WARNING: This opinion piece includes information that might be triggering for sexual assault victims.
When I take my clothes off and wander the halls of a gay sauna, I’m only looking for two things: sex and consent.
An unspoken third would be hearing a Boyz II Men song as I lay underneath a sweaty, bearded stranger in one of the sauna’s dimly lit rooms, but I usually settle for the first two.
Yet in a space utilised for anonymous and fleeting, no-strings-attached sex, the lines of consent can often become lost in the darkness.
Each of my gay sauna visits follow a similar formula, playing out like a scene in Groundhog Day.
The scene opens: interior, inner-city sauna, night.
I enter, take my clothes off, and begin exploring like a tourist as though it were my first time.
As I walk past bodies belonging to men of various sizes, ages, cultural backgrounds, and sexual identities, I’m invariably touched and groped by a handful of them.
I feel someone grab me from behind, and am confronted by someone game enough to walk right up to me and reach out for my dick.
One guy even grabs my arm, and despite my attempts to actively move away, forcefully pulls me into the room he’s been waiting in, encouraging me that he’ll “only be two minutes, promise.”
I eventually connect consensually with one or three men and rinse off the memories in a shower afterwards, before heading home.
The scene then freezes, rewinds, and plays again the next time I visit.
For many men gay saunas are a meat market, and a hall pass allowing them to make unprovoked sexual advances with little concern for personal boundaries or consent.
While desire for sex motivates most men visiting a gay sauna or SoP venue, this can often be misinterpreted as a blanket desire for any meaty appendage that swings their way.
As a sex-positive, queer-identifying male I’m proud of our community’s long history of sexual transgression and liberation.
Growing up aware that we sit outside the confines of hetero-normativity and pressures around monogamy, family, and marriage has meant that gay men are commonly less hung up about casual sex and non-monogamy.
In many ways the liberated sex lives of queer people stand leaps ahead of their heterosexual counterparts.
However, sexual liberation doesn’t equate to physically pressuring or intimidating another person to have sex with you.
It doesn’t mean that communication around desire and sex – verbal or otherwise – can be thrown out of the dry sauna’s tiny window.
Consent must always be assured by both – or all, if that’s your thing – parties both before and during your time between the sheets.
There have been a handful of sobering times where a gentleman suitor I was initially sweet on has painfully forced himself inside me and despite my verbal protests and physical resistance, continued to do so anyway.
I’m certainly not suggesting that a formal Q & A style conversation needs to precede every encounter at a grungy SoP venue or beat, but paying attention to another man’s physical cues in these spaces goes a long way.
Same-sex attracted men have crafted a beautiful, universal language through which they negotiate sexual encounters when cruising to get off.
In Melbourne there are reports of men cruising for sex with other men in public spaces dating back to the 1800s.
Whether it’s a lingering gaze, a flirtatious smile, or a foot venturing under the partition between cubicle stalls for a tentative tap, if someone is interested in having you inside them, they’ll let you know.
Until then, sexual autonomy in these spaces should be respected and consent should always be ensured before you engage in a little bump and grind.