The Steam Room is broadcast on GaySA Radio every Wednesday from 19:00 to 21:00, and is brought to you by the National Department of Health’s Phila programme.

The Phila programme encourages all South Africans to be inspired to live, and is about keeping fit, knowing about your health and body, eating well and taking action about your health in general.

Darkrooms, glory holes, pleasure pens… in episode 7 of The Steam Room, we get frank about sex clubs.

What are sex clubs?

We spoke to Danie Hamman, who has been the owner of Camp David in Pretoria since it first opened its doors in 2003. Hamman calls Camp David “heaven for gays”.

Historically, spaces where men could safely engage in sex with other men were rare, and restricted to spaces like public bathrooms due to the criminal nature of homosexuality and homosexual acts. Hamman felt that the trouble MSMs had with the authorities, along with several instances of gay bashing, necessitated the opening of a space where men could engage in sexual activities with other men safely, securely, and without the treat of attacks for whatever reason. Hamman makes it clear, however, that Camp David is not a brothel, and paid sex as well as drug use is strictly forbidden, and no under-18s are allowed.

Jean Nel agrees with Hamman, adding that these spaces are organised to cater for specific needs within the community of men who have sex with other men.

According to Bruce Little, content creator at the Anova Health Institute, sex clubs were created to provide a service to men who make the lifestyle choice to engage in thrilling and group sex activities.

“A sex club is a convenient way to make sure that a certain group of men meet at a certain place at a certain time so that they can engage in group sex,” says Little.

Who goes to sex clubs?

Danie Hamman says that the clientele at Camp David range from gay men, to bisexual men and other men who have sex with men. Quite often, these men have specific sexual preferences and fetishes, including S&M and kinky sex. Fisting, rimming, and the chance to live out your most intimate fantasies are all on the menu at Camp David.

Jean Nel agrees, and says that there is not just one type of man that frequents sex clubs like Camp David, but that all the men who do, are sexually liberated and looking to satisfy their specific sexual needs.

Bruce Little says that every sort of man can be a patron at sex clubs, and professionals, creatives and every other type of man can be seen. He emphasises that people should be careful of judgment and stigma, and be open-minded about the different ways in which men express their sexuality.

Tips for men who are visiting a sex club for the first time

Danie Hamman says that men are often shy, embarrassed and scared when they visit a sex club for the first time. However, the obligatory nudity at Camp David makes everyone equal.

Upon arriving at Camp David, patrons are instructed to remove their clothes where they will be placed in safe keeping until they leave. First-timers can get a drink at the bar, where the barmen will inform them of all the different spaces within the club, including the dark rooms.

Dos:

• Do be prepared to be touched.

• Do make sure that you are clean. Shower facilities and douches are available.

• Do make use of the condoms and lubricants that are available.

Hamman assures listeners that Camp David is a hygienic space that is cleaned throughout the evening, without intruding on patrons while they are busy, and then cleaned, disinfected and sterilised again thoroughly the morning after.

What risks do men who go to sex clubs face?

Bruce Little makes it clear that having more than one sexual partner at a time leads to greater risk of contracting HIV and other STIs. In this regard, it is important to make use of the condoms and water-based lubricants that are available at sex clubs.

Men who are HIV-negative should also consider taking PrEP as a preventative measure against HIV infection. However, men should keep in mind that PrEP does not provide protection against other sexually transmitted diseases. Some STIs, like a particular strain of gonorrhoea that is doing the rounds, are drug-resistant, and require last-resort treatment with a specific type of very strong antibiotic. Especially in this case, prevention is better than cure.

Jean Nel believes that collaborative efforts between the managers of sex clubs and health institutions can help to prevent the spread of STIs in sex clubs. In this regard, Camp David has been involved in a number of programmes and campaigns. Most recently, Camp David has started encouraging the use of PrEP, and for men to go for regular tests to ascertain the state of their sexual health. As an extra incentive to get tested, proving that you have recently been tested, guarantees free entrance at Camp David.

Jay van der Merwe is a registered nurse with extensive experience in HIV treatment and counselling, and advices that men who have any itchiness in their genital area, or who experience a burning sensation when urinating, lower back pain or an unusual discharge should visit a healthcare professional to get tested for STIs.

Does going to sex clubs negatively impact the mental health of men?

Jean Nel says that sex clubs may negatively impact the mental health of some men, but that the atmosphere and an emphasis on promoting good mental health by getting rid of the stigma some men have with their sexuality can be an important factor.

“A sex club has all of the possibilities to emphasise health and wellbeing, and that includes mental health,” says Nel.

Bruce Little affirms this notion, and says that men who go to sex clubs should evaluate what they feel like while they are there, and after their visit. Should you feel comfortable having sexual encounters with a number of different men in a way that reinforces your sense of self – even after visiting – and provides connection in an intimate and meaningful way, frequenting sex clubs should not impact your mental health negatively.

On the other hand, if you feel empty, sad and isolated after engaging in group sex activities, this may not be the best way for you to express yourself sexually.

Has your interest been piqued? Listen to the full episode about sex clubs by clicking on the player below.

The Steam Room is brought to you by the National Department of Health’s Phila programme.