A mixed sauna refers to a co-ed sauna with both male and female guests. This is a desegregated facility that allows men and women to move around the sauna and bath area (along with other public features) at will. This brings up the question: what does one wear in a mixed or co-ed sauna? The simple answer is that it mostly depends on the country you are currently visiting.
Let’s start with the Unites States of America. Understand that sauna culture here is not as widely developed as it is in European countries. In fact, you might not even find many traditional saunas outside of northern states, where there also happens to be a large population of Finnish people. Most of the mixed saunas you find will be health club saunas, which are compromised saunas, stripped of all extremes and devoid of cultural tradition. In the lawsuit-happy U.S., most sauna owners operate these saunas at lower temperatures than usual. Public nudity is not allowed, and men and women are asked to wear bathing suits inside the sauna.
Wait a minute though — haven’t you seen one or two nudes walking around inside a sauna before? You probably have. Again, this illustrates the difference between saunas overseas and Americans saunas. Many American saunas are small one room features, or perhaps installed onto a segregated changing room, where there is temporary nudity. Hence, no one cares about nudity in these circumstances, provided it is not in a public place with a lot of people.
That said, when you go to other countries like South Korea and Scandinavia, you will see a very different version of a sauna. These sauna facilities are larger and are frequented by a mix of both men and women, most of who walk around naked. Some countries, such as Russia, Japan and Sweden only offer single sex facilities, and have no problem with nudity. In fact, they may require it to avoid a chlorine risk. On the other hand, countries like Germany and Austria rarely separate single sex visitors from coeds, as most establishments offer either mixed sauna facilities or female saunas. Other regions that prohibit clothing and serve male and female guests include the Benelux countries and Switzerland.
Remember, just because there is nudity in mixed sauna facilities does not mean that it is a highly sexualized atmosphere. Some families bring their children to nude saunas, and business associates all steam together discarding their suits for towels. It may seem like culture shock to you, but this is the way it happens. Lastly, be aware that in some locations, especially in parts of the U.K. and France, smaller establishments advertise themselves as saunas when they are actually brothels or clubs for gay men. Use common sense—unless it is specifically advertised as a Finnish sauna or part of a well known club, then you might get more than you bargained for!
Bear in mind that a mixed sauna, the traditional sauna, has a very spiritual origin. It is revered in some parts of the world as an ancient custom and a holy place. Before modern hospitals, women used to give birth in the sauna; dead bodies were even washed in these facilities. Enjoy the sauna for its culture and stay for the marvelous health benefits.