Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cruising 101: Mr. Manners Visits the Bathhouse

Some of you may be wondering why I broke out a section from yesterday’s Cruising 101 guide on the gay bathhouse in order to talk about something as effete and nebulous as etiquette.

I’ll tell you why. It’s because last Friday night I decided to hit the local baths when nothing interesting was happening online. For three and a half hours I sat there in my room, or cruised in the steam room, or walked the hallways, while I watched guys engage in all kinds of assholery. It almost seemed as if the men there that night were determined not to connect with each other. I ended up leaving without so much as a hand job.

That’ll happen from time to time. One night, you’re king of the bathhouse and everyone wants a piece of you. Another night, you’ll feel one of the untouchables, a leprous caste shunned by any and all passers-by. Some blame it on the conjunction of the stars, or just the luck of the draw. I, however, tend to suspect these nights happen when a little bad behavior spreads like wildfire and fucks with everyone’s mood.

So I’m presenting a few suggestions for your consideration, so that everyone can have a good time at the baths.

Rule #1: No Means No

The world does not end because someone refuses you. It’s just a minor road bump. Don’t escalate it into a car wreck.

Seriously. If a guy tells you no, whether by saying the word or its equivalent, or by his body language, it means he doesn’t want to have sex with you. Move away, and move on.

If you reach for a man’s junk in the steam room and he gently pushes away your hand, it means he doesn’t want you touching him. It doesn’t mean that he wants you to use both hands to attempt to wrench apart his knees and give it another go.

If you step into a guy’s dark room to ask if he wants some company, and he says no, it means he doesn’t want your company. It doesn’t mean he wants you to shut the door, turn on the light, sit down, and try to talk him into it.

If you’ve been following around a guy and he keeps moving away from you in the movie room, or leaves the steam room when you step in there, or sidles to the other side of the sauna to get away from you, it means he doesn’t want you near him. It doesn’t mean that you should follow him all the more relentlessly in case he eventually changes his mind.

There seems to be a circular logic that comes into play in the lust-fogged minds of men when they’re in the dark halls of a bathhouse. If that guy doesn’t want to have sex with me right now, they seem to think, he’ll definitely want to play with me after I’ve made a thorough nuisance of myself. Or, Maybe if I corner him so he can’t get away, he’ll be forced to play with me.

Just don’t.

Rule #2: Be Polite

This goes for men who do the rejecting, as well as those who have been rejected. Don’t snarl “Fuck off!” at some poor schmoe who’s dared to stick a head in your room. Just look the other direction and close your legs, or simply say, “No thanks” if he asks if you want company. Not “Not in a million fucking years!”, or “Jesus H. Christ, as if!” or “Not on your best day, troll!” (All of which I’ve observed in bathhouses.)

Just “No thanks.”

I know guys who soften the blow by modifying it to “No thanks, I’m waiting for someone.” Or “No thanks, I’m resting.” That’s fine, even though the subtext is clearly I’m waiting for someone who isn’t you and I’m resting until someone better comes by. As long as your tone is pleasant and you’re not offensive, your wishes should be respected.

Likewise, if you’re the one on the receiving end of the no-thank-you, don’t rise to anger. It’s not your opportunity snap, “Well honey, you ain’t that hot!” and flounce off. It’s not an open invitation to observe, “Never mind, the guy in the room across the hall is ten times hotter than you and he has anal warts!” or “I don’t know why you of all people have got such an attitude.” (Again, all of which I’ve observed in bathhouse settings.) Don’t plan elaborate fantasies in your mind about how that asshole is going to be desperate enough in an hour that he’ll be begging you to come into his room and you’ll remind him of what a dick he was and laugh, just laugh right into his face.

Say “Thanks, then,” or something similarly neutral and polite, and move on. If you really had your hopes up, add something like, “Grab me if you change your mind later.” And move on.

Rule #3: Check Your Bad Moods at the Door

If you arrive at the bathhouse mad at the world and spend your time stomping around the place in a high dudgeon, you’re not going to have fun.

If you arrive at the bathhouse and are so fed up with how many old Depends-wearing senior citizens/stupid twinks/ethnic guys/married guys/bar queens/muscle marys/bears who are going to clog up the drains with all that fucking hair they let through the door, and if you find yourself holding your nose in the air and saying things like, “It USED to be fun to come here!”, you’re not going to have a good time.

If you arrive, strip down, and are certain that no one in the establishment is going to want you because you’re overweight, or bald, or old, or too young, or too ugly, or have a weird mole thing, then you’re right. No one is going to want you. But it’s not because of your age or looks. It’s because you’re walking around with a scowl on your face and scaring everyone.

You might be surprised how many people find you attractive in the bathhouse setting, if you’re willing to be pleasant and friendly. I’d throw in what my mom used to say about catching more flies with honey than vinegar, here, only you might think it was corny.

Rule #4: Don’t Be A Stalker

The incivility of the baths is one of its less attractive features. While the vast majority of the men present are friendly and polite, there are always a handful that make the experience exasperating for everyone.

Don’t be one of them.

It’s easy at a bathhouse to get into the mindset that you have to get laid. Now. You’ve paid twenty freakin’ dollars, and dammit, you’re going to get your money’s worth. The notion of getting a return on that investment haunts a lot of men once they’re roaming the hallways. They’re desperate to get action and validation from someone. Anyone.

These are the guys who, instead of letting you enter the steam room, look around, and choose your spot, will immediately stand up and chase you into corner, where they’ll stroke themselves furiously and stare you down. Never mind that you’ve got your legs clenched shut and your arms crossed and your eyes closed to repel them. They’re going to get action from someone, dammit, and it might as well be you.

These are the guys who develop a fixation on an innocent victim and follow him everywhere in the bathhouse until he finally surrenders his towel to the front desk and leaves out of self-preservation.

These are the guys who hang around the check-in counter and follow guys to their rooms even before they’ve gotten their clothes off. And they’re the guys who, upon seeing someone they want leading another man back to his room, will follow and trying to elbow his way in to join them before the door closes.

Don’t be that guy. Recognize the signals. Remember that no means no. Take a deep breath. Getting laid isn’t a life-or-death situation. Getting a bad reputation as a stalker is only going to ruin your chance of having fun.

Rule #5: Guys Want Variety

Most men visit the bathhouse because they know there are going to be a number of men looking for sex. Most men want to experience a number of these guys, while they’re there.

Not all of them, of course. Some guys use the facility to meet a significant other or an arranged date because it’s cheaper and cleaner than a sleazy motel. But most men are practical. They’re not coming to the tubs to meet a soulmate, or find lifelong love. They want several dicks in their holes, or to connect with a few good men and dump a few loads.

If you have good sex with a guy, don’t be offended when he suggests you “take a shower” or “take a break for a little while.” That’s probably his signal that he wants to clean you off of his dick and go out and play with someone else. It may be true that he didn't shoot for you—but don't take it personally. Some men like to prolong their playtime before they finally cum. Don’t mope or whine or talk about the dream you concocted while blowing him of knitting his sweaters and finding a little place in Florida you’d share in your golden years. Thank him for his time, tell him to grab you again later if he wants, and go forth and play some more yourself.

Feel free to offer him your number or your email address—most places have little cards and pens just for that purpose. But don’t try to keep him chained to your side all day.

Rule #6: Avoid Sending Mixed Signals

Part of reason so many men don’t obey the no means no rule is that a lot of guys send out mixed signals when they reject someone. Whether it’s out of fear or over-politeness or an unwillingness to be confrontational by being definite, they’ll do anything except give a clear indication of no thanks.

When you want to say No, you shouldn’t say, Maybe later. It only strings someone along. Don’t wink and say, Check back with me in a few minutes when you don’t want the guy to check back with you at all. It’s not fair to keep them on the hook when you’re too cowardly to turn them down gently.

On a more general level, don’t advertise yourself as available for certain activities that you’re not willing to carry through. If you’re on your hands and knees on your cot in your room with the door open, don’t be offended and surprised when someone assumes you want to be fucked. If you’re sticking your hard dick in the vicinity of a gloryhole, don’t be upset when someone on the other side reaches through to fondle or suck it. And if you’re kneeling in a corner of a piss play/urinal room with your mouth wide open and a blindfold covering your eyes, it’s a little bit disingenuous when someone decides to spray your face and chest with urine to stand up and yell, “Key-rist, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” (Again, all of which I’ve seen in bathhouses.)

Rule #7: Be Clean

Show up with your holes cleaned out, if you want to get fucked or intend to spend time in the sling.

If you use your dick in a mouth or a hole, head to a sink or the showers to rinse it off after, particularly if you’ve gotten covered with lube or other substances.

If you’ve got sour breath or have been sucking a lot of dick, use the mouthwash that some baths provide, or bring your own mints or breath-freshening strips. Sometimes the front desk will sell them, too.

Your partners will thank you for the thoughtfulness.

Rule #8: Obey the House Rules

Most bathhouses have regulations to which they ask members to adhere. Some don’t allow chewing gum, for example (it’s difficult to clean), and some might ask you to sign in before using a hot tub or swimming pool. Some places are pretty plain about the fact that they don’t like people having sex in certain areas, like those in sight of a check-in window where outsiders might glimpse something.

If there are no-smoking regulations, observe them. Don’t bring your controlled substances into the bathhouse. If the establishment asks that you shower all oils from your body before entering the steam room or pool area, please do so, so that nobody slips and cracks open their head from your hubris. Don’t pee in the pool, don’t use the hallways as your personal litter receptacle. Don’t bring in large glass bottles that can shatter and prove deadly to someone who cuts himself.

Chances are that the rules are there for a reason. You are a guest of the establishment. They can, will, and should throw you out if you pose a danger to their operation, or to the safety of other patrons.

And most of all, be nice to the guys working the desks and the mops. They see a lot of thankless patrons pass through the joint.

Rule #9: Slow the Fuck Down and Enjoy Yourself, Already

One of the things I noticed the other night, when I was sitting in my room with a good view of the hallway intersections, is that the guys weren’t connecting with each other because they were caroming around like pinballs in a machine. They would bounce out of the steam room and scuttle down the hallway at top speed, peek into the dark room, then bounce off and trot to the movie room before rebounding and zooming to the steam room again.

It didn’t occur to any of the men beetling from one spot to another to slow down and take advantage of anything. They didn’t linger in the steam room or dark rooms. They didn’t watch the movies, or do anything more than stick their heads in these public play spots to see if anything was going on. When they were jogging down the hallways they didn’t stop to look at any of the men who were sitting there with their doors open. They simply bounced from spot to spot to spot, over and over again in a fast circuit, hoping that they’d see something going on.

Well if everyone’s doing that—and after a while, everyone was, because the sight of several guys running around at top speed convinced everyone they were missing out on something—of course nothing’s going to go on. Everyone’s too busy racing around like Keystone Kops for any sex to happen. And having a dozen or more Roadrunners zooming through every few seconds doesn’t create an environment conducive for public group fucking.

Walk slowly. Linger in the public areas to see what happens there. Step all the way into the dark rooms and wait a bit. Stop and look in open private room doors. Check people out. Chat pleasantly to people, even if every conversation doesn’t lead directly to sex.

It’s a bathhouse. Not a speedway.

And that's it. As always, if you have any questions or helpful observations about your own bathhouse experiences, feel free to share them in the comments below.


  1. First of all, I love that you say "high dudgeon"!

    And, NOW, having taken notes, I'm ready for my first trip to the bathhouse; though it's probably best that Lexington does not have one. LOL

  2. Writer,

    Doesn't everybody say 'high dudgeon'?

  3. :) smiled at that one too! just one of the joys of your blog: an interest and vocabulary that goes beyond furred body parts, vicarious positions and the anglo-saxon word meaning to strike! Have to say it's the diversity of your approach to the chosen subject that encourages me to return again and again. Love that you explore emotions, real thoughts and reactions as well as the gritty base line of physical sensation ....and now public service messages too : Very informative and indeed potentially useful!! thanks from the UK

  4. You captured so well the bathhouse scene. I had my very first experience just a month ago and though the place had only a handful of men, there were several that were like wind up toys walking continuously in circles on the prowl that never seemed to come into the sauna where all the action clearly transpired. I was not prepared for how fast things can turn around and would add a "Be prepared for sudden sex" to your list - keep those condoms and lube with you at all times somehow. That was one rule I did not think over and even a few minutes in a guys ass exposed me to risks that were stupid.

    I know you are into barebacking and must have some way of calculating your risks, but men need to take seriously their health for the long term and bottoms are the most vulnerable.

  5. “Key-rist, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?!”

    I'll preface by saying that yes, consent is key, even if it's consenting to "rape", but I had a friend once, who I first went on a couple dates with, who was a consent Nazi.

    For him, every single minute detail had to be consented to in advance. I had a candle lit in my bedroom and he balked that we hadn't consented to "wax play". Huh? He was as insufferably anal retentive in all aspects of his thinking.

    He was definitely not a match for my spontaneity. If I suggest an impromptu fuck in the alley between rounds during happy hour, I don't to have it taken up before a committee.

    I've still never been to a bathhouse. Chicago would be my nearest occasion. Although I did happen upon one in LA. How I pine for the days when Bare Ass Beach was more trafficy than a parade. Even though 99% of men who were there after dark were there for one reason, unlike a bathhouse, I got off on the idea that we weren't supposed to be there at all.

    Who was lurking behind a tree in the darkness? Was I following that glowing cigarette or the other one? Where did this ramble lead? Was I lost again?


  6. #9 is so true. Stay still for a minute, some guys may need to work up the courage to approach you if it's their first time there or they are a naturally shy person. And if guys see you running around they will just assume you don't care for them since you ran off, but since you are moving so fast and so much you may not even have noticed them.

    This is day two if having to leave a post as anonymous on some blogs I follow but others are ok. ---cyberi4a---

  7. Very well written as always. I might suggest the bathhouse I frequent link to this and your Bathhouse 101 article.

    One thing I've learned is don't take it personally if the guy your with doesn't cum. Some guys leave once they shoot their load and they want might want to make the most of the time while they are there. I'm always respectful of their wishes. And sometimes when they are ready, I finish what I started hours earlier.

    I strongly agree with being friendly, polite and having a pleasant outlook. I love being with a guy who has a wide smile, who enjoys sex, and realizes what we are sharing is supposed to be fun for the both of us.

    And based on the length of time I stay at the bathhouse when I go there, I am definitely in the "whore" category.

  8. Man, I really, really, REALLY want to go to a bathhouse, but there just really aren't any in New England that I can find. I know there is one really good one in Denver so I might make that a stop while I'm out in Colorado this summer.


  9. Ace,

    Are you referring to the Denver Swim Club? I have seen their website and it looks like I would really enjoy going there.

  10. 10:17 Anonymous,

    Thanks for that. I put a lot of myself into this project, and since I like to think I'm pretty well-rounded, it's nice to have that aspect noticed. Cheers!

  11. Jayson,

    I agree with you that it's pretty important to realize that sex can happen anywhere in a bathhouse and that one should, like a sexual Boy Scout, be prepared. Tuck your essential items into the waistband of your towel, or wear socks and sandals and stuff them into your sock, or find some way of keeping them with you.

    But because of your comment and more especially a very angry comment I got last night from someone on the other entry, I have to say this: the strategy for having safe sex in a bathhouse is not at all different from the strategies one should be using in one's own bedroom for having safe sex, if that's what you want to do. You don't get to go to the bathhouse and assume that everyone's going to be thinking along the same lines as you; no one turns into a mindreader at the baths.

    If you want them to use a condom there, you have to ask, just as you would at home. If that means one of you has to go back to your room or locker to get it, or run to the front desk to ask for one, then that's what you have to do. You have to calculate the risks you're willing to take and stick to the plan, just as you would at home, or at a bar.

    You might not have dozens of guys in towels wandering around your home, and it might be easier to drop into a sexual position and get dick at a bathhouse, but if you intend to have safer sex, the strategies are the exact same in either place.

  12. Seph,

    I've seen that kind of behavior in subs before—usually the ones who are very controlling in their regular lives and who think they're 'letting go' by subbing, when they're really micromanaging everything as meticulously as they do in the rest of their lives. In the words of Lina Lamont, "I cyan't stannit."

    The one thing that public cruising and bathhouse sex have in common is that you end up fucking around with strangers. Otherwise, the latter is a controlled environment, while the former is more wild, unpredictable, and even dangerous. Both have their excitements, their plusses, and their minuses.

  13. GH Fan,

    That's such a good point I think I'm going to go back and edit it into rule #5. Thank you.

    I think it's important to remember that while a lot of guys are multi-orgasmic, some are just one-shot-and-done. They know themselves well enough to realize that they shouldn't shoot too quickly; their playmates should respect that request.

  14. Ace: No bathhouses in New England? How far are you from Providence? There are two bathhouses there, the Club Body Center and the Gay Mega-Plex (yeah, I know, the name is ridiculous). The Mega-Plex is pretty good.

  15. You were also right about 'no' and 'stalking'. Amazing how many guys think no means "I'm playing hard to get so keep trying a million more times"

  16. Wow man, thank you so much for all the rules and everything else. Now i have a very good understanding of what happens in a bathhouse and how it works. Thank you for explaning it so well. Maybe one day i will go and try one out my friend.


  17. @ GH Fan:
    Yeah, I was talking about the Denver Swim Club. They look great, clean, and I guess it is pretty popular. Hope to hit it up while I'm out there.

    @ UrBear:
    I'm currently in Maine, so it is a bit far to Providence, though I have been there before. I might have to take a trip down in the future. :)


  18. Ace, I took your statement as a challenge. No bathhouses in Maine, seems right. But, check this out for cruising, etc. Informative and, well, kind of hysterical, too.

  19. Breeder, I take exception to the notion that manners is an effect subject. It is the stuff of social life. Wonderful set of posts, my friend. You really do write well.!

  20. Yves,

    Thank you. I still hope you'll give it a try sometime.

  21. Jason,

    I'm pleased by your comment. Thanks very much!

  22. So now you’ve got me checking out bathhouse sites ;-) Chicago & LA to be exact. There are a lot in LA…and I pretty much know where half of these are. The sex club (not bathhouse) in Hollywood sounds interesting. Anyway I’ve been looking at some of their rules and etiquette. There is much in common, but some of the rules of the different places were I thought odd…here are a few…

    One had a list of places on site that you could NOT have sex that was a lot bigger than the places you could…sounds kinda lame.

    No one said unsafe anal or ORAL sex. How do you police that…and how unlikely it is that a BJ wouldn’t end with a mouth full of jizz?

    One had listed in their etiquette list, shave your back. Not that I need to*…but huh…really tho?

    One site is from a longtime user and is informative, but one “tip” I haven’t seen is how to go about breaking it off with a partner when you don’t want to cum and want to continue cruising/playing? I’m not talking about no longer being interested in the guy, but about wanting to extend the experience with many guys, and perhaps return again to the…cream of the crop. What say ye?

    Oh…and if someone’s into poppers, where exactly do they stash them if only wearing a towel? I think I’d rather have both hands free.

    *Ok…I’ve talked a friend, coworker, and even my mom into Veeting a couple spots about twice a year.


  23. Seph,

    Steamworks is my favorite in Chicago. I've only been to a couple in LA, and I can't remember their names.

    I actually addressed breaking it off in section 5 above. Just tell the guy you want to take a break, or grab a quick shower. Or simply stand up, thank him, and tell him you're going to cruise around for a while. If you want to come back after playing some more, ask him if it's okay if you can grab him later to finish what you started--no one is going to say no under those circumstances, unless they're leaving or having a miserable time with you.

    I've seen guy carry their poppers and lube in their towels. I know the theory of how it's done, though I've never tried it (since I don't use poppers). Lay out the towel horizontally. Place your poppers up about an inch below the top hem. Turn back that extra cloth at the top of the towel, all the way across, so the poppers are kind of rolled in. Then carefully wrap the towel around your waist, tightly, so the poppers don't fall out. Basically you're just kind of wedging the little bottle into a fold of towel.

    But I've seen guys with fanny packs and wearing socks and sandals and then tucking their stuff in their socks, too.

  24. I have been to the baths maybe 10 times in my life. The first two times, I was 19 years old and went with a FB. It was fun, but I was young fresh meat and was hounded and rather freaked out by it.
    As an adult, I have been to the baths and have had similar results to what you posted. It can be awesome, mediocre, or such slim pickings, that I end up jacking off so that I can get sex out of my system and leave! It is just like cruising anywhere else; the internet, a bookstore, or a rest area. You can hit a home run or strike out. The home runs make it all worthwhile.

  25. Oh man, you hit it all the areas of annoyance. Being a happy patron of bath houses all over the US, I have seen most of the behaviors you mentioned. Thank you for taking the time to post your suggestions for etiquette...and a big thank you for your blog - it's on my daily read list. :o)

  26. Mr. Steed, regarding the bathhouses with the piss play/urinal rooms, please forward to me their names, address, hours of operations, fees and swatch preferences. I am .. ahem .. just...curious, dontcha know.