Every time I write one of my bathhouse blog posts I get a rush of emails from men who’ve never ventured before to one of these establishments. Almost to a one, they want to know how it works, and if I’ll take them next time I go.
Well, I can’t always do the latter. But I can do my best to demystify what can be a scary place for some guys—and in the second half of the entry, I’ll stress some points of etiquette that even the frequent bathhouse users often seem to have forgotten.. If you’re a guy with an experience of the bathhouse, you might even chip in your own tips in the comments.
What It Is
A bathhouse, simply, is an establishment at which men gather for sex. It may operate under the euphemism of spa; it might be run as a health club. But they’re bathhouses, or in some locales, the tubs. They’re located usually in larger metropolitan areas. Some cities have several. In many cities, there are none.
Some of the facilities offer amenities to get you through the door—gym equipment, hot tubs, tanning or massage services. Some baths have full-sized pools or outdoor sun decks. Many offer entertainment (though you’re not going to find Bette Midler playing at them anymore), special events, or even holiday meals at a reasonable price.
But make no mistake about it, these establishments exist for men to enjoy sex with each other. The number of features designed to facilitate that particular goal far outweigh the others—so from bathhouse to bathhouse you might find dark rooms in which porn is playing on a loop, or steam rooms or saunas for men to cruise in. There are usually showers of some sort. You might find unlit rooms with seemingly no purpose other than to offer the cover of darkness for men to screw, or gloryhole mazes, or slurp ramps in which men stand on a platform several feet off the floor and stick their dicks through gloryholes in the hope of attracting mouths. There may be sling rooms, or rooms with proper drainage dedicated to piss play.
Most traditional bathhouses have corridor after corridor of small locked rooms that can be rented for a price. They’ll quite often occupy the bulk of the building.
Bathhouses will often run specials to attract men through the doors. They may sponsor social gatherings such as bear runs, or host a college night with discounts for guys with student IDs in order to attract young men (and the older men who admire them). They often run leather nights with discounts for men who show up in chaps and harnesses. You might find some establishments offering holiday parties, or white parties, or blackout parties in which all the lights are turned off and men sort each other out solely by glowing wristbands.
Whatever the theme or amenities, bathhouses usually fall into two types: clothed and unclothed. You can probably figure out the essential difference between them: in an unclothed bathhouse, which is the more common of the two, typically most men will leave their duds in a locker and strut around in nothing more than a towel. There’s usually option at the clothed baths to leave your garments somewhere under lock and key, but most people don’t won’t. They’ll simply drop their pants when they find a partner, and go at it.
How to Get In
Most clubs require not only some sort of fee with every visit, but a membership as well.
The membership isn’t a universal thing, but it’s not uncommon; the establishment will give you an option between a shorter-term membership (anywhere from one month to six months) to one that’s good for a year, or even a lifetime. The cost varies by bathhouse, and goes up with duration. The bathhouse will very likely ask to see your driver’s license when you apply for a membership. There’s no real need to worry about it, though. They want your patronage. They’re not going to call you at home and notify your aged grandmother that goodtime-Chucky hasn’t been seen at Club Gusher for the last month, did he get gonorrhea or something? They’re really not.
Some clubs have a day pass, or a special membership for out-of-towners. Ask at the front desk, when you apply.
A few baths require that you be ‘sponsored’ in order to join. Usually the process involves arriving with an existing member who will vouch for you and your future behavior. If the club to which you’re applying is one of these, make your arrangements beforehand. I’ve also been to other bathhouses that ask new members for membership cards to other baths in other cities. It’s okay if you don’t have one; what the establishment is trying to make certain is that you don’t think they’re something they’re not—in other words, that you’re not going to walk in, see two men fondling each other in a dark corner, and then shriek that you were expecting a Russian baths where the hardest and steamiest things going were the hot rocks for the massages. If you don’t have other membership cards, or if you’re challenged, simply and calmly say that you’ve seen their website and it looks like the kind of place you want to be, or what you’ve seen their advertisements in your local gay magazine. That’s all they want to hear.
After you’ve gone through the rigamarole of paying for a membership, you may be issued a membership card. Remember to bring it back with you on repeat visits. The clerk will ask you to pay for some kind of storage and/or room for a pre-determined period of time (usually eight or ten hours). The cheapest option is usually a locker, for which you’ll be issued a key.
The least expensive room is usually a bare-bones changing room that consists of a cot and a locker and perhaps a small table of some sort. The more expensive ones might have televisions with porn playing, or larger and more comfortable beds and bedding, or mirrored walls or ceilings, or a private bathroom. One facility I’ve visited has gloryhole rooms, in which the occupant can open a pair of shutters covering a popular hole in a dark maze, when he wants to play with some anonymous dick.
Choose what makes you comfortable. I usually like having a room to which I can retire, but some establishments have such large and comfortable public spaces that having only a locker doesn’t seem like a punishment at all.
Announce your choice to the clerk, and fork over the cash. You may be asked to surrender your membership card (you’ll get it back when you exit), and to sign a card or form stating what time you entered. You might be asked to sign the same card on your exit.
Collect your key and step through the inner door. You’re in!
What to Bring
Here’s what not to bring: anything valuable. Don’t bring your laptop, your iPad, those rolls of film from your wedding last week that your new wife wanted you to take to Walgreen’s, jewelry, your best expensive leather jacket, or anything you’ll regret losing. You may not want to bring any more cash than is necessary to get through the front door. That’s up to you.
Yes, you have a locker in which to put your valuables, but you know. Stuff happens. You could fall asleep with someone in your room, and they might snitch that key and make off with your wallet. Just be cautious. Be particularly cautious if you're walking around a clothed bathhouse; it's easy for a thief to slip your wallet or cell phone from your jeans while he's blowing you, or for you to lose track of exactly who has access to your pockets in a dark room. In these establishments, it's best to arrive with the bare minimum.
Do bring lube, and breath mints, and your favorite cock ring. If you have toys you enjoy using on yourself or others, bring those along as well. If you use poppers, you’ll find you’re not alone at the bathhouse. If you want to have safe sex, there are usually condoms available and even given out with your room key. Be prepared to ask guys to use them, if you insist on them. I firmly believe that whether or not to engage in safe sex is your choice, but if you're not careful, there could be some asshole who’s going to try to stealth you and make you feel by teaching you a lesson that he did you a favor, after.
I recommend bringing a pair of flip-flops. The kind that are cheap, easily rinsable with water, and which you don’t mind forgetting, losing, or tossing away. Most of the good establishments clean often and regularly, but I’ve been in some dives in which I was afraid to let my feet touch the mold-covered floors.
It helps if you think of your bathhouse adventure not as a desperate attempt to get laid, but as a leisurely adventure. In other words, be prepared to spend a lot of time doing nothing, sometimes.
If you have a locker, store your valuables in it and put on your towel. If you have a room, store your stuff away and make your bed. Then go exploring. Check out the bath’s public areas and scope out the people present. See if any of the movies are to your liking. Try out the sling. Investigate the contours of the dark rooms, and relax in the steam room or sauna for a while.
The other men are there for the same reason you are. They want to have sex. They don’t necessarily want to have it with you—which is something everyone needs to keep in mind—but no one is going to be offended if you masturbate while you watch a movie, or let your hand drift between your legs while you’re soaking up the steam. If you want men to make passes at you, let them know you’re open to it with your body language and your availability. If you want to come on to someone, do so. Simply know that rejections are possible, and that all you need to do is move on to another opportunity.
Some baths are kind of strict about sex taking place in public areas, like the lounges near the front door, or the pool. Others don’t give a shit. You’ll find guys fucking just about everywhere, like the last days of Rome. The advantage of having even a small changing room is that if you want privacy, you’ll have somewhere to take the guy. And many guys, myself included, like to use their rooms as a base for cruising. I’ll lower the lights on a dimmer switch, if there is one, sit on my bed, and stroke my dick for passers-by to see. If one of them pauses and I like his looks, I’ll invite him in.
Every open door in a corridor is a potential invitation. If you’re looking for a bottom, step into the rooms of the men who are lying face down on their cots, asses in the air. They’re telling you what they’re looking for. If you want to suck dick or get fucked, check out the guys like me who are showing off their erections. See a handsome guy you like? Stick your head in his door and say hello to him as you pass. The worst that could happen is that he’ll turn you down. Psychically damaging as we all know that can be, it really is nothing more than a refusal. Think of what you could gain if he said yes.
If someone’s left the door open and they’re getting it on with another guy, or two or three guys, they want to be watched. Slow down and watch. Or join in.
Just have some sex. That’s what everyone wants in a bathhouse. Get yourself off, get off other guys, enjoy the darkness and the hours away from the drudgery of your everyday life, and have fun. Think of it as a mini-vacation. A mini-vacation with an ever-present smell of poppers.
How to Leave
My simple rule of thumb is to leave when I get bored, or my balls have run dry. You will know when it’s time to go because your body will tell you. If you stay past the eight hours your twenty bucks bought you and the management has to drag you kicking and protesting out of the glory hole maze and send you home, then you are a big old whore and you ought to be sending me your phone number.
It’s not always apparent what you’re supposed to do when you leave a bathhouse, which is why I mention it. If you have a locker, simply dress and take your key (and lock, if you have to) back to the front desk, along with your towel. If you rented a room, get dressed, make sure you have everything you brought, strip your cot of its sheets and pillowcase, and gather them and your towel and make your way to the front desk. Most baths will have a chute or a rolling container of some sort at the desk where you can deposit your linens. Do that and return the key to your clerk. He will sign you out and return your membership card to you, if the establishment has one. Then you’re free to go.
Tomorrow I'll look at some tips on behavior while you’re cruising at the baths. Additionally, I'll address any questions you guys may have on today's entry—so let's hear them in the comments.