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.
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.