4 min

Bathhouse owner responds to OutWords’ ‘selling sex’ ban

Other mags critical of decision to ban Cruiseline, Squirt ads

This ad for the Adonis Spa bathhouse in Winnipeg appeared in the same issue that editor Rachel Morgan announced that the magazine would no longer take "sex ads."

The owner of the Adonis Spa bathhouse in Winnipeg has lambasted a decision by the publishers of the city’s queer magazine, OutWords, to stop running ads for Cruiseline and Squirt on the grounds that they “sell sex.”

OutWords editor Rachel Morgan wrote in an editorial that the goal is to achieve wider distribution by moving into more upscale markets where ads for gay hookup services might be frowned upon.
But when asked why the magazine is still running ads for the local gay bathhouse, Morgan told Xtra that “Adonis doesn’t run ads that suggest they are selling sex.

“The bottom line is that our guidelines will prohibit ads that sell sex,” she added, saying she would be requesting that Adonis remove references to Cruiseline in its ad text.

Adonis owner Doug Pomanski tells Xtra that OutWords had already asked the spa to alter the picture it was using in its ad to one that was less racy.
“They said the last ad was too risqué; we had to change the photo,” Pomanski says. “To me it makes no sense at all. It’s completely off the wall. We’re gay men and we have sex.”
Pomanski learned from Xtra that Morgan was going to demand further changes to the ad. He says he hasn’t decided whether he will comply.
“I really haven’t made up my mind because they haven’t actually told me. Nothing has been relayed to me in regards to changes to my current format,” he says.
Morgan tells Xtra that ads from Cruiseline and Squirt traditionally accounted for one-seventh of OutWords’ ad revenue. OutWords has an estimated circulation in the Winnipeg area of 4,500. Squirt has approximately 5,000 registered users in Manitoba.
Squirt continues to advertise in other gay and lesbian magazines, including Gay Calgary, Halifax’s Wayves and Saskatoon’s Perceptions, as well as in Toronto’s alt-weekly Now.
Wayves has been criticized  by community members and shop owners who objected to the large Cruiseline ads that have run on the magazine’s back covers for years. Publisher Daniel MacKay says it’s important not to cave in to demands to tone down sex in the magazine.
“We’re not a children’s magazine. We’re an adult magazine,” MacKay says. “That is fairly tame adult material on the back cover. That’s pretty damn tame compared to even Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue.”
In the past, when coffee shops or bookstores have complained about the ads, MacKay says he tries to use it as an opportunity to educate.
“We talk to the owner and make that comparison. We say, ‘Forget about the genders but compare the content; is it more or less raunchy? So, is this coming from trying to protect the children or is this coming from a place of homophobia?’”
When a tea shop in Sackville, Nova Scotia, decided to stop displaying Wayves, MacKay made an effort to find another place in the town to distribute the magazine.
“We worked really hard to find a gay-friendly place in town and make a big deal about the magazine being carried there, and then people go there to get their coffee or whatever. So we make it a positive thing,” he says.
MacKay says that running the ads is practical and that doing so gives back to the community.
“We couldn’t do the magazine without the back cover sold, and we don’t have another back cover to run,” he says. “Cruiseline helps out our community. It’s not a big, multinational, corporate big pig. It’s very much a philanthropic organization.”
MacKay also says that much of the objection to the ads is gendered.
“Most of the individuals who complain about this are women,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a male, except in the case of someone at one of these somewhat homophobic bookshops or at a church, say anything about the ads at all.”
Some women say the ads give the impression that the magazine is for men only, or that they’re exploitative, MacKay says.
“The other element is erotophobia, saying sex is dirty, and having an ad that advertises for sex is not acceptable,” he says. “There’s a perception that the Cruiseline ad is for prostitution. They say, ‘Obviously the boy in the foreground is being taken advantage of by the sex trade. Obviously he’s a drug-addicted sex-trade worker being forced into prostitution.’ How does she know that?”
But Morgan says that the decision to stop running Cruiseline and Squirt ads in OutWords was not pushed by female readers and board directors.
“It was one of the men who first suggested it. We were torn over it because we felt some loyalty to Cruiseline and Squirt for the many years we were associated with them and because we recognize that it’s important to be sex-positive,” she says. “It took a year or more of discussion to get to the point where we made the decision to cut the sex-for-sale ads. In the end, the decision was just about unanimous.”
The editorial board wants OutWords to serve a wider market that includes young people, and the ads were making it hard to distribute the magazine to them, she says.
“We are rebranding the magazine as a news, entertainment and lifestyle package that anyone can pick up and find something they like. In particular, we want to get the magazine into schools and into the hands of GSAs. We feel it’s important to reach out to young people who are exploring their sexuality and on the verge of coming out,” she says.
Making the magazine inclusive of all the different groups in the gay, lesbian, bi and trans community is a delicate balancing act, she says.
“We are often criticized by the men for being a lesbian magazine and by the women for being a gay magazine. The young people say the magazine is too much for the older crowd and the older folks say we put in too much fluff for the younger set. It would be so much easier to cater to one niche, but we want to reach out to the broader GLBT community,” Morgan says.
Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra, also operates the online cruising website Squirt and until recently operated Cruiseline. Cruiseline is now operated by First Media Group.