While I was in the US I visited a couple gay bathhouses and noticed some differences between those in various US states and those in Europe. For me, bathhouses can be a fun way to relax and get some ass, and noticing the differences was a fun addition to the saunas and the fucking.
At basically every bathhouse I’ve been to in Europe, the set-up is pretty much the same: a dry sauna, a steam room, general areas where people can relax, a few rooms that guests can slip into when they want to fuck in private, and a number of public areas where the exhibitionist can get off. While I was in the US I went to a bathhouse in San Francisco and one in Washington, D.C., and both were very different—from each other as well as from the typical European bathhouse.
After walking around San Francisco all morning and the better part of the afternoon, I decided to head down to a bathhouse on Market Street. What surprised me was the complete lack of private spaces: if you wanted to shag, it had to be out in the open in front of everyone.
Of course, I had no problem with this. One guy gave me a decent massage, but there was no chemistry between us, so it progressed no further. Then I met a hot Asian guy and bounced with him while others stood around and watched, and later I met a Midwestern dude with a big dick that was fun to play with while I fucked him from behind—again with an audience.
Though whole set up intrigued me because I know a lot of people who would never feel comfortable having sex where other people can see. I planned on doing some research later than evening once I got back to my mom’s house, but my curiosity was sated while I was still in the bathhouse.
I was half-dressed in the locker room getting ready to go when a man in his 60s came over to chat me up. Continuing to dress and expecting to take off as soon as I was clothed appropriately for the street, I ended up staying and chatting with the guy for about an hour because the conversation was engaging. At some point we started talking about the way the bathhouse was structured, and having been in San Francisco for decades, he was in a position to fill me in.
Prior to the 80s, bathhouses were apparently prevalent in San Francisco. The city had become one of the centres of gay rights, and many non-heterosexual men and women visited and moved to the city to enjoy the freedom to express their sexuality that had been cultivated there. But then AIDS came along.
In an effort to fight back against this new disease, the city closed all of the bathhouses. I’m sure there were also moral reasons for the city’s leaders deciding to take that route, but I can understand why that would seem like the right step in terms of public health.
Then, the older gentleman told me, there was eventually a slow move to reopen bathhouses in the community—but this time there was a condition attached. First, barebacking – fucking without a condom – was verboten. In order to make it more feasible to see who was fucking bare, the bathhouses were told that there were to be no private rooms where people could get it on beyond the prying eyes of, well, everyone else.
In theory, I can see how this might work. If everyone can see what you’re doing, then everyone knows when you’re doing something you shouldn’t be and can report you. In practice, however, I think most people would tend to turn a blind eye.
But this post isn’t about whether certain policies work; it’s just about the differences.
In D.C. I again spent the morning and the early afternoon walking around town exploring, and after I’d had enough of that I again decided to pay a visit to a local bathhouse. I walked in and took a locker, and then made my way upstairs. Stripping down and wrapping a towel around my waist, I took a lap around the premises to see what it had to offer.
The standard dry sauna and steam room were easy to find, and then I found the rooms. Four long hallways were lined on both sides with individual rooms, and when I moved passed that area to continue my reconnaissance, I discovered that there were absolutely no public play areas. The moment I realized there were only private rooms, I pulled my stuff out of the locker, went back downstairs, and upgraded to a room—there was no way I was going to be beholden to someone else having taken a room if I wanted to shag.
Normally, if you want to hook up you walk around and cruise, eventually finding someone who either makes a move or on whom you can make one. But given the lack of a public area (apart from the showers, changing area and TV area, all of which was tightly clumped together), there really was no place to cruise. The place was pretty empty, and I wondered if there was just no one there, or if I was missing something. And then it hit me.
My lips curling up into a smile, I headed back to my room and grabbed my iPhone so I could check out Grindr. Sure enough, there were numerous guys online, all of whom were without 30 meters. So instead of cruising in the public areas, the guys were logging onto Grindr and inviting their favourites to their private room. When in Rome, I thought, and jumped right on the bandwagon.
It did strike me as odd though: so many guys literally only meters away, and we still had to communicate via Grindr. I had never experienced anything like it in any other bathhouse.
To me it was interesting that San Francisco was on one extreme with everything public, while Washington, D.C. was at the other extreme with everything private, with European bathhouses falling somewhere in between with a mixture of public and private sex areas. My least favorite was the D.C. bathhouse because I might as well have just looked for someone on Grindr at home, but I guess the advantage of using Grindr in tandem with a shared location is that rather than traveling across town the guy only had to come down the hallway.
Speaking of bathhouses, there is a bi sauna here in Vienna that I still haven’t checked out. I think it might be time. I’ll definitely report in it when I do. In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing what other people’s experiences with bathhouses are and how bathhouses in other US states and countries around the world are set up.