Cases of Coronavirus are going up daily. Living in London I’m seeing public behaviours rapidly change. From scarves to full gas masks, faces are being covered. Handshakes forsaken for head nods, obsessive hand washing that Lady Macbeth would be proud of, and Lord help you if you sneeze in public. At a wider level we’re now even seeing events and sporting tournaments being either held behind closed doors or cancelled – which is ruining our stag do’s plans of watching Valencia FC this weekend (sorry, micro-vent there).
However whilst people are afraid of being even around others in fear of catching Covid-19, gay men are still attending saunas in their numbers. I spoke to an employee at Sweatbox – touted as London’s most central and busiest gay sauna – and was told that numbers hadn’t been down at all. Considering that men visiting saunas will often share saliva (and more) with multiple men, the hot, sweaty conditions have the potential to facilitate an outbreak, and possibly harbour bacteria more so than other places.
It can be argued that at a local level this ‘crisis’ is pure hyperbole, with only a spattering of cases here and there meaning that the odds are on your side. At the moment this may be true. However with high rents to pay, and sex as their primary source of income, it’s unlikely gay saunas like Sweatbox would close their doors until a mandate is handed down from on high. Are they different to most in their approach to maintaining their business? No. However the nature of their business creates a danger over and above most others. It’s hard to have sex with someone in a sauna from a safety distance of 1+m away!!
Further to this, we have the gay hookup app culture more broadly.
In almost 200 countries, Grindr reportedly have 4m~ daily users, tapping and messaging for about an hour a day. With regards to Coronavirus you can easily see how this network of naughtiness could have real implications for the spread of infection. Cavorting with people who you don’t know much/anything about naturally puts people at risk.
We can expect for usage to go down as things worsen and panic rises – it today being officially recognised by WHO as a pandemic. However how many cases need to have occurred before people decide to forego their urges in favour of safety? 1, 10, 30, 100? Just as with most aspects of casual sex, people approach it with different degrees of abandon. No hookup apps have commented on usage trends, however using the admittedly flimsy reports of attendance at Sweatbox as a guide, the answer is likely not yet. With the UK currently just outside the top 10 most infected countries globally, this could be worrying.
Overall, many rightly worry about the chances of catching STIs at saunas on hook-ups, however could your next dalliance give you something else you weren’t expecting? At what point do you do you decide to keep it in your pants, with the risk being greater than the reward?
Will it be one too late?