A Classy Place for Classy People
Bathhouses are possibly one of the grossest types of establishments I know of in the gay community. While bathhouse was a term used to widely refer to a communal place that provided amenities for personal hygiene for a small cost, in most Western countries it now refers to a place where men can go to seek anonymous sex with other men for varying costs, though some places do have women only nights. Unlike public restrooms, libraries, darkened parks, and other vibrant places where men have sought this type of quality time with each other, bathhouses have a loose legality to them as it's not public indecency if it's in a private establishment and it's not prostitution since no one's paying for sex, simply for the space to have it in. There are attendants, but they are only there for security and other mundane purposes.
Much like most dance clubs, there is a cover charge. One can also rent rooms with a bed or lockers for an hourly fee. Private rooms are not the only place sex occurs as most bathhouses also feature theme rooms and other options to liven up one's wholesome free time.
So... have they done anything important?
If you like Bette Midler or Barry Manilow, then bathhouses have done much for you. These stars climbed the fame ladder by performing in bathhouses back in the day. Bathhouses actually were a form of venue for a while, though very unorthodox. If one didn't mind performing for a bunch of gay men in towels, then bathhouses were for you.
This oddly turned out to be the undoing of many bathhouses as popular acts coming through them started attracting a lot of straight patrons to the audience, which in turn scared away many of the core clientel.
So... what are they like?
I've never been so lucky as to grace the inside of a bathhouse due to various reasons, but spotting one on the outside is fairly hard. They're pretty innocuous, as if they're trying to hide something... hmmm. They typically display their address quite prominently, however, making it easy for potential users to find it, but the facades are rather generic. Entrances are generally limited to avoid messy complications and keep out psycho gay bashers. Customers tend to be pretty discreet about entering and exiting. Bathhouses tend to be open 24 hours a day.
So how do I find them? I'm asking for research reasons only, of course
Research purposes... sure. If you ever want to find one of these places, they're typically not that hard to look up. I severely doubt the phone directory has a heading for them, but you could always check. Bathhouses will usually run ads in many of the local gay newspapers. It's typically easy to figure out which ads are for them, though perhaps that 24 hour steamroom and gym featuring the guy in nothing but a towel sitting with his legs spead open almost enough to show you the promised land is just entirely innocent. (Never know when a 3am urge to work on your pecs will hit.) Oddly, a lot of places actually have a college student discount. If you're not the shy type, you could always ask your local gay bar bartender.
Anonymous gay sex for a nominal fee and in a completely legal way? Is there a down side?
Oh? You want to know what they are? Well, if this is any indication, I came to know a lot about bathhouses through research for a project for my Literature and AIDS class. Cheerful thought, eh? Though bathhouses provide a somewhat safer forum for your free love expressions in the form of actual security systems, like in every sexual encounter, one risks the chances of contracting an STD or an STI. As far as I know, there's never been a proven correlation between infection rates in bathhouses and any particular disease, but sex is sex. Keep it safe. Use a condom. Most bathhouses will have condoms freely and readily available. Most should have baskets of the things laying around. They're not decorative. They're there for use. Looking into some interviews at bathhouses, there's a startling assumption in clientel. Not a lot of people ask about safe sex if the other person doesn't bring it up and some people assume if the other person doesn't provide the condoms, they're safe. Some people with known infections assume if the other party doesn't object to barebacking, they're already infected. Lovely logic, eh? USE CONDOMS. I cannot stress this enough.
Also, keep in mind people aren't there looking for something permanent. You're in a bathhouse. You'll be lucky if he waves to you on the street the next day.
Bathhouses can be pricey. If you find yourself in bathhouses more often then not, or missing work to go to them, you may want to ask yourself if you have a sex addiction.