Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cruising 101: The Bathhouse

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.

What Happens

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.


  1. All these are great tips. I usually leave my my peter has swollen from so much use and it begins to hurt to have an erection.
    That, in mortal terms means four or five orgasms...yes, at my age.


  2. I have a question about glasses. I wear mine to walk around because I have one nearsighted eye and one far-sighted. What should I do in the steam/shower/pool though? Is my only option to stumble around with my poor depth perception? Thanks for this, I really do want to go to a bathhouse someday, but there weren't any near my college that I could use.


  3. Raulito,

    Yeah, that's pretty much what I mean by 'your body will tell you when it's time to go.' :-)

  4. Ace,

    Stop blog commenting and driving!

    What do you do when you go into a regular steam room? I mean, I have to remove my glasses to swim or to enter a steam room. They're going to be useless, anyway. Stumbling around might be your only option, my myopic little friend.

    This is one of the reasons I wear my contacts to the baths.

  5. I wasn't driving, I was at a rest stop (and now have a great story to tell) and I'm just leaving the doors now. Thanks for worrying though. And as for contacts, my parents won't pay for them so it looks like I'm out of luck. :(


  6. The one thing guys must remember when they go for the first time is like you said everyone is there for the same reason so don't think you are the only one.

    Don't worry about what your naked body looks like as there will always be others there that will make you look good :-)

    Don't worry about showing a drivers license, it's just to make sure you are an adult.

    Also don't worry about the membership fee. You're not joining a posh country club so the fee can be as low as $1. It's just to keep it a private club (wink wink) so on one can just walk in and be shocked at seeing bare weenie....lol

    Fri/Sat nights will be more crowded so there is more action, but guys are more picky. Mon-Fri during the day there are less guys and not picky.

    NOTE: Blogger is weird right now and while I am signed in it will not let me leave a comment except as anonymous, but it's me cyberi4a

  7. Breeder,
    Thank you for this posting. I am the general manager of a bathhouse in a major metropolitan area and am so glad to see this posting. Many people simply don't know that there are "rules" inside the bathhouse. I've had people express surprise that they are not allowed to smoke pot in the club, they protest "it's okay, this is a gay club"!) Although the customs and behavioral expectations differ slightly from club to club, and city to city, but you have laid out the basics of behavior very clearly. On behalf of the professionals (yes I have a degree) who operate the clubs, thank you.

  8. Thank you for the post man cause i never went to a bathhouse and didn't know what to expect. There are a lot of them near where i live but never went in. Love everything you wrote in there and maybe i'll print that out or read it more often. I can't wait to read the one from tomorrow my friend.


  9. 5:21 Anonymous,

    Thanks for the comment. Even though you're right that the culture of every bathhouse is different, as are the baths of various regions, it's nice to hear that I'm fairly representing them in general, from a manager.

    One of the etiquette tips I'm posting in tomorrow's entry was an injunction to follow the club's rules. Because they're there for a reason, after all.

    I don't suppose you need a front desk clerk, do you? I'm available.

  10. Yves,

    I know that there are many of them where you are, too. Maybe it'll give you the courage to check one out.

  11. Hmmm. I guess from reading the above (and thank you!), that it is just assumed that no one usesw condoms or that you will be stealthed anyway. That is dissapointing. What do you mean "be prepared to argue" about condoms. I want to have sex - lot's of it - just safe though. From what you have written, I guess I would not be welcome due to my requirements. Am I over stating this?

  12. Anonymous,

    Yes, you're overstating.If you want to have safe sex in a bathhouse, have the condoms at hand and tell the guys that you will want to use them, beforehand.

    There is a lot of barebacking inside of a bathhouse. There's also a hell of a lot of barebacking outside of a bathhouse. Negotiating safer sex works the same way in either place.

  13. Here's a toughie: How do you know when a "Spa" is a "Spa" versus a "Spa," and where/how can you find them? I mean, it's not like Verizon has a section in their yellow pages for bathhouses

  14. Great comments on Bathhouses -- as always your blog is refreshing, different, and in line with my brain. Sorry we never got to meet up in A2.

    JCA2 -- Jim

    Gayboysig -- check out a website like cruisingforsex.com before hand, or do a search for gay bathhouse or sauna. If the place doesn't come up -- it's just a "spa".

  15. Gayboyzig,

    In the US and Canada at least (for that's where my experience lies), the gay bathhouses don't operate under a shroud of secrecy. They advertise in the local gay rags. They publicize their events. Most importantly, they have web pages describing their facilities.

    Sites like squirt.org and cruisingforsex.com are going to list most of the bathhouses, though neither site is good about cleaning up old entries that are no longer relevant. They might be a good starting point, but check the establishment's web page before you go.

  16. If you're looking for a comprehensive list, bathhouseaddict.com is a pretty good site, although i'm not sure how often it's updated either.

  17. I don't think bathhouseaddict is updated often. I sent him some changes last summer on the Toronto baths scene and he ignored them.

  18. I somehow came on this post through a Google search. I've been to the baths many times (in fact, I use one in my city as my every day 'gym' and more often than not don't even stick around to have sex). I thought this was a great post for guys who might not know how it all works. In any case, I'd like to add one point for bottom boys, especially since I'm guessing The Breeder isn't one: nobody likes an unclean bottom. My suggestion would be to 'clean out' (a.k.a. douche) prior to arriving at the bathhouse. Cleaning out while at the bathhouse in the public restroom can be a little embarrassing and I don't think I get as good of a 'clean' as I do at home. This, obviously, doesn't apply if you're renting a room with its own private restroom. Anyway, just my tip to share! Great blog!

    1. Thanks Hard! Great suggestion. My only question is jeez, what were you Googling?

  19. Good advice. One thing u left out is drug use. I live in manhattan where there are 2 bathhouses ( same ownership). One of them is well known for its heavy drug use, where B-Backing is the norm. As a cum slut, i appreciate the barebacking but i dont appreciatr the guys who party, then cant get hard. Wots a pussboy supposed to do? Also: always tip the front desk and the towel boy. Groping is optional

  20. And another thing--why do the fat guys so often have little dinks? This doesnt apply to overweight black dudes, who generally hv thick cocks which i enjoy riding hard

  21. Went to one in Akron, Ohio a few years back. Was super horny and got a room for the night. In a 20 hour period I sucked 17 dicks, and I swallowed 12 loads. It was awesome!! I like to suck guys off in the TV room. Everybody is watching porn and jacking off anyway. I sucked this guys huge dick off while he was sitting on a couch and like 8 other guys watched. After he was done I let these 2 different guys jack off on my chest. Not the best looking men but the one guy drenched me. I also will get high (pot) and a little drunk and go in the TV room and just jack off while like 8 - 10 guys watch. It feels awesome to shoot my load while a bunch of men are watching! Great place to visit. Corey from Ohio.