James Wharton
James Wharton's demand that gay saunas should be shut down sparked a social media stormFacebook

An LGBT rights campaigner and British soldier who served alongside Prince Harry has spoken out against gay sex saunas, saying they promote homophobia and undermine gains in equality.

James Wharton, who served in the Household Cavalry, has said that if the LGBT community want respect and equality, gay saunas should be shut down.

According to Wharton, the establishments promote promiscuity and "risky" sex with strangers and need to be closed in order to eliminate the "thorns in our side that mark our community as different for the wrong reasons".

Writing in Winq magazine, he said: "Sex saunas need to be history. The time has come to close them down."

He said the saunas encouraged risky behaviour and had been associated with drug fatalities, citing a recent case in which a Manchester man was found dead in his own faeces in the "rest room" of a gay village sauna.

The cause of death had been attributed to high levels of amphetamine and caffeine in his system, which had aggravating an existing heart condition.

Wharton said: "For me as a gay man, the notion that there exist within our communities a series of places that actively promote the convening of gay men for participation in sex of shades various and in groups of all sizes rather revolts me – and I 've been round the block a few times, believe me. I'm no prude, not even close, but the days when we gathered in clandestine fashion for the want of a network or a sexual outlet are surely long gone."

He also added that the existence of gay saunas served to fuel homophobic criticism of gay men.

Wharton added: "We feed the haters and we hand the bigots who remain a vocal minority ammunition with which to attack us."

However, members of the public and campaigners have criticised Wharton's views, questioning whether closing gay saunas would stop men meeting for casual sex or change homophobic attitudes.

Matthew Hodson, chief executive of the gay men's health charity GMFA, told the Independent that mobile apps make it easy for individuals to have casual encounters.

He said: "If someone says that they don't like gays because we have sex with lots of partners, they're probably just searching for an excuse to justify their prejudice. Most people with homophobic attitudes will be uncomfortable with gay men in long-term monogamous relationships too."

Wharton has since defended his statements in Gay Star News, highlighting the dangers of engaging in sexual activity with strangers in saunas.

He responded: "I find it unfathomable that people do not comprehend the danger associated with engaging in sexual activity with strangers, often under the influence of alcohol and drugs – saunas are major culprits for all three of these risk factors.

"In saying this I'm not judging people on what they do sexually. That's entirely their own business. But I am concerned they are not sufficiently aware of the dangers they face and am worried, as a gay man myself, about our collective health."

Wharton's comments have received a backlash on social media: