END OF AN ERA?

Five Reasons Why San Francisco’s Gay Sex Clubs May Soon Be Extinct

Eros
Eros, located at 2051 Market Street in San Francisco.

Located on Market Street in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, Eros is one of the city’s last remaining gay sex clubs. Many an innocent lad has wandered into this two-floor sex palace after stumbling out of one of the nearby bars to navigate the dark, maze-like floor plan of bunk beds, massage parlors, and public play areas. A visit to Eros is a necessary rite of passage for any sexually-adventurous homosexual residing in (or just visiting) the city by the bay.

But how is it that the Castro, arguably the gayest neighborhood in the gayest city in the world, a place even rabbits have nothing on, boasts just one solitary gay sex club?

In 1984, during the height of the AIDS crisis, San Francisco public health officials ordered all gay bathhouses be shutdown, claiming the businesses promoted unsafe sex. The city’s last bathhouse, 21st Street Baths, closed it’s doors for good in 1987. Eros opened a few years later, billing itself as a “sex club” rather than a bathhouse. The only real difference was that it didn’t have private cabins, just a series of large rooms where men could hookup in semi-public areas. The idea was that there would be less unprotected intercourse than in private cabins. Other gay sex clubs soon began popping up around the city.

In the past few years, however, many of San Fran’s most popular clubs have closed their doors, including Mack Folsom Prison, The Brig and Playspace. (The inimitable Blow Buddies in the SOMA ‘hood, however, still flourishes.) So what’s the deal? Are sex clubs, like bookstores, bound for extinction? Why aren’t gay men frequenting them as often as they used to? And where are they going instead?

Here are five reasons why San Francisco’s gay sex clubs may soon be obsolete…

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Darkness by design

Part of the allure of the gay sex club has always been the seedy factor. Men go there to engage in anonymous sex with one another while other men watch. Throw in the fact that the venues, while clean, are intentionally and proudly dungeon-like, with long, winding hallways and blacked-out windows, and we’re talking about a business that caters to a niche market.

It’s possible younger generations, while certainly equally horny, see these places as somehow a vestige of the closeted past, and associate them with STDs. Despite the fact that gay sex clubs steadfastly promote safe sex practices, always keeping bowls of free condoms and water-based lube within arm’s reach, the stigma has apparently put their business models into decline.

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The clientele

As most anyone who’s ever set foot inside bathhouse or sex club will tell you, the guys, at least on certain nights, tend to skew older. Only in a gay sex club is 50 considered the new 20. Of course, we love older gentlemen. But not everyone is looking to get their rocks off in a roomful of sexagenarians. (Though those opposed to it have no idea what they’re missing!)

 

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Hookup apps

Apps like Grindr, Jack’d and SCRUFF have revolutionized how we go about finding Mr. Right Now. Once upon a time, gay men relied on bathhouses and sex clubs to meet one another. These days we’re all about efficiency and location, location, location. With just the swipe of a finger, your next paramour can be in your bedroom in five minutes flat. No more driving across town and paying a $20 entrance fee.

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Real estate prices

Urban locations across the country, San Francisco in particular, have seen real estate prices skyrocket. Last October, SFGate reported that residential rentals in the city had increased a whopping 11.9% from the previous year. Businesses, too, have seen their rents go up. This has forced younger gay men, with lower incomes, to flee to surrounding areas. (Daly City anyone?) With rising monthly costs and a shrinking customer base, it’s no wonder so many gay sex clubs have been forced to close. Buildings that once served as naked, uninhibited playgrounds for countless homosexuals are being converted into luxury lofts, whose high-income residents are blissfully unaware of the naughty things that once took place in their new digs.

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Gay marriage

The country has seen huge advances in gay rights at a pace that surprises even the most optimistic activists. With a new state striking down its gay marriage ban seemingly every other week, gay people are exercising their newly acquired rights by tying the knot and settling down. Child adoptions by gay parents are also on the rise. The 2000 Census found that approximately 65,000 children lived in same-sex households. By 2012, that number had increased to 110,000.

This begs the question: Are gay men growing up? Is cruising a thing of the past in a time of marriage and family equality, or is it simply taking on new forms? And if gay sex clubs do, indeed, go extinct, what, if anything, will take their place?

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