Former soldier and gay rights campaigner James Wharton has said that gay saunas are standing in the way of equality and should be shut down.

Writing in Winq magazine, which launched in the UK last month, the soldier, who served alongside Prince Harry in the Household Cavalry, said that saunas were “thorns in our side that mark our community as different for the wrong reasons”.

He said: “If we don’t, we feed the haters and we hand the bigots who remain a vocal minority ammunition with which to attack us”

“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.”

Campaigner Peter Tatchell told the Independent: “It would be very wrong if the gay community became proscriptive and moralistic over consenting adult behaviour.

“Plenty of gay and bisexual men use saunas without resorting to drugs or unsafe sex. A small minority may act recklessly and that should be challenged but it would be wrong to penalise the majority attitudes.”

Jason Warriner, clinical director of Terrence Higgins Trust, told the newspaper that closing saunas would have little impact on sexual habits, and would hamper efforts to make environments safe.

He said: “It would make it more difficult for organisations like Terrence Higgins Trust to provide safer sex information, supply condoms and deliver HIV testing services among groups at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections and HIV.”

The soldier, who entered into a civil partnership in 2010, was recently awarded Freedom of the City of London.