In the s exclusively gay bathhouses began to open in the United States. Though subject to vice raids , these bathhouses were "oases of homosexual camaraderie"  and were, as they remain today, "places where it was safe to be gay",  whether or not patrons themselves identified as homosexual.
The gay baths offered a much safer alternative to sex in other public places. These bathhouses served as informal gay meeting places, places where friends could meet and relax. Gay bathhouses frequently threw parties for Pride Day and were usually open, and busy, on public holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas , when some gay men, particularly those who had been rejected by their families due to their sexual orientation , had nowhere else to go.
In the run-up to the election , the New St. Mark's Baths in New York City, with the assistance of the League of Women Voters , conducted a voter registration drive on its premises. Gay saunas , as they are more commonly known in Australia and New Zealand, were present in most large cities in those countries by the late s. As homosexuality was decriminalised in New Zealand and most Australian states during the s and s, there was no criminal conduct occurring on the premises of such "sex on site venues".
Also, police attitudes meant that they were more willing to turn a blind eye because they preferred such activity to take place in a contained environment rather than outdoors even though users were still committing the homosexual sexual offence of gross indecency , until gross indecency was wiped from the statute books following the Sexual Offences Act Bathhouses today[ edit ] Sailors leaflet in Gay bathhouses today continue to fill a similar function as they did historically.
The community aspect has lessened in some territories, particularly those where gay men increasingly tend to come out. Some men still use bathhouses as a convenient, safe place to meet other men for sex. Many bathhouses are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There is typically a single customer entrance and exit. After paying at the main entrance, the customer is buzzed through the main door.
This system allows establishments to screen potential troublemakers; many bathhouses refuse entry to those who are visibly intoxicated , as well as known prostitutes. In some areas, particularly where homosexuality is illegal, considered immoral, or viewed with hostility, this is a necessary safety precaution.
Sexual encounters at bathhouses are frequently, but not always, anonymous. Some feel that the anonymity adds to the erotic excitement: Bathhouse encounters sometimes lead to relationships, but usually do not. In many bathhouses the customer has a choice between renting a room or a locker, often for fixed periods of up to 12 hours.
A room typically consists of a locker and a single bed though doubles are sometimes available with a thin vinyl mat supported on a simple wooden box or frame, an arrangement that facilitates easy cleaning between patrons.
In many bathhouses particularly those outside the United States , some or all of the rooms are freely available to all patrons. Some bathhouses have areas designed to facilitate impersonal sex. It is possible to have sex, but not to see with whom.
This provides a place to have sex for those who could afford only a locker, and facilitated exhibitionism and voyeurism for those so inclined. Baths often have a porn TV room or snack bar where patrons can recuperate between orgasms.
Some men use the baths as a cheaper alternative to hotels,  despite the limitations of being potentially crowded public venues with only rudimentary rooms and limited or non-existent pass out privileges. Entrance to Babylonia sauna in Prague , These guys will actually call me at home or send me e-mails and we will make a date and we will meet at the baths purely because the sling is there and it's easier and we go for a beer afterwards.
I use the bathhouse more as an ancient Greek, Roman social centre and also a fucking centre and a fisting centre as well, and there's a lounge where I can sit and relax with a coffee and a cigarette. Some bathhouses are clearly marked and well lit, others have no marking other than a street address on the door. Bathhouses sometimes display the rainbow flag , which is commonly flown by businesses to identify themselves as gay-run or gay-friendly.
Bathhouses commonly advertise widely in the gay press and sometimes advertise in mainstream newspapers and other media. In Australia began airing possibly the world's first television advertisements for a gay bathhouse when advertisements on commercial television in Melbourne promoted Wet on Wellington, a sauna in Wellington Street , Collingwood.
In many countries, being identified in such a sauna was still viewed by the press as scandalous. In Ireland in November , the Incognito sauna made mainstream press as the gay sauna where a priest had died of a heart attack and two other priests were on hand to help out.
The customer undresses, storing his clothing in the locker provided, and is then free to wander throughout the public areas of the bathhouse, which typically include the amenities of a traditional bathhouse or steambath Picture from the movie Hamam. Many bathhouses also provide free condoms and lubricant.
Homosexualities  emphasized the importance of a towel: Visiting a downtown gay bath was in many ways like revisiting a high-school gym — everyone wearing the same towel, in the same color, on the same part of the body.
There was no status consciousness in the social-stratification sense; the towel or loincloth created a sort of equal-status social group. Bathhouses are usually dimly lit and play music, although an outdoors, enclosed rooftop or pool area is not uncommon. They are often laid out in a manner that allows or encourages customers to wander throughout the establishment; a space laid out in this way is often referred to as a "maze".
Rooms are usually grouped together, as are lockers. Bathhouses are frequently decorated with posters of nude or semi-nude men, and sometimes explicit depictions of sex. It is not uncommon to see pornographic movies playing on wall-mounted televisions throughout the bathhouse. Most men typically just wear the towel provided. According to bathhouse etiquette, it is perfectly acceptable, even friendly, to put one's hand under someone else's towel to feel his penis, which, if well received, is the first step in sexual intimacy.
Some bathhouses permit and others not only permit but encourage total nudity. In some bathhouses nudity is forbidden in the common areas of the establishments. Some men may wear underwear or fetish-wear , but it is unusual for customers to remain fully or even partially dressed in street clothes. Bare feet are customary, though some men prefer to wear flip flops or sandals , sometimes provided by the establishment, for foot protection. The room or locker key is usually suspended from an elastic band which can be worn around the wrist or ankle.
Some bathhouses hold occasional "leather", "underwear", or other theme nights. In the s bathhouses began to install "fantasy environments" which recreated erotic situations that were illegal or dangerous: Steam rooms and gyms were reminiscent of the cruisy YMCAs, while video rooms recreated the balconies and back rows of movie theaters. Man's Country also offered a.