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Butt Naked In A Banya: My Russian Bathhouse Experience

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On my last day in Moscow, after having spent a week in Russia’s iconic capital, an immediate friendship was sealed with a bohemian Argentinian, named “Zal”, as we literally broke bread in our hostel that morning. For the past several years Zal (Gonzalo) had been wandering throughout Eastern Europe supporting himself with his music. He was a fascinating guy and it didn’t take me long to realise that there was something special about him. I knew in my gut that his invitation to meet him in St Petersburg the following day if I decided to go, was not one to turn down. So, along with other factors taken into consideration, I took the night train to St Petersburg.

When I messaged Zal the following evening to say that I had indeed come to St Petersburg, I was spammed with a dozen, incoherent Facebook messages from him, vaguely describing a live gig he was playing that night, in a Russian “Banya” – a traditional Russian spa house. I didn’t quite understand what the deal was but I would be going regardless.

I spoke to a Russian friend of his, Yana, on the phone soon thereafter, who spoke good English and attempted to give me the details of the night, before the phone line dropped. Still unsure of what exactly was happening, it sounded like Zal would just be playing somewhere near the address of said Banya, for some Russian friends of his who would be drinking and hanging out, I figured, which sounded like a good time. However, when she called me back just before Zal was supposedly beginning to play, asking where I was, the thing seemed a lot more formal and organised than I first anticipated.

When I arrived to an empty courtyard of the address I was given, which was a run-down, soviet-era building on the outskirts of central St Petersburg, there was nobody in sight.

*Surely he wouldn’t be performing live music with an electrical audio system in the middle of a fucking wet, steaming spa house would he?…*, I thought to myself, as I climbed the stairs of the building.

But when I curiously opened the only door on the third storey, that had the sounds of a crowd of people behind it, that was exactly the scene I was met with. Except, when I opened the door, everybody, apart from Zal and the lady at the front desk, was completely naked; men and women, both young and old. Mostly men though.

*Nudity. Okay. Be cool. Just a sea of massive Russian cocks staring right at you. That’s all…* I thought, remaining as stoic as one can in such a situation.

Thankfully, my eyes quickly found a fully clothed Zal only metres from me, adjusting his audio set up, seemingly in preparation for his set. That evening, he would be playing to twenty-seven naked folk, who were all standing around in a dressing room, drinking tea and speaking in a language I could not understand. The language wasn’t the only thing I was struggling to comprehend in such an environment. A gaze around the small dressing room saw a young, naked mother with her two small children, also without clothes, as well as fifteen or so stark naked men, ranging from their twenties to sixties, along with a couple of other women.

“С кем Вы? С кем Вы?…” asked the girl at a desk by the door, confused by my vacant stare, as I stood there frozen, completely stifled by the moment.

When I regained composure I called out to Zal.

“Ryan! Cómo estás?!”, he said, greeting me with a hug and refusing to address the elephant in the room.

“So ah, getting ready to play then, huh?”. I uttered, managing to find words.

“Yaaaah. Iz gon be Oooh-soohhhmmm…”, interrupted a Russian hippie, who had dreadlocks and an almost skeletal face, indicating a severely lacking caloric intake. He was already dancing to the vague music in the background, with a possessed, trauma-ridden look in his eyes that elicited only a frown from me.

“Yeah man, I playing soon. I just have trouble with speakers.” Zal replied.

Yana, Zal’s free-spirited Russian friend I spoke with on the phone earlier, who appeared to be the organiser of the event, greeted me with typical Russian stoicism after she verified me to the lady at the desk. She was a petite and exotic-looking Russian hippie with olive skin, around my age, and quite attractive. She made me feel as welcome as she possibly could, for the fully clothed buffoon who had just come through the door in military boots and winter clothes, empty-handed and obviously unprepared for a session in a Banya.

“Ah, okay, I find you seat.” She said, looking at me awkwardly. “Hmm, tea up here and Banya in there.” She informed, pointing towards a doorway to the main bathing room, as she found a vacant seat for my clothes.

To my relief, she also found me a towel. Seeing that Zal was still adjusting his sound system and wouldn’t be playing for a moment, I stripped down and headed for the bathing hall, with my towel wrapped tightly around my waist.

The large, tiled bathing hall, almost ten by twenty metres, found another dozen butt naked Russians, chatting under showers, submerged in a plunge pool or laying across benches in the middle of the room, some being lathered from head to toe with mud or being struck with fistfuls of herbal leaves. Some just lay next to each other, talking, as if it were any other normal day. Nobody seemed phased. It was a bizarre thing to witness.

I’d vaguely read about the Banya experience before coming to Russia but had no idea it would be something as free as this. Even though it felt like I had barely been noticed as I walked in, I felt utterly uncomfortable and self-conscious and I consider myself pretty casual when it comes to these sorts of things. As to not be seen awkwardly glancing around the hall like some creep, I ducked into a small sauna at the back of the hall.

Upon entry to the sauna, I jolted, when I was met with the sight of a middle-aged Russian man, spread naked on his back across the middle bench of the tiny space, with his penis strewn lazily across his thigh, pointed in my direction and in a posture almost as if to taunt me. I sheepishly shuffled to the end of the front bench, attempting to mask my trauma.

Several minutes later I reemerged to the main hall and scanned the room for my next move. I tried to seem like I knew what I was doing but the mere fact that I was the only one with a towel wrapped conservatively around my body, indicated otherwise. I became anxious the more I awkwardly pottered around the hall with an air of indecisiveness. It didn’t help that a young Russian girl with enormous breasts was now openly showering across the way.

*Stop staring and retreat back to the sauna you fool!*, ordered my brain.

Thankfully when I did so, the sauna was empty and I chilled there for another moment, until a couple of Russian guys around my age and in good shape, strolled on through, stark naked, and took a seat.

My discomfort grew even more so, especially when I returned to the main hall, being the only one covering myself. It wasn’t the nudity that was making me uncomfortable anymore, I got used to it surprisingly quick, it was the fact that I was the only one who was not naked. The more time went on, the more my discomfort grew. Ultimately, if I was to remain in the bathing hall and actually feel some sense of relaxation, I knew what had to be done.

So, eventually, I succumbed to the mounting pressure and I dropped the towel. A subtle breeze of anxiety brushed over me like a gust of wind, but then I felt good. I felt calm; comfortable and one with the surrounding community. I took a strangely confident stride toward the raised metal bucket on a pivot in a corner of the hall, pulled down on the chain, dumping the containment of icy water over my naked body and chuckling to myself at the utter absurdity of the situation.

After several rotations of the mini sauna and the plunge pool, I returned to the change room to where Zal had begun his set. Accompanied by his Argentinian friend on percussion box and backup vocals, they played an incredibly unique style of reggae/jazz/rock, to a couple dozen naked human beings, including the naked dancing hippies in the vacant space at the front. I was blown away by how talented Zal was, from his singing to his pedal steel guitar playing and how much I liked his music, all the while being overcome by a euphoric state of ecstatic confusion due to the effects of the sauna and the scene I was witnessing.

I couldn’t wrap my head around how I ended up in such an absurd but incredible scenario. Here I was, some foreign, 27-year-old Australian guy, sitting naked in a Russian bathhouse, among a sea of others, drinking tea and bobbing heads to some truly authentic music, in a context it shouldn’t have been playing in. I couldn’t contain my laughter every time I scanned the room, observing the amount of bare flesh, for my eyes to eventually return to the sheer juxtaposition of a fully-clothed Zal, passionately playing live music in a fucking bathroom. It was amazing.

Zal’s: Youtube / Spotify / IG: @zaljuglar2022

Gradually, the gender ratio improved, though, only slightly, with a couple of beautiful young Russian girls who joined the party, one being an absolute knockout. She remained in a bikini but, of course, when she made a move for the bathing hall with two of her guy friends, half of the men in the dressing room followed suit.

During Zal’s interval, Yana stopped by to see how I was doing and I expressed my enjoyment.

“Russians are simple.” She said with a smile, as we began to build some rapport.

When she asked me what I thought of the big main Banya, I didn’t know what she was talking about, saying that I had only been in the mini sauna towards the back.

“Oh nooo, you need to go in the back…” She informed, indicating that I had been missing the main attraction the whole time. “Come with me…”.

“You need to go inside and wait until you sweat, then come out and go in the ice pool. That’s how you get the full effects of the Banya.”, she explained, as she led me through the bathing hall to a short closed-door to another room, hidden away in the back that I had not noticed.

From behind the main Banya door, I could already feel the heat and hear the sounds of voices, between the slaps of leaf bunches whipping flesh. I ventured in.

When I opened the door, I was punched in the face with a force of humid heat that I had never felt before. I walked down a small corridor to the main area, that was similar to that of a large wine cellar, where a dozen or so people were congregated. A small staircase lead up to a wooden deck where men and women sat, stood, or laid down to have their bodies bludgeoned with vegetation all the while sweating profusely to the point of near-death.

Atop the deck, I felt the full force of the heat. It must have been at least 30% hotter than the average sauna and within seconds I began to perspire. To the left of the raised deck, was a closed-off area that contained the source of heat which took up half the cellar space. Most people wore woollen hats to prevent their brains from frying which was the wiser idea.

Less than a minute in, I felt like my nose and ears were going to melt off and couldn’t stand it any longer. I darted out of the sauna, leapt into the ice-cold plunge pool, and was met with immediate relief.

I repeated the process several times more, each time staying longer in the sauna and the plunge pool, and began to feel the full effects of both. It was addictive. I could feel my lungs expanding wider than normal, allowing me to take in large, soothing breaths, due to the fragrance from the abundance of eucalyptus leaves people were being whipped with. I became further intoxicated with euphoric lightheadedness, the more rotations of the sauna and plunge pool I made. It became obvious why such a historic tradition was so popular.

However refreshing the sauna was, it still took me some time to get past how ridiculous I felt, standing naked in the dimly lit furnace with my genitals on display for the dozen other Russians that did the same. It was amazing how these people remained so calm and unaffected by the context, but I guess that’s just what it was. Context. It was nudity in a non-sexual context. Well, mostly.

By this time there were now young girls around my age, stepping in and out of the small plunge pool where I’d be sitting, their massive Russian breasts passing by inches from my face. One of the beautiful girls lay on a bench on her side facing her boyfriend, directly outside the path of the main Banya, legs scissored open and completely exposing herself to the many that walked by. With flawless tits that seemed to defy gravity, it became a little much at times, so I’d have to return to the sauna.

Eventually, the others I had interacted with over the course of the evening were now all naked in front of me. The girl at the front desk was now naked and in the sauna next to me. I noticed that Yana had also joined the party and was having her heavily inked back, violently whipped by herbal shrub.

“I’ll whip your back if you whip mine.”

The more time went on, the more I became at ease in the situation. When we all basked in the sauna and pool together, the only dynamic that had changed was that we no longer had arbitrary pieces of fabric covering our bodies. A social barrier had been dissolved. It was a beautiful thing.

Although a little sexually frustrating at times, fundamentally, it was a very liberating feeling to have such a primal experience and to be a part of something on the opposite side of an acceptable social norm. The most surprising thing was how quickly it just felt natural and normal, leaving you wondering why such a thing is so taboo in most contemporary cultures. It was nice to see that there were small subcultures throughout the world that seemed to be transcending ideas such as nudity and the way that their societies perceive it.

I was extremely grateful for having such a pure experience, something I feel every person should not hesitate to try.

And so, as I stood butt naked in that banya that evening, slapping my bare skin with herbal leaves, alongside dozens of other Russian men and women, in their strange, far away land, serenaded by the sounds of Zal’s incredible tunes echoing throughout the hall, I knew my decision to come to Russia, was the right one.

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