Identity, Connectedness, and Sexual Health in the Gay Sauna

Rusi Jaspal, Periklis Papaloukas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study focuses on the meanings and experiences that men living in Leicester, UK attribute to the gay sauna, the role of the gay sauna in their sense of identity, and how they construe their sexual behavior in this context.

In 2015, twenty male sauna users participated in a qualitative interview study. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis.

The analysis yielded four themes: (1) identity authenticity in the gay sauna; (2) social connectedness among sauna users; (3) sexual risk and sexual health in the sauna; and (4) protecting the identity functions of the gay sauna. The themes show that engagement with the gay sauna can enhance feelings of identity authenticity and belongingness, and that individuals seek to protect these identity functions of the gay sauna despite recognizing the gay sauna as a “high-risk” environment. To protect identity, the notion of sexual risk is distanced from their own identities.

Sauna users may experience better psychological health as a result of frequenting the sauna – it may promote identity authenticity and belongingness, and alleviate isolation, loneliness, and depression. The promotion of sexual health information and services in gay saunas may enable us to access individuals who might not ordinarily engage with sexual health services.

Social Policy Implications
There must be closer collaboration between sexual health services, sexual health outreach, and gay saunas in the area of sexual health, and identity concerns must be incorporated into the design of interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54–63
JournalSexuality Research and Social Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

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  • Identity
  • Authenticity
  • Belongingness
  • Sexual health
  • Gay
  • Gay sauna


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