Gay saunas & sex clubs

Oil painting of almost naked men in outdoor pool with medieval castle in background

Domenico Cresti: Bathers at San Niccolò, 1600

Saunas that were run as places where men could have sex with other men are known to have existed in the Bristol region since the 1970s. For legal reasons they usually operated as private clubs and membership would be bought on arrival for a fee.

Up until the end of the 1980s gay saunas in Britain were routinely raided by police under public decency laws. With less concern about victimless crime during the 1990s, police increasingly ‘turned a blind eye’. They preferred sexual activity to take place in a contained environment rather than outdoors even though technically users were still committing the offence of gross indecency.

Sex between adults in non-public spaces ceased to be an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and a variety of sex venues and fetish events developed. They differ from brothels in that they provide a place where patrons have sex with each other and, apart from an entrance fee, no money changes hands.

  • Sauna Services:  St Paul Street, off Portland Square, Bristol, BS2. Mid 1970s to mid 1980s.
    First gay sauna in Bristol.
  • The Pump House, 1 Pump Street, Newport, Gwent.  Approx 1977 to 1982.
    Popular sauna for gay men from Bristol and much further afield.


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