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Sex at the Gym: Harmless Fun or Just Plain Wrong?

By E. Dixon

Some days guys go to the gym for a full strength-training and/or cardio workout. On other days, they may only have time for "a Hollywood" (just a steam). Either routine can help them relax. But some gay men say they need more than that to de-stress, which is why they go to the gym not only for a workout, but also a working over. And this "gym sex" is causing a rift at gay gyms between those who point to the rule of "consenting adults," and those who think that sex in the sauna or steam room encroaches on the rights of other people at the gym.

Of course, men having sex in public is nothing new. In the late 1880s in England, after Queen Victoria made sex between men illegal, undercover police hanging out at public toilets started arresting so-called "bog queens" by the hundreds. But in this country, with the demise of bathhouses in the 1980s, and the increasingly more strictly enforced rules about the back rooms and bathrooms at bars, the gym has become the place where some men go to get the quick, anonymous, no-strings-attached sex.

Not surprisingly, managers at the major gym chains unanimously say that the behavior is not permitted, citing health code violations and saying that repeat offenders may have their memberships revoked. But opinions among gay gym members are far more mixed. Jessie from Los Angeles goes to the gym about once a week, says he has sex there just about every other time, and sees nothing wrong with it. It's just an accepted part of the gay gym scene, he thinks, and people shouldn't overreact.

"If I'm with a guy in the steam room and someone else comes in, we try to read his game. If he wants to join us, fine. If not, we just do our thing." When asked if his having gym sex violates the rights of other gym members, he says, "No, they should just ignore it. I know a lot of them have sex in the bathrooms of bars, which I don't, since I don't drink or go to bars, so I think it's sort of hypocritical of them to judge me." He's been nearly caught twice by gym staff, and admits the risk of being caught is part of the thrill.

Other men don't agree. Brian, who works out at a gym in San Francisco four or five times a week, says he doesn't approve of gym sex, although he's more surprised than offended when he witnesses it.

"I go to the gym to work out, not to get turned on," he says. "I think sex at the gym it inappropriate. If I'm in the sauna and there's an orgy going on, it makes me uncomfortable. It's just kind of gross."

However, when pressed, Brian admits he's had sex in the bathrooms of bars two or three times in his life. He points out that it's a more private act, since it occurs behind a locked door and there's no risk of someone else coming in. Also, he admits that alcohol, which is not a factor at the gym, is disinhibiting. "If alcohol were not involved, I don't know if I'd indulge.

"If you're the only two people in the sauna, go ahead and do it." he adds. "But don't expose it to other people."

Others feel even more strongly that gym sex is wrong. "It makes me angry, because it's selfish," says Paul, a marathon runner who also takes yoga classes at his gym. "Part of what I pay for with my membership is the use of the steam room. If it's been closed because people are having unsafe sex in it, that's unfair to me. Besides, I just don't want to be subjected to someone else's sex acts. If you want to have anonymous sex with a stranger, go to a sex club, or pick someone up at a bar and get a hotel room."

One straight man admits he's considered having quick, no-stings-attached sex with guys at his gym, because it can be so hard to get that from women. "But most of the guys at my gym are kind of droopy and flabby," he adds. Which makes one think that maybe if these guys spent more time in the weight room than in the steam room, they'd be in better shape. And, ultimately, isn't that what the gym is for?