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    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    The New Bathhouse Regulations

    L.A. County bathhouses and sex clubs facing new rules, according to 365gay:

    Bathhouses and sex clubs in Los Angeles County, including the City of Los Angeles, could be closed if they fail to meet tough new regulations according to a published report. ...

    The law will require the baths and clubs to post signs notifying customers that unsafe sex is not permitted on the premises, provide free condoms and lube, information on safe sex practices, and must offer on-site testing and counseling for HIV and other STDs.

    They also are obligated to refuse admittance to anyone under the influence of alcohol or drugs. ...

    "This is a place where we have some opportunity to reach people and make sure they get appropriate education, get condoms and testing," John Schunhoff, the county's chief of operations for public health told the Times.

    The new requirements have angered some operators.

    Scott Campbell, president of the Midtowne Spa which has three Los Angeles bathhouses, said the law is discriminatory. Campbell told the Times that people are increasingly finding sexual partners in bars and through websites.

    "Bathhouses are an easy target," told the paper. "Our customers tend to be people … who are closeted and they're not going to stand up and protest."

    Campbell said his bathhouses have been offering HIV testing since 1996 and hand out about 500,000 condoms per year.

    Now, I'm all for safe sex and if bathhouses and sex clubs want to impose their own rules and signs, that's great. I know that a lot of them did and do supply condoms and lube to patrons; a few provide HIV testing. These are great things; in fact, I wouldn't really have much of a problem requiring these places to have condoms on hand (or even placed within view) should patrons wish to use them. But posting signs saying that patrons are required to use condoms seems a bit much. There is a market for unprotected sex. If people want to have it, they'll have it. And, as Campbell points out, this puts bathhouses and sex clubs at a distinct disadvantage; their customer demographic has just been narrowed by the government. Other opportunities will fill the new void; the internet has largely already done so.

    Meeting people on the Internet with whom you wish to engage in risky behavior is even riskier than meeting and having sex with strangers in a public environment. The risk of HIV is probably pretty similar, while other risks are exacerbated.

    From the LAT article:

    The stricter regulations were inspired by studies in recent years showing bathhouse patrons were at far greater risk of becoming infected with HIV than the general population. Technically, the county has had the power to shut down bathhouses for years, but the old rules were all but unenforceable, officials said.

    Now, a sex club that violates the new rules can be closed in a similar way an errant restaurant or tattoo parlor can, Schunhoff said. ...

    The county agreed in talks with bathhouse owners to pick up the testing and lab costs. The bathhouses will pay for the counselors.

    Bathhouse patrons at far greater risk of HIV infection? You don't say! Perhaps one element of that is that many of those particular individuals are also interested in having unprotected sex?

    Again, we can presume that bathhouses will lose a certain portion of their customer base with these new regulations. On top of that, these businesses are being asked to put forward further funding for counselors? Businesses mean to make a profit and their ability to do so is being greatly diminished.

    We still have a problem, as a culture, with sexual activity that takes place outside the home and businesses which house such activity are often scapegoated for problems that affect society more generally.

    Finally, we are freaked out by HIV/AIDS, as we should be!, but we are addressing it in one community, rather than looking at it as a larger issue; there was a time, in the late 80s and early 90s, that people actually said, "Anyone could get AIDS." Now, we're back to the "gay plague" idea (probably thanks in large part to the meth problem), when black women who self-identify as heterosexual are the American group contracting HIV at the highest rates. Because of the obsession with the "down-low", everyone assumes that it is closeted black men who are spreading it- I suppose that many folks think these bathhouse and sex clubs regulations simply get to the source. I wish we could learn to have free condoms everywhere, realistic statistics about HIV/AIDS everywhere, and a culture that discussed it, rather than difficult-to-enforce, borderline-discriminatory regulations.


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