Queer Britons warm up to saunas and watch the royal funeral

When the queen died last year, one gay sauna live-streamed her funeral rather than its usual pornographic films in a profoundly moving show of respect. Hipsters get almost naked. Dockers are unimpressed.

A topless man sits at a poker table, playing cards held close to his chest. He has just been downstairs in the banya, a Russian kind of sauna. The New Docklands Russian Banya & Steam Baths in east London is one of the East End’s last surviving public baths, a longtime haven for cabbies, boxers and dockworkers. But even as one type of bathing culture fades, another is on the rise.

These old and new visions of public bathing can prompt some low-level sniping. “We’re inspired by Docklands… but facilities-wise they’re a bit rough and ready,” says Katie Bracher, a “new wave” sauna consultant. “For us it’s a philosophy” but some of them are “having a jolly”, opines Anil Singh, Docklands’ operation manager.

Mostly not gay venues as such, still customer-to-customer massage is encouraged. Very East End traditional. Can be intimidating at first but friendly if you make the effort to talk to people. Sunday is the most gay-friendly day.

Other types of saunas are available. But all agree on the health benefits. A sauna can reduce pain, improve mood and increase blood circulation. Mr Elliott believes that everyone should try it. “It’s almost like trying to tell someone how to surf a wave or have an orgasm. You can’t really get it until you’ve done it.”

Article inspired from The Economist.

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