New York City Health Department Conducts Review of Bathhouses, Considers Changes Aimed at Reducing Spread of HIV
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene last fall began a review of bathhouses in the city after it recorded between 2001 and 2006 a 33% increase in new HIV diagnoses among men younger than age 30 who have sex with men, the New York Times reports. The review also includes sex clubs and "sex parties," which charge an admission fee and have regular locations and hours, according to the Times.
City health inspectors for 20 years have enforced a provision in the state's sanitary code that prohibits bathhouses and other businesses from providing facilities for sex; however, some businesses avoid the rule by providing private rooms that inspectors do not enter, according to the Times. A weekly newspaper for MSM last month published an internal health department memo that listed possible ways the agency could handle bathhouses and other "commercial sex venues" -- including increasing efforts to close such businesses or mandating that they comply with safer-sex regulations -- in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV among MSM.
The memo angered many people in the MSM community, who have said that closing such businesses will not prevent the spread of HIV, the Times reports. Sean Cahill, managing director of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, said that closing bathhouses would "driv[e] the activity underground," adding, "By knowing where these places are, we can go in and engage people and move them in healthier directions."
Demetre Daskalakis -- assistant professor at the New York University School of Medicine, who runs HIV testing programs at two bathhouses in the city -- said that people who meet in such businesses to have sex "are going to have sex on their terms no matter where it is," adding that the city should work with the businesses to offer HIV prevention and testing programs.
A forum scheduled for Thursday at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center will address issues surrounding HIV prevention and sex businesses (Angelos, New York Times, 2/17).