Gay dating and sex apps like Grindr, Hornet and Scruff have been gamechangers for gay men like me – they allow us to find guys who are into exactly what we want, when we want, and can be a lifeline if you’re on the downlow. But it’s easy to feel fatigue with disembodied torsos and timewasters. Last year a study by the Center for Humane Technology, surveying iPhone users’ app use, found that Grindr left people feeling the most unhappy and many were disturbed by news that it had shared data on users’ HIV status.
Despite – and sometimes in reaction to – the dominance of apps, more and more guys are turning to their local gay sauna. ‘You never get the embarrassing situation,’ says spa aficionado Nick, ‘of meeting someone who looks like your type in pictures, but isn’t in real life.’ Mark, who’s a regular at saunas like Pleasuredrome in Waterloo and Kennington’s The Locker Room, agrees. ‘I find Grindr a bit tedious,’ he says. ‘Sure, there can be waiting around or rude guys, but saunas are laboratories where you can experiment and learn about yourself.’
It seems many gay Londoners feel the same. ‘There’s been a significant increase in business in recent years,’ says Chris Amos, the brand manager at Pleasuredrome. The social aspects can be a draw too, he explains, given the closure of so many LGBT+ bars. And if you’ve already been sharing dick pics on apps, walking around in just a towel doesn’t seem scary. ‘Grindr has mainstreamed the idea of gay men cruising for sex,’ says Mark.
Chris adds: ‘Guys seem more at ease in visiting than ten years ago.’
Meanwhile, the facilities at venues are improving. Soho gym/sauna Sweatbox throws open its newly refurbished doors this month, and Pleasuredrome is expanding. No wonder so many people are getting steamy. ‘I think of a sauna afternoon as an act of self-care,’ says Nick.