montreal -- i've always wondered why there aren't saunas for heterosexuals, especially here in Montreal. We already have a multi-billion-dollar gay sex industry, including 16 male-only saunas -- reputedly more per capita than any other city in North America. Group sex and partner swapping are de rigueur at places like Club L'Orage International, a swingers joint on St. Laurent that throbs every weekend. There are even kinky cruises on the St. Lawrence River for open-minded couples. I suppose it was only a matter of time before an imaginative entrepreneur decided to tap into the city's sexual energy and open a mixed sauna.
Six months ago, André Legault and his brother Richard opened Rosemont 1082 in a working-class neighbourhood in Montreal's east end. Richard says he wanted to give straight Montrealers the opportunity to "speed baise" (speed fuck). This province is now the only place in Canada where heterosexuals can have a steam, meet a stranger and rent a tiny room for sex.
Housed in a nondescript building in a bleak strip of vacant buildings and run-down shops, Rosemont 1082 hints that it probably won't be spa-ish by its blackened glass entrance doors. The young woman behind the counter is obviously surprised to see us. It's free for single women, she says, smiling. Soon we learn why.
It's rougly 6 o'clock on a Wednesday -- fetish night, we later learn.
The sauna has the feel and smell of a tavern. The dimly lit 6,000-foot space has a concrete floor, and the air reeks of smoke. The cedar sauna and luxurious whirlpool I saw on the Web site -- where gorgeous, hard-bodied men and women frolicked -- are nowhere in sight. In fact, there are no women anywhere. But a half-dozen or so men wearing not-quite-white towels sit or stand around the neon-framed bar. One is reading the paper.
It's hard to imagine how anyone could get turned on in this place. There's a pool table. And the furniture looks like it was picked up at an end-of-summer Home Depot sale: fake wicker plastic deck chairs and tables.
The men, all of whom paid a $30 entrance fee, turn eagerly toward the door when two women walk in. We try not to make eye contact.
It seems single women are precious goods at Rosemont 1082. The sauna concept -- at least in this incarnation -- isn't drawing enough of them, says Jean Chouinard, a compact man in his 30s from Quebec's Gaspé peninsula who's worked as the operation's night manager for about five months. "Women will come as part of a couple, but rarely alone," he says. Most of the clients are single men on the hunt and swinger couples. There's also the odd voyeur, and a few nudist regulars.
One of the reasons single women are uncomfortable here is that the men tend to be a bit needy. "They're too clingy," says Chouinard. "We tell them to take their time, relax. But they tend to glom onto women and not leave them alone." The staff constantly patrol the bar to ensure that the men don't harass the female clients.
The vibe from the men is overwhelming -- not aggressive, but intensely expectant. They strain to meet our eyes. One can only imagine what would happen if we took off our clothes, slapped on a towel and started to play a game of pool.
It appears that more than 30 years after North America's sexual revolution, women still aren't ready to have anonymous sex, at least not in a grungy bar. Robert Gemme, a sexologist at the University of Quebec at Montreal, says it's because women still have more "traditional needs" when it comes to sex. "They still associate it with deeper feelings or with having a stable partner."
Gemme certainly hasn't spent time with many of the women I know.
Terry Gould, author of The Lifestyle: A Look At The Erotic Rites Of Swingers, agrees with Gemme's Old World view. He maintains that a sauna like Rosemont 1082 doesn't appeal to single women because it's anonymous and detached from the couple experience.
Gould says part of the appeal of swinger culture for women is that it's social. In fact, for many women, being swingers is more about dressing up like vamps and pretending to be rich and famous than it is about sex. "These women organize events and talk about their kids. Couples stay in contact."
But men's and women's different attitudes toward sex probably aren't entirely to blame for the dearth of women at Rosemont 1082. It might have more to do with the atmosphere. The rough-and-ready decor doesn't help, or the open-concept design, which is more conducive to ogling than to intimacy. Women and men change together in a drafty open area only a few feet from the entrance, near the bar and pool table. There are no walls to hide behind -- only a row of grimy lockers with a bench in between. Once you've disrobed, you have to walk across the bar to the pint-sized sauna hidden off in a corner next to the small whirlpool.
The narrow, roughly 4-by-12-foot shower area is also co-ed. The bedrooms to have sex in are tiny, smelly and airless, with a slim foam mattress, white plastic chair and television.
Legault admits he has a few things to learn about interior design.
"I listen to female concerns, and they do want more privacy and a bit more of a romantic atmosphere," he says. A few days after our visit, he cornered off a space for women only. Men can enter only if they're invited by women.
To be fair, the idea is already working in Quebec City, where Club Euro's mixed sauna has been in business for two years. Manager Nancy Savard says they've made a major effort to put women at ease with low lights and cozy surroundings. But she becomes a bit defensive when asked how many women come alone to the club.
"That's the question I get the most -- from the men, of course," she says. "We do have regulars. If a man comes here, there is a chance that he will meet someone."
Maybe the trick is to get more women involved in creating a space where they feel comfortable having casual sex. It seems to have worked in New York City. Club Cake was founded two years ago by three young, upscale New Yorkers -- two of them women. Cake's credo is "An orgasm a day." The group, which bills itself as heterosexual and feminist but not anti-male, is famous for its sex parties. It's dedicated to giving women the chance to have casual sex in attractive, safe environments. Men can only attend Cake events -- sexy fetes, porn screenings etc -- if they're invited by women.
It seems to be working. A Cake party made headlines in the New York Post when a couple had sex in an elevated booth while their image was displayed on a large screen. Perhaps women can fully embrace the sexual revolution -- they just need to do it with style.
Rosemont 1082's Legault is certainly making an effort to improve his venue in hopes of appealing to sexually adventurous women. He plans to transform the upper floor into a more intimate space with more private rooms. Larger rooms will be equipped with a fridge for those looking for a weekend getaway. He also wants to add a salon area with couches.
As it stands, though, the pickings are still slim for single men. As we stand in the change area, an affable man in his late 40s -- in all his naked glory -- begins to chat us up. "Aren't you going to stay?" he asks, disappointed. He says he comes to the sauna regularly to meet women but doesn't have much luck. Then he puts on his clothes to leave.