A server brings smoothies over to the four Shedogs sitting around a small table in the Paperchase.
“Mixed fruit?” she calls out.
“That’s me!” says one of the Shedogs, and the others burst into resounding giggles and cackles.
The “mixed fruit” is the Lusty Librarian of Shedogs’ Bathhouse, who is going by an alias for the sake of her job. Another, Claire, is going by her first name for the same reason, but both women are open about their identities at the bathhouse. The other two Shedogs are more willing to be identified: Maggie Haywood is the manager at Venus Envy and Elinor Crosby’s pink hair and large gauge, hot pink septum ring make her a recognizable figure.
These are four of the eight women who organize Shedogs’ Bathhouse, an event that has run five times at Seadogs Sauna & Spa on Gottingen Street since owner Doug Melanson started it on Valentine’s Day 2005.
Only about 30 women attended that first bathhouse, and after similarly poor attendance at the second, third and fourth, the women decided to take over. They put up a webpage on venusenvy.ca with information about what goes down at the bathhouse, who can attend, what the rules are, what to wear and why you should go. They organized the fifth event on May 29, which drew 60 women.
“It’s pretty rare to get a group of people who are as different as we are who actually like working together,” says the Librarian.
The Shedogs say they run one of the only bathhouses for women in North America. There are no regular dates for the events, but the upcoming bathhouse is July 19, during Pride Week, and the Shedogs expect to reach their capacity of 65 people. The bathhouse will be underwater/mermaid-themed, and anyone who doesn’t identify as male and is at least 19 is welcome.
With the increasing popularity of Shedogs’, why do they think women’s bathhouses are so rare?
Crosby thinks there aren’t many bathhouses for women because she says they are mostly owned by men, who aren’t usually willing to let women use them.
“The men that do own the bathhouses just aren’t as open to it as Doug is,” she says.
The Librarian adds that it’s difficult to create a comfortable space for many different women.
“We wanted it to be welcoming and inclusive and to have that kind of vibe that would make it comfortable for people to do lots of different things, and also to make it possible for people from different backgrounds, different subcultures, different social networks, to be in the same place at the same time and have that be OK,” she says.
The supportive and comfortable environment of the bathhouse is facilitated by the 12-15 volunteers who work there. The bathhouses are also alcohol- and smoke-free, and attendees are provided with free condoms, lube, gloves and dental dams.
“We promote physical and emotional safety,” says Haywood.
So what does go down at Shedogs’? According to these four women, anything and everything, as long as you stick to the three inviolable rules: consent, respect and confidentiality.
“You can go from watching The L Word while eating cookies to actually have full-on sex, and anything in between is possible as well,” says Claire. You can enjoy the hot tub and sauna, be read to by the Lusty Librarian, kiss for five minutes (and only five minutes —they have a timer) in the make-out room, get a massage, be zapped by the electrostatic Violet Wand and watch g-spot or fisting demonstrations.
“It is a very supportive environment, and it’s also one of those few places where women’s sexuality is really celebrated,” says Crosby.
The Librarian says the bathhouse works in Halifax because the wide variety of women who attend are respectful of each other.
“Being in a small city actually has advantages…you have to play nice because you can’t fucking get away from people,” she says. “You don’t have a huge anonymous city to get lost in.”
Shedogs’ Bathhouse @ Seadogs Sauna & Spa, 2199 Gottingen Street. Tickets can be purchased at Venus Envy for $12 in advance or $20 at the door. Private rooms can be reserved in advance for $10.