The Freddie Guide to: Bathhouses

14.6.2024
6 min de lecture
L'équipe Freddie

What goes on inside a bathhouse? Read Freddie's guide to getting steamy at the gay sauna.

What is a bathhouse?

Bathhouses – also known as baths, saunas, or gay saunas – are spaces where queer men* meet to socialise, relax and have sex. They are legal, licensed sex venues, as opposed to regular saunas or steam rooms where people cruise.

The number of gay bathhouses in North America peaked in the 1970s. Most of them closed in the 1980s, as local governments made public health rules to curb the HIV/AIDS epidemic. These rules were often rooted in homophobia. 

Today, there are still bathhouses in most major cities across the world. You can find them through Google or on cruising sites like Squirt and Sniffies.

* Historically, bathhouses only admitted cisgender men. They are generally becoming more inclusive. Many have more relaxed door policies or dedicated times and events that are safer spaces for trans and non-binary people. If this applies to you, it’s best to check online or ring ahead before visiting a venue for the first time. 

When you arrive

When you arrive at a bathhouse, you’ll get to a front desk with an attendant. This is where you’ll pay for your entry along with any extras like private rooms (if the venue has them). Some venues might require ID for entry.

The attendant will give you a towel or two and a locker key. They may also give you some condoms. Some bathhouses will provide footwear, but you can also bring your own shower shoes.

The attendant will explain any venue rules and how to find the lockers or rooms. They will then point you towards the bathhouse entrance. This is often locked for entrants, so it will only be unlocked once you’ve checked in. They may offer locked storage behind the attendant desk for your valuables.

Once you’re inside the bathhouse, be aware that re-entry – going out and coming back – isn’t usually allowed. You can check this with the front desk attendant. 

Once you’re inside

When you’ve found your locker, it’s time to get changed. Clothing and outdoor footwear aren't permitted, so you’ll need to strip off and change into just a towel. 

Keep your locker key and make sure you don’t lose it! It will be on a strap, so you can put this on your arm or ankle. Just find somewhere that won’t get in the way of your… activities.

What's in a bathhouse?

Bathhouses come in all shapes and sizes. Aside from the locker area, they will usually have some of the spaces listed below. Sex is allowed in all designated areas. If the venue doesn’t permit sex in certain rooms they will tell you. 

Some spaces will also have more privacy, while others are a free-for-all. Where you choose to play will depend on what you’re into. If you’re lucky, bigger venues might have all types of spaces under one roof.

Showers

These are usually open showers. You can check people out or get checked out while you freshen up. If you didn’t shower before coming to the bathhouse, starting your visit with one is good etiquette for your hookups. Washrooms with sinks are also typically available.

Sauna & steam room

These are often a lower temperature than a regular sauna or steam room. This is so you can stay in there and play with lower risk to your health. Nobody wants to pass out during sex! In more old-school establishments they can still be hot though. 

Make sure to stay hydrated and leave if you feel faint, dizzy, sick or generally uncomfortable. Don’t use a sauna or steam room if you’ve been using drugs or drinking alcohol. If you’re taking prescription medications aside from PrEP, DoxyPEP or HIV treatment, then it’s a good idea to check with your clinician first.

Gym


There may be space to lift weights, run on a treadmill, or have sex. Whether you use the equipment for a workout or a “workout” is up to you… 

Private rooms

At some bathhouses you can pay extra for a small private room instead of a locker. These are usually rented in blocks of a few hours at a time.

If your venue has private rooms, these will be in corridors (like a small, very horny hotel). If someone has a private room and is looking to play, they will leave their door open. 

Jacuzzi/pool

You can usually cruise and have sex in and around the jacuzzi or pool. You’ll need to leave your towel on the side – just keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get cleaned up. 

Dark room

Dark rooms are where you can hook up with others without seeing much of them. When we say dark, we mean dark. You’ll go inside, feel around and voila! There’s another person or people to play with. 

Dark room etiquette is that you don’t talk. However, because it’s dark this means getting non-verbal cues for consent is harder. If you don’t want someone to touch you, you can move away from them or move their hand off you. If someone does the same to you then pay attention and move along.

For some people, the total anonymity of a dark room is a real turn-on. If you’re not fully comfortable with not being able to see your partners, then that’s ok. There’s plenty of other spaces to cruise.

Porn cinema/room

These are usually a room or rooms with porn playing on TVs or projectors. You can relax, jerk off, or hook up in them. These are generally the more open spaces in a bathhouse, so other people will pass through (if you like having an audience!).

Douche room

These are small shower cubicles where you can douche with a shower attachment. If you don’t have one, the bathhouse should sell them. If you have a bulb douche then you can bring this too and fill from a nearby tap. 

If you haven’t douched before, it may be a good idea to try this at home first. Check out The Freddie Guide to Douching for tips.

Slings/Glory holes

Some bathhouses have play areas with equipment like slings or glory holes. If someone is in a sling, don’t assume that this automatically means they consent to have sex with you. You can still get consent through non-verbal cues like eye contact and nodding.

Living room

There may be some couches with a regular, non-porn TV. Some people hang out here to get comfortable and meet others before playing. You can usually get non-alcoholic drinks from a vending machine. Patrons wear their towels in these spaces.

Safety tips

It’s important to stay hydrated with non-alcoholic drinks like water, juice or soda. Most bathhouses will have water fountains and some may have vending machines or cafe areas. Some venues do not let people bring their own bottles – this is to discourage patrons from using drugs.

If you do have a bottle, keep an eye on it and make sure it has a lid. You can also keep it in your locked locker. Don’t take drinks from strangers unless you see them open a new sealed bottle or can in front of you.

If you have impaired vision, it may be best to avoid minimally lit areas and dark rooms if you’re at risk for tripping and falling.

Safer sex 

A lot of sex that happens in bathhouses is condomless. If you’d like to use condoms then bring some with you. Many venues will have free condoms, but it helps to have your own. There should be lube dispensers or sachets freely available.

If you’re not using condoms, then you may benefit from PrEP. It’s a medication to prevent HIV, and with Freddie 90% of patients get their PrEP for free! You can see if you’re eligible with a 1-minute quiz here.

DoxyPEP is a medication that can also reduce your risk for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. You take within 72 hours (but ideally within 24 hours) after condomless sex. Freddie also offers DoxyPEP, but it is only available alongside PrEP or HIV treatment.

Some venues sell toys like dildos, fleshlights and cock rings. If you’re sharing a toy that goes inside you, use a new condom for each new partner and each new hole. Don’t forget lube!

Want to try bathhouses?

If it’s your first time, try taking a friend. Set a time to meet up and then go off to explore. 

Before you go, think about what you’re into and what you are or aren’t comfortable with. It’s a lot easier to set your own limits in advance, especially if you’re sober.

Bathhouses can be fun, but they’re also not for everyone. If you try it and it’s not for you, that’s ok! There’s no right or wrong way to have sex – just experiment to find out what you're into. 

Stay safe and get steamy!

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