A recent article in the Guardian says that the Youth Hostel Association in England and Wales is considering changing their out-dated policy of single-sex dorms.
Most YHA hostels in England and Wales have got rid of most of their old-fashioned rules such as curfews, chores and bans on alcohol, but they continue to stick to the idea of single-sex dormitories. However later this year some YHA hostels in London will start offering mixed-gender dorms as a response to competition from independent hostels.
While some more conservative elements of the YHA are probably not too happy with the idea, it has generally been well-received by most travellers.
There are a few good arguments for single-sex dorms and most hostels with mixed dorms also have single sex dorms for those that prefer them.
I would expect that the YHA would still stick with single-sex dorms for individual travellers and small groups of the same gender and reserve their mixed dorms for couples and mixed groups of people travelling together. A lot of independent hostels do this and it generally works very well.
I accept that it is nice to have some privacy when getting changed in a mixed dorm and being the only girl (or guy) in a room full of the opposite sex can be a little uncomfortable at first. But once you’ve met your roommates it usually isn’t a big issue. In many cases it is a bonus as you’re likely to meet a more interesting group of travellers in a mixed dorm.
There is the issue of guys snoring, but chicks snore too and when you travel long enough you’ll come to appreciate how relaxing the sound of snoring can be (a bit like the sound of the ocean). The issue with loud snorers could be a bigger problem at YHA hostels where the average guest is quite a bit older than at most independent backpackers’ hostels. If it bothers you, wear ear plugs.
The other issue with mixed dorms is the rudey-nudey hanky-panky that some think is rampant in independent hostels. Sure many long-term travellers will have experienced a couple going for it in a mixed dorm at some point in their travels, but again this isn’t a big deal and it very rarely happens.
Sensible hostel staff can sense what people mix well together and they generally won’t put you in a room full of inappropriate roommates and wherever possible they will try to put you in a room with similar travellers.
Not having any mixed dorms at all raises a different set of problems. It makes it difficult for a couple or a mixed group of friends travelling together as they would get split into separate rooms when staying at a YHA hostel. You shouldn’t be forced to pay extra for a private family room just so you can share a room with friends that you’re travelling with. Mixed dorms let you stay with your friends.
Furthermore it is quite common for a hostel to have vacant beds, but turn away travellers simply because they are the wrong gender.
More simply, segregating your guests according to their gender is sexual apartheid!
There are problems with hostels that only have mixed-dorms, but segregated dorms have their own set of issues. The ideal hostel has a mix of both. The YHA may be behind the times, but at least they are starting to slowly move in the right direction.