The owner of the month-old Crew Club, D.C. Allen, says he has created a clean, safe space for gay men to lift weights, shoot pool, get a tan, sip sodas and pick up condoms and lessons on how to avoid AIDS. His critics say he has created a throwback to the bathhouses that predate the epidemic, fostering promiscuous, anonymous and possibly dangerous sex.
During the 1980s, many bathhouses were closed or shunned as breeding grounds of the fatal disease. As the epidemic has settled into its second decade, bathhouses and clubs are reappearing in several major U.S. cities, and men are being attracted once again to their promise of casual liaisons. But this time, the establishments are touting themselves as environments that promote safe sex.
The ethic of safe, casual sex is spreading while health workers fear that AIDS prevention campaigns are failing. New research suggests that the HIV infection rate, stable among U.S. gay men for several years, might be increasing again, particularly among men too young to have been sobered by watching friends die.
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