Saunas are about slings, glory holes and mazes, right?
Well, yes… and they can also be a “lucky dip” of experiences and great place to hang out. Buzz Lightyear* tells of his first time visiting a sauna – and warns of the perils of wearing glasses!
Back in 2008, when I was in my mid 20s, my partner and I had a weekend away in Christchurch, and on the Sunday afternoon we ended up at Menfriends. We were in the first few months of the relationship and had been having a lot of sex, but we hadn’t really discussed going to a sauna. It was his idea because he asked if I’d ever been to a sauna and I said I hadn’t but, yeah, it sounded like a good idea.
I was pretty new to it all and my partner was older but I was familiar with saunas and had an opinion of them – so I guess I felt I needed to find out more about them. My preconceptions were that I thought that I would just walk through the door and get fucked – you know, you just drop your trousers as soon as you’re in. So I guess that was very different to the reality!
I was amazed at how relaxed it was and quite low-stress – I could just go in, get changed and have a shower and then wander around and have a spa. The sex was nowhere near as immediate as I thought it was going to be.
It definitely did help that I was with someone and I was quite lucky to have him show me the ropes – and the sling and everything else! He’d already told me that I didn’t have to do anything that I didn’t want to do and that helped me relax – and it was obvious that there were a lot of condoms and lube available which was also very reassuring.
That first time at Menfriends we didn’t really play with anyone else – we just tried out a sling, which had been our intention to start with. And even afterwards when we subsequently went to saunas in Melbourne and Sydney it became a bit of a running joke with us that neither of us ever got fucked in a sling because we both ended up being too nervous.
But that’s the fun of going to saunas – it’s more like a lucky dip. The first time we went to Sircuit in Melbourne (which is a bar downstairs and a cruising club upstairs) we were making out on the dancefloor and then my partner was dragging me upstairs. Now, I knew that the cruising club existed but I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. So when I saw we had our own room I thought, cool, we’ve got our own private making-out space – and then all these dicks came through the wall! The glory holes were a complete, but very welcome, surprise.
Another surprise I had in Melbourne – and quite a funny one – was being on holiday with my partner and deciding it would be fun to go to the sauna. But not realising that wearing glasses just isn’t very practical in a sauna. So I took them off and was walking down a darkened corridor and doing my best swagger when I saw this totally hot guy coming towards me – I was really eyeing him up and he kept on getting closer… until I walked into a mirror! So if you need a good tip, wear your contacts!
In New Zealand, free condoms and lube are pretty widely available throughout any sauna you’ll go to, but it can be a different story if you’re in a foreign country. It can definitely pay to take some with you – so if you they're there for free, cool, but if they’re not available you’ll know you can just go grab some from your locker.
I do think it’s cool that we have these places to go to in the gay community and I do find myself being a bit of a salesman now to people who are wondering whether to go to a sauna or not. But my advice is not to have expectations around who is going to be there, what sort of age-groups you’ll find, and also what you’re going to do and what sort of sex you’re going to get – it’s a lucky dip and that’s the whole point so you’re just going to set yourself up for disappointment if you go with any expectations.
And then there’s the whole social side of things as well – when I lived in Christchurch, I’d find myself sitting at home and freezing on a cold weeknight and I’d think that I should go to the sauna just to have a spa and sauna so I could be warm for a few hours. And I’d be totally happy with that.
I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience at a sauna when I haven’t been totally satisfied because I’ve always gone in without thinking that anything specific is guaranteed. And I guess I’ve always been fascinated by the real social side of the saunas and sometimes I love that just as much – I have a couple of friends who I only know at the sauna and we just talk rubbish. Yes, some I’ve had sex with and others I haven’t, and it’s really something I was skeptical and cynical about when I first heard that they are social places – but it really is!
Chatting to people can be even easier than talking to someone in a bar – whether you have sex with them or not. You’re just wearing a towel, so that’s a real icebreaker.
*Not real name!