The Ministry of Health of the Community of Madrid proceeded yesterday to close the Paraíso sauna, in Madrid, by identifying it as ground zero of the monkeypox outbreak that Spain is suffering these days. The closure has been agreed with those responsible for the premises, who have preferred to clarify the situation as quickly as possible in view of the peak of the business’s annual activity, Gay Pride week, which starts at the end of June.

The Paraíso sauna is the largest and one of the most popular in Madrid. Located in the neighborhood of Malasaña, it has facilities of 1,400 square meters In which there is a Finnish sauna, a Turkish bath, a bar, a heated pool, several dark rooms and even a BDSM area inside a cell and equipped with a rack. There is also a movie theater, where a couple of weeks ago The Eurovision Song Contest gala was broadcast livegathering dozens of customers around the screen.

Different sources that have frequented the sauna describe it as a space that is always open, any day and almost any time (it only closes at night on weekdays), which generates a large number of parishioners of the whole city. In addition, due to its central location and presence in international guides, there are always tourists. Together with the Center and Paraíso saunas, it forms the most popular axis among those who visit the city. On the busiest days, Saturday nights and Sundays, you can often see long queues at the entrance, a fact that has been denounced by neighbors.

It costs 16 euros. You pay at a glass box office as soon as you enter. for that pricethe client gets two towels, some flip-flops, a condom and a locker to store his clothes. If you need more condoms, you can buy them at the bar, which is open 24 hours a day. Some sources indicate that in the area of ​​​​lockers, with the same size and appearance of those of a medium gym, other substances can also be purchased. Some customers go with a towel tied around their waist, others circulate naked and keep their belongings in the towel.

Once inside, the room resembles a warehouse. Or to a dungeon. It is difficult to recreate a mental plane in the first visits, they explain, not only because of its winding, but also because it is dark and often overcrowded. They describe that, one Saturday morning, the Paradise sauna can accommodate more than 100 people. “You go in and it’s war, you only see people and people going from one place to another,” they say.

“There is a corridor with ultraviolet light where men parade looking at each other in silence”

A series of long, vaulted, Mudejar-style corridors lead to the different rooms. All the windows are translucent, often decorated with vinyl that imitates a stained-glass window, but none of them open. Since the pandemic, those responsible for the sauna have ventilated the premises several times a day, always opening the entrance doors for a few minutes. Strategically placed there is a series of sofasoften arranged in groups, so customers can relax and watch the carnal scenery.

In Madrid there are saunas of all kinds: for older people, for bears, for couples, for ‘swingers’, sadomasochists… Paradise sauna is for young people. Most are men between 18 and 35 years old, which entails a series of peculiarities. “In the Paraíso you see groups of 4 or 5 kids, who take over a room and make it their own. They play loud music, they smoke, they are high and sometimes I’ve seen someone ask someone more mature for money to have sex,” says one of the sources.

Sexual contacts take place anywhere on the premises. For hygiene and privacy, customers are recommended to move away from the passing circuit when the situation escalates. In any case, the sources continue, a sexual relationship in view of all does not mean that anyone can join: “You have to approach with respect and make eye contact. As good as the atmosphere is, and usually in this sauna it is, turning a relationship into a threesome by force is very frowned upon.”

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Nevertheless, there is a dark corridor in this sauna, illuminated only by ultraviolet light, in which any concession to courtship is abandoned. It is a meat market in which only the physical matters: “Some walk in one direction and others in the opposite. People look at each other as they pass, in silenceLike on a fashion catwalk. When you see that there is ‘feeling’ with someone, you grab them by the hand and put them in a booth.”

El Paraíso has 30 booths where customers can have sex away from the rest. Some decide to leave the cabin door open, a de facto invitation to join the party. “In those situations is where there are usually larger groups. Parties are held behind closed doors and there each one gets what they have and it does not matter 8 to 80. In other saunas I have seen up to 8 people leave cabins, “they continue. the sources.

towel exchange

One of these group sexual contexts could have been the origin of the monkeypox outbreak. Contrary to what has been published in the early days, monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease. “The ‘monkeypox’ is not like normal smallpox, which has a very high capacity for infection through the respiratory tract,” says Estanis Nistal, virologist and professor of Microbiology at CEU San Pablo. “And I haven’t seen evidence of sexual transmission either. This virus is spread by fluids and by simple skin contact, with the pustules it generates, which have a high viral load. In this way, it is enough to touch the skin of an infected person and then put their hands to their eyes or mouth to become infected, “he says.

The virologist does not see contagion through the respiratory tract in the sauna as likely, despite the fact that these premises often have poor ventilation. “It’s not that simple. A few years ago there was an outbreak of ‘monkeypox’ among some children in the United States, but only those who had been playing with animals were infectednot by spending a lot of time together under the same roof,” says Nistal. Instead, the expert identifies a much higher risk in towel sharingsomething very common in Paraíso sauna: “All towels are the same and there are often many people, so the normal thing is to get out of the pool and someone has taken your towel. What do you do then? You can ask for another one at the bar , where they don’t always have them, or use the first one you find, which is the most normal”, say the sources who have visited the sauna.

“Of course, using the towel of an infected person for a while is a good way to get infected,” emphasizes the virologist. According to El Periódico de Españathose responsible for sauna Paraíso consider that the contagion event It could have happened on May 1.a holiday in Madrid, when other saunas closed for rest and Paraíso took over its clientele for a day.

Infecting others without knowing it is complicated. The disease has an incubation period. between one and two weeks, time in which the patient is asymptomatic and does not transmit the virus. From that moment on, the fever begins, the nodes near the infection route swell, pustules appear and the infection begins. “When someone has that rash, it stands to reason that they think they have to stay home, not go to a sauna. That’s why I tend to think that there may have been a misdiagnosis by a GP; they are not used to seeing this type of infection and perhaps they have not been able to assess the threat,” says Nistal.

Finally, the virologist maintains that only those born after 1980 are susceptible to infection, since until then all children were vaccinated against smallpox. “But if someone gets infected, don’t panic. Monkeypox is not a serious disease and, with the support of a health system, it should not cause major problems. Even if it is not treated, it is a self-limiting disease, which ends up disappearing. Once it is overcome, patients are strongly immunized, with the guarantee that they will not suffer from that disease again, “he says.

old acquaintances

It is not the first time that the Paraíso sauna, which opened its doors more than 40 years ago, has been in the media for tragic reasons. In September 2020, during the worst of the pandemic, the room was evicted by the Police when they saw several customers at the door without a mask. Once inside, the agents found more than 100 people who did not comply with the health regulations and eight of them were arrested for drug possession. In addition, the National Police reported that at the premises they found “large quantity of narcotic substances” thrown on the ground. Something similar happened in January 2021, when the municipal authorities entered again, as a result of neighborhood complaints, and encountered the same situation as a few months before: almost 300 people without a mask or respecting the safety distance, smoking in a compound already closedpurchasing alcoholic beveragessomething that does not allow the license of the sauna.

The businessman owner of the Paraíso sauna, Francisco Herrero, which owns two other similar venues in Madrid, gained popularity at the beginning of the century for denouncing that municipal officials charged party venues to speed up the processing of their licenses. Although his intention was not to denounce the extortion, but rather to speed up the deadlines even more, served to trigger Operation Guateque in Madridwith more than 30 defendants who were finally released when all tests are canceled.

Health authorities suspect in view of the new source of contagion in the Canary Islands, that behind these lights could be a practice known as ‘chemsex’, very widespread among the homosexual community. It is the use of psychoactive drugs such as mephdrone, methamphetamine Y GHB to have sex. The use of these substances produces a sensation of great liberation and disinhibition, which would encourage not only a greater frequency of sexual activities, but also that they occur in larger groups than usual.


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