Gay saunas and bathhouses could return to San Francisco 36 years after an AIDS-epidemic era law all but banned them from the city.
San Francisco filed a lawsuit against gay sauna and bathhouse operators in 1984 which prevented them from having locking rooms and booths. There were between 20 and 30 saunas in the city at that time. Today, there is just one.
Now, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents District 8 in the city, is trying to remove some of those restrictions.
“Our current regulations for adult sex venues were put in place as an emergency measure at the height of the AIDS crisis when San Francisco was desperate to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS,” Mandelman told SFist.
Gay saunas and bathhouses in San Francisco would be allowed to operate more freely under proposed changes.
“Decades later, with the emergence of PrEP and in light of San Francisco’s reduction in HIV diagnoses to under 200 for the first time since the 1980s, these regulations — including a ban on private rooms and required monitoring of patrons’ sexual activities — have no public health rationale and need to be changed.”
Under his proposal, saunas and bathhouses would be required to provide condoms and educational materials. They would also no longer be required to monitor the sexual activities of customers.
Our current regulations for adult sex venues were put in place as an emergency measure at the height of the AIDS crisis when San Francisco was desperate to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Most importantly, they would be allowed to offer private spaces, as long as they cannot be locked. The proposed measures will now be considered by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Mandelaman’s legislative aide Tom Temprano told SFist that “no potential operators” have reached out just yet with plans to open a bathhouse or adult sex venue.
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“However, community members have spoken to us about the need for such a space and this legislation will pave the way for new operators to open or existing operators to add to their business model.”
Several cities clamped down on saunas at the height of the AIDS-epidemic.
At the height of the AIDS-epidemic in the 1980s, a number of cities clamped down on gay saunas and bathhouses, fearing that they were contributing to the spread of the virus.
New York City’s Health Department ordered that the city’s gay bathhouses be shut down in 1985, which also led to the closure of heterosexual sex spaces.
Since then, significant advances in medical science mean that people can now live healthily and happily with HIV. A wide-ranging study, which concluded last year, found that HIV-positive men who are on effective anti-retroviral therapy have an undetectable viral load and cannot pass the virus on.
Furthermore, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), when taken daily, prevents the transmission of HIV through unprotected sex.