Major improvements at Juvenex (NYC)

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Posted by Milo on March 21, 2004 at 05:37:35:

Someone asked about Juvenex recently, and I responded based on my last experience there. Since that last experience was at least a year ago, however, I thought I'd try it again, though I wasn't too optimistic.

All I can say is, what a difference a year makes!

A year ago, the place was empty after 9PM (which is when men are allowed in). Today, there were people coming and going as late as 1AM, when I left. It wasn't crowded, but there were always a handful of people around, and it was generally a mixed crowd -- when I got there, I was one of two men and there were three women (one with the other man, two on their own). That doesn't count the attendants and therapists, who were all women, and of which there were a half dozen or so.

A year ago, they were extremely skittish about nudity: They insisted on my wearing a swimsuit at all times and in all locations. Even in the sauna, even in the steam room -- hell, even on the body scrub table, and this in spite of the fact that most of the time I was the only person in the place. Once, when a woman came in, they rushed me off into the bathroom and kept me there for 10 minutes so our paths wouldn't cross. Not a pleasant experience.

Today, I wore a swimsuit, but the first thing I noticed when I sat in the sauna was that through the window on the door I could see across the room into the leftmost of the shower stalls (which, incidentally, have no curtains or doors), where one of the three female customers was showering in the nude. She wrapped a towel around her before leaving the shower area and coming to the sauna, but stripped it off again before climbing into the plunge pools, which she used naked. No one complained. (Most of the time she was submerged enough to cover her breasts, but she was completely exposed when getting in and out.)

We spoke briefly. She was visiting from Houston, staying with her mother and stepfather. She mentioned that she'd asked the attendants when she arrived whether she had to wear a suit or not, and they'd said no. The first time she wanted to switch pools when I was in one of the pools myself, she briefly seemed a bit uncomfortable, saying "I'm sort of naked"; I offered to look away and she made the switch while I faced the wall. But given that she switched to the one I was in, a still-water pool at most three feet deep and five feet in diameter, it's not as though a lot was hidden when I turned back. And when the attendants came to collect us for our treatments, she climbed out without any self consciousness. (Possibly because in the meantime I'd mentioned that I prefer to use spas in the nude myself. I think she was probably just trying to be sensitive to my feelings earlier -- warning me that she was naked in case I minded, not because she did.)

Despite this promising beginning, I thought it was possible that she was able to get away with more because she was a woman, so I kept my swimsuit on until I was taken into the body scrub area, which is screened from public view, but which contains several scrub tables. On one, a woman was getting a scrub, and she was naked, so I took a chance and slipped off my suit. No comment from the woman preparing to scrub me, nor from the one scrubbing the woman (nor from the woman being scrubbed, though I'm not sure she saw).

The scrub was terrific. The therapist covered my penis with a washcloth while I was on by back, but left the cloth off when I was on my stomach and just draped it loosely when I was on my side. Incidentally, there was no sexual contact of any sort, as one might expect at a spa of this caliber.

After the scrub, my therapist led me to the shower area. She had handed me a towel but not my swimsuit, so I showered in the nude. (I know, showering nude is not exactly a radical idea -- but remember, this is the place where a year ago the mere suggestion of an exposed penis sent them into hysterics. Also remember that the showers are pretty much in full view of the rest of the room, screened only by a few plants.)

I then returned to the sauna -- and while I sat there, noticed one of the other female customers (the one who was there with her husband) showering in the leftmost stall. She'd kept a black bikini on earlier, but in the shower she took off the top. At first she kept one arm over her breasts when facing the room, but after a little while she stopped and just showered openly. The husband didn't pay much attention and neither did anyone else in the room.

The next step in the evening's fun was an hour-long massage, which took place in a separate massage room. First-rate, entirely professional, and though I was draped throughout, the masseuse didn't make a big deal about what parts of me were covered and what parts weren't. It was exactly the sort of casual attitude about nudity you hope for during a massage: Use draping when it's helpful to make the massage better (keeping the person warm, reducing friction for some strokes), but don't invent elaborate schemes to guarantee that the person you're massaging doesn't get exposed for even a split second.

Finally it was back to the sauna, the plunge pool, and the shower, this time all used in the nude (though I wrapped up in a towel when traveling from one to the next, just as a matter of courtesy). Everyone was friendly throughout. They saw exactly what I was doing, and no one raised an eyebrow or made me feel the least bit uncomfortable.

So, what's the bad news about this latter-day Eden?

First of all, men are still only allowed in after 9PM, which is a pain, unless you just happen to be in the mood for a late-night massage.

Second, the price is steep: The full package I got was close to $200, not counting tips. (I think the charge to just use the sauna, steam room, and other facilities is $65 -- still pretty high, especially when you compare it to places like Spa 88 and the Tenth Street Baths.)

But it was worth it. The scrub and massage were really top-notch -- as they were a year ago -- and the new, relaxed attitude about nudity was just great.

It's possible I just got lucky in my choice of therapists and that I happened to go on a good night. Maybe most of the time it's all men after 9PM, or the women who do go keep their suits on and complain if the men don't. But at least we now know for sure that the attendants don't mind discreet nudity if none of the customers complain. And we know that at least some of the time the crowd is mixed.

In short, Juvenex is now not only not the worst spa experience in the city for social nudity but quite possibly the best.



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