither of you are making the effort to make one another feel attractive anymore, which of course, increases the probability that you’ll go seeking that extra frisson outside your relationship. Act now!

Cut the hostility
You’re giving one another the look of Eva Braun. The atmosphere in your home is like a mass comedown at a chillout. When it gets to the point that you dread being in one another’s company, desperate measures are called for. Someone needs to break the stalemate – make it you.

Open things up…
Open relationships are common in gay life, but that doesn’t mean they’re for everyone. Still, it’s a conversation you can have. If it’s just the sex that’s died, then this may work – but if something deeper is wrong, flinging your DNA at strangers could just be a quick fix which could lead to an even greater explosion, so consider carefully…

This Gay Life!

Gay men and lesbian best friends

Do gay men and lesbians make best friends, or do the two groups have too little in common, asks Alex Hopkins.

I remember the moment vividly. The words that I’d held inside me for so long, churning around my head, rehearsing in the lonely silence of my room, came tumbling out: “I’m gay”. And then, overwhelmed with relief and the realisation that my life would now change completely, I began to sob. My new friend, Rosetta, put her arms around me and told me that everything would be ok. The worst was over. I no longer had to hide. Three weeks previously, on a summer theatre course, Rosetta had stood up in front of a room of strangers, thrust her magnificent bosom into the air, swept back her luscious black hair, and proclaimed that she was gay. I had never witnessed such a courageous, proud statement of identity - it was life-affirming and transformative. Rosetta, I knew, would understand. Together, we could take on the world.

This was 19 years ago, and although I have seen Rosetta infrequently over recent years, she remains one of the greatest influences on my life. She gave me strength when I needed it most; she made me laugh through the pain; she showed me that there was hope, and beauty, even in the darkest of places.

Lesbians often get a bad rep from gay men. At the most basic level, the majority of gay venues are geared towards gay men. In London, there is just one bar solely for gay women. Moreover, stereotypes abound: I’ve met many gay men who dismiss lesbians as aggressive or “butch”, figures of derision to be avoided – or feared. Misogyny, sadly, is, in my experience, prevalent among gay men. And yet, I am not alone in counting a lesbian as one of my best friends. What, then, can gay men and lesbians offer one another in terms of friendship that other people cannot?

Rosetta has since gone on to forge very close friendships with other gay men. “Sex isn't in the equation in these friendships,” she says. “There is no chance of feelings stirring up and making the dynamics between the two of you complicated. There is a safety there, knowing you can be completely yourself and sexual attraction will not get in the way. Ever. In addition to this, you will never find yourself competing for the attentions of someone, because you'll never be attracted to the same person.

“All my gay male friends are close to me for different reasons, whether it be art, theatre culture. Some became close friends because we had fun going out on the scene and could happily meet up for a coffee and have plenty to entertain ourselves with through conversations. Others I have met later in life.”
Jason Ford has known his lesbian best friend, SimMi, for over 12 years. They met when SimMi had a few extra tickets for Madonna’s Reinvention Tour in 2004, and she sold some to Jason. SimMi cites similar reasons as Rosetta for their friendship lasting: there is no sexual attraction, so they can be completely open and honest with one another. “We’ve also faced the same struggle for equality,” she adds. These are sentiments Jason agrees with: “We've been through break-ups, divorces, marriages, family illnesses, you name it, but SimMi’s the first person I call, because we all need that touchstone to ask –‘am I being crazy?’ And to get an honest answer.”

But how do the pair respond to the frequently repeated claim that gay men and lesbians have little in common, beyond the fact that they are not heterosexual? “I can see why that can be, but I don't think one minority opposing another is a productive way to live,” says SimMi. “And certainly a waste of my time. I have never had experienced this. Most of close friends are gay men.”

“I think in our case, SimMi is more like a gay man trapped in lesbian's body,” laughs Jason, “and I'm more of a lesbian trapped in a gay man's body. So we balance each other out that way. She's the yang to my yin. We've both had a stressful couple of years recently and at times we have been known to scare our friends with fiery debates in public. Mostly it was about blowing off steam, but some people found it troubling, shall we say. But this is the woman I know inside and out, and her me.”

But, crucially, it’s not just sharing their personal challenges that has cemented their bond: it’s in their united response to events that have had an impact on all LGBT people. Together they’ve watched the monumental changes in gay rights over the years.

“Gay rights have come a long way but we haven't won the fight. Orlando's tragic and needless attack is an illustration of that,” explains SimMi. “Now we have Brexit to contend with, where xenophobia and gay slurs are being shouted out in the streets of London because suddenly some people think they have permission to behave like that. We should always stand together in unity. Love should always win.”

“Lesbians are our sisters. We have a shared history,” insists Jason. “When gay men were dying from AIDS in the 80s, it was our sisters that looked after us and fought alongside us. We're a family. And in a world where we don't always have the love of our own blood, it's important to have someone in your life that understands.”

True friendships, Rosetta adds, are those that endure despite the odds. “It's amazing how the gay scene can glue friendships together - and if one day all the gay clubs in your city or town close down - you then find out who the real friends are,” she says. “When that isn't there anymore, you really are left with how well do you know this person outside of the scene queen framework? It's a sure fast way to tell if you will be friends, as friends should be to one another.”

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