You’ve heard about gay bathhouses. They get a bad rep as dirty, vile places that gross old men go to for anonymous sex. If that’s your current opinion, it’s probably best to wait. Going to a bathhouse requires a certain level of open-mindedness, because the fact is that many bathhouses are filled with older gay men, and many of them do go there for anonymous sex, but that is neither gross, dirty, or vile. Bathhouses can actually be pretty fun, so if you’re curious, definitely give them a try. For your first trip, here’s a list of tips that will make it a good experience.
Some bathhouses are cash only, and if you’re there long enough (and engaged in strenuous physical activity), you’ll want water from the vending machine.
Many bathhouses won’t let you go barefoot. If your local bathhouse does, don’t. Shoes can be clunky and will probably get wet. It's a bathhouse, after all – you wouldn’t wear high-tops in a steam room. Bring your cheapest, oldest pair of beach flip-flops.
There’s a reason women carry purses. Purses are brilliant inventions, and it’s ridiculous that so many men are afraid of carrying them. Women figured it out ages ago: a small bag is the most useful thing in the world. At a bathhouse (or sex club or circuit party) this is doubly true: a small drawstring bag over your shoulders is ideal for carrying your valuables, especially if you want to opt out from getting a locker (which will likely cost extra, on top of the admittance fee). Small bags are even more useful if you’re planning to strip down to your towel or underwear (or go nude).
I’m a bottom, so I carry my silicone lube and a douche in an Adidas bag to bathhouses, sex clubs, raves, circuit parties, and even run-of-the-mill bars where I think I might get lucky, because the simple fact is that even after a thorough cleaning, you can never completely predict or control the body. What’s the point of paying to get into a sexual environment if you’ll just have to go home in the worst-case scenario? Bringing a douche means that worst case scenario is remedied by a trip to the bathroom.
I included this in my op-ed Going Clear: 40 Days, 40 Nights Without Grindr, but it deserves getting repeated. If someone offers you a sip of their Gatorade, it’s probably filled with G, also known as GBH, which is short for gamma-hydroxybutyrate – a club drug that is easy to overdose on and lethal when mixed with alcohol.
The most common form of G appears as a clear liquid, and you only need a few drops to feel the affects. Therefore it is impossible to determine whether or not a Gatorade bottle or water bottle has G in it, or how much. An overdose on G can make you very sick and land you in the Emergency Room. A bad overdose can land you in the morgue. The best way to avoid G is to bring (or buy) your own drink and watch over it throughout the night.
You know how to avoid G – it’s the easiest drug to be tricked into taking. It’s harder to be tricked into taking molly or meth. The safest practice when it comes to drugs is to not do them, but if you’re going to, you should know the risks. Molly, or MDMA, on its own is relatively harmless, but often the drug is cut with other substances that can make it dangerous. Meth is one of the most addictive substances on the planet (right up there with sugar and nicotine, which are miraculously legal), and is a particular plague for gay men. Steer clear.
Like you, they’re just there to have a good time. If they flirt – and if they touch and grope (it’s going to happen) – tell them you’re not interested and move on. There’s no need to be mean.
If you’re nervous about the sex, remember that you can also indulge your voyeuristic side and just watch, or be watched. And if the bathhouse has a pool, as many do, you can swim. Many bathhouses have gyms, lounges, and “rec room” style areas where you can chill out. Just remember that you are, in fact, at a bathhouse, so if advances are made or sex is happening just around the corner, you are where you are for a reason.
It might not end up being your thing. But keep a spirit of adventure and don’t put down the patrons that enjoy the dwindling bathhouse scene. Bathhouses are just bathhouses, nothing more or less. They were once a staple of gay life, and now they are scarce relics of a cruise culture that is rapidly disappearing. The most written-about gay bathhouse was the infamous Everard Baths in New York, which closed in 1985.
Some say bathhouses have been replaced by hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff. Others say that today’s queer public milieu of marriage equality and family life has shifted tolerance and publicity away from the hypersexual side of gay life, stamping out venues that cater to gay sex in the process. While both claims hint at the truth, the latter is more of a politically charged publicity stunt than a true change of gay behavior. Visit the annual Black Party in New York if you think gay life has gone tame.
The first time I went to a bathhouse, I went with a buddy who knew what to do, who had my back if I got nervous, and would leave if I wanted to leave. I didn’t get nervous and eventually had a good time, but I appreciated having a friend who I could follow around and talk to while I built up my courage. Bars, clubs, and parties are always better with someone you trust – your local bathhouse is no different.