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  • Sam Darling

Sauna time

My friend has been extolling the virtues of sauna time to prevent some of the post-exercise soreness that I so often battle. And my partner loves going for a schvitz a few times a week so I decided to give it a try. Apparently, even Lady Gaga was all about it. Who am I to argue?

Well, here are some things that my male partner and male friend were not able to warn me about. The fact is, it’s harder for women. I have fewer excuses than most as I live near a public recreation center that features a new sauna and comes included in the price of admission. And yet…

I should have realized that I was heading into what is essentially one of the few male spaces left in a westernized and modern culture. Growing up for a bit of my childhood in Denmark I was no stranger to a place where grown men are naked and sweating, but it’s different when you’re a child. For one thing, I didn’t see the point of sitting still and being quiet so the sauna was not an appealing space.

My first time in the sauna as an adult I decided that I’d worn the wrong clothing. Most of the other people in there were in swimsuits. As I’m not interested in heated chlorine and thrush, this was not appealing. I wore my regular running clothes instead. Only after a few minutes in the punishing heat did I consider what it might be doing to my expensive and well-guarded sports bra.

Determined not to be put off by my wrong clothing choice and the fact that I was the only woman in the sauna that first day, I carried on. I’d been hearing too much about the benefits of a schvitz to give up.

I was in the small sauna with four men and one of them kept crankily complaining anytime someone left the sauna as opening the door let the heat escape. Eventually, his complaints became about women in particular. “They don’t even stay in here for more than five minutes. What’s the point?” I said nothing and carried on, now afraid to leave “too soon” even though this was my first time in a sauna. Great. Now I have to die in here rather than be the first to leave. We were in there for twenty-five minutes.

Feeling a bit of anxiety about the second time going to the sauna I had at least planned ahead with the clothing. I wore a loose-fitting tank top and running shorts. Once again, I was the only woman and all the men were wearing wet swim trunks. They spoke to each other — some in foreign languages. Fine. No problem. Just wish that one dude would stop staring at my chest. I guess this was the wrong clothing choice, too.

Third round, knees shaking a bit with anxiety. Oh, good. A woman is in there. Probably Korean and wearing a swimsuit, she does not appear to speak English as the four men in there with us shit-talk women who stay too short a time. Again. Different dudes, same topic.

But am I the type of person who gives up in the face of invading a male space? Or am I someone who sees a private room at a party with only Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger smoking cigars with two other men and decide that this is the room I belong in? Reader, you know I had my first (and last cigar) that night because I will not be excluded and screw you for trying.

So I’m that type of person. Bloody minded.

Fourth round. My partner at this point is laughing at my anxiety it’s getting so bad but I am determined. He’s amazed at my bad luck. So I head over there. Three guys in the sauna. No problem. Two of them in a corner are chatting loudly and being a bit obnoxious but at least they’re not shit-talking women. Okay. Eventually, the other solo guy is all, “Can everyone in here read English?” Awkward silence. He asks again, more silence from us. “Because that sign over there clearly says not to talk in here.” The two dudes in the corner flash a look at him. I’m sitting in between them all. “What an asshole,” one of them mutters to the other. “Yeah, I’m the asshole,” says the cranky regular.

Me in the middle thinks, “Here we go.”

And I think back to all those scenes set in steam rooms and saunas in movies and television shows that I’ve seen over the years. Sometimes it’s mafia stories because we know that no one is wearing a wire and so that’s when you order the hit. Sometimes, it’s just to show off pure machismo in a movie because the lead actor worked hard for that body and he’s going to make the audience admire his chest hair, damn it.

This is a man’s space and I am not welcome here.

Nevertheless, I know I will persist. Angry dude settled down as the other two guys were all, “Let’s get out of here.” I guess they couldn’t handle the heat.

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