“I was raped in a gay sauna, and the rapists infected me with HIV.” – Sunny’s Story
Gay bathhouses, also known as gay saunas, are commercial bathhouses for men to have sex with other men. In gay slang in some regions in the West, they are knows as “the baths”. In Singapore and Malaysia, they are known colloquially as “saunas”. Not all men who visit gay saunas consider themselves gay, regardless of their sexual behaviour.
Records of men meeting for sex with other men in bathhouses date back to the 15thcentury. That’s pretty ancient!
From the mid-1980s (during the AIDS epidemic) onward, there was fierce lobbying against gay saunas blaming them for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), especially HIV, and many were forced to close as a result. Neither the claim that gay saunas are responsible for the spread of STDs, nor the claim that they are not, has been conclusively proved, but it is known that STDs are spread via unprotected sex.
Sunny is a 33-year-old bisexual Singaporean guy who has just tested positive for HIV. Having visited a gay sauna in a foreign country, he relates his horrific experience of being raped by two unknown men in a gay sauna in a foreign country. He adds, “I am no weakling but they were much more stronger than me, only letting go of me after I hurt myself in the struggle to escape. I did not make a police report as I didn’t know how things would turn out.”
Sunny had noticed that the rapist was wearing a condom so STDs did not cross his mind one bit. But several weeks later when back home in Singapore, he fell very ill and experienced diarrhoea, fever, vomiting and severe weight loss for about five weeks. He had to admit himself to a hospital, where he was finally advised to take a HIV test. It was a positive result.
Sunny enthuses, “I did not think it was possible at all and I thought the doctors were barking up the wrong tree. I was shocked when it was confirmed. At that moment, all my plans shattered!” To him, all seemed at a loss, like all doors were slamming shut on him. Sunny was worried about his career prospects and gone were any hopes of reconciliation with his ex partner, or marriage plans, even.
Being a newly diagnosed PLHIV, Sunny has yet to be on HIV anti retroviral (ARV) medications. According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines, doctors recommend HIV ARV medications if an individual’s CD4 count is at 500 or lower. Sunny’s CD4 count at first test was below 300 and as he was newly exposed to the virus, doctors believed that his CD4 count would improve, and indeed, it did 2 months later to a mid-400s level. It would be wise to think that Sunny’s CD4 count would rise at the subsequent blood test and it would be ultimately up to him on when to begin medications.
Having read HIV/AIDS health resource websites like www.TheBody.com, www.aids.organd www.healthline.com, Sunny is still hesitant about having to start HIV medications, which is a common worry many newly diagnosed individuals face. The usual dilemma many have is the worry about side effects from the pills, and regimented daily adherence.
Sunny still has his HIV diagnosis under tight lip, having only told his very close friends, in the hopes that they would have his support and understanding, and also so they could inform his family should anything untoward happen to him. He has chosen not to inform his family because he fears they might be devastated at the news, and especially how he got infected in the first place (in a gay sauna). He advises newly diagnosed PLHIV on coming out to family, “It really depends on how close you are with your family, you have to gauge on your own whether your family can take such jarring news in a positive light.”
Sunny feels that getting tested should be routine for everyone, and feels that other Singaporeans who are afraid to go get tested for HIV and other STDs should do so. Counsellors and doctors attending to you will be compassionate and supportive of your situation and will try their best as health care providers to be a comfort to you. He reminds readers that the Ministry of Health has to be notified once a Singapore resident (both citizens or work-permit holders) tests positive for HIV. Doctors will know once the data is keyed into the medical records and they are ordered to be mindful that they are dealing with a HIV positive person. He does however feel that doctors at the public clinic that see him are a little judgemental.
Sunny ends with a few words, “I went through Denial, Anger, Regret, Depression and finally Acceptance. It’s not like I can turn back time or pop a miracle pill. As the staff nurse shared, it’s like having High Blood Pressure or Diabetes, conditions that require long-term medication. HIV is not a death sentence. I didn’t believe her at first, but now it’s become a lifeline. Suicide is not an option. She also cautioned me against taking ‘revenge’ or trying to spread it to others as it was against the law —— not that I would want anyone else to catch it, though. It’s scary enough to be living with HIV, not being able to take some of my favourite food, or refrain from visiting public pools so that chances of catching some waterborne parasite is lowered. It’s shit to have a weakened immune system. I don’t know how anyone can even think of passing it to someone else. But I am certain things will get better soon, and I am hopeful.”
Sunny’s story of HIV infection from a gay sauna is shocking but it is not uncommon. Many men who frequent these places think that once you are in such premises and dressed only in a towel (or even naked on those “full moon party” nights), it means you have given the green light for any kind of sexual contact. Many sauna-goers forget that sauna etiquette still applies, even when all patrons are in the nude and frolicking about.No means no. You have the choice to refuse advances from another man, and if he does not respect that, you have the right to tell him to fuck off and use a little force to push him away if need be.
Know your rights as a sauna-goer and as an individual before you visit a gay sauna for some enjoyment.
Stay Safe, boys.