WANNA EDGE? In a Post-PrEP Era, are Bathhouses Coming Back to Life?

Jake Myers READ TIME: 5 MIN.

Welcome to WANNA EDGE? – EDGE's new sex column by Jake Myers, who is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist based in Los Angeles, Calif.

For a while, it seemed like bathhouses had become relics of a bygone era.

These vibrant playgrounds for gay guys to frolic in tiny white towels were once the go-to place for those who were feeling frisky. If you think about it, it's kind of amazing that we had a reliable place to go where you could pretty much always count on a hookup, or at least bask in the possibility of that dream specimen coming around the corner and giving you the "nod."

Bathhouses weren't just a place to have sex with no strings attached. They had gyms, pools, cafes, hot tubs, steam rooms, video rooms, and of course, private rooms with lube-drenched "beds," akin to the rubbery mattress pads of a small jail cell (which we somehow didn't mind). Even a few decades ago, a bathhouse, or a "men's spa," was like a Shangri-La for a burgeoning gay man who, with the right mix of party favors, could literally spend an entire weekend in a constant rotation of seeking and satisfying. Some baths, like "The Hollywood Spa" in Los Angeles, even had a DJ, keeping the party going as a sort of after-hours when the club closed down.

But over the years, bathhouses seemed to get hit with one blow after another, slowly clearing out the crowds, and often shuttering doors. But like a fabulous phoenix who rises from the ashes, are we now in a new era where bathhouses are beginning to thrive again? And what's responsible for the turnaround?

Gay saunas have been around forever... and we do mean forever. Records of men meeting other men for sex in bathhouses date back to the 15th century, but there are even earlier reports of man-on-man activity in Greece and Rome, where the pubic baths were the hub of all the action.

In the West, when same-sex acts were illegal in most countries, bathhouses were a place to get needs met, that is, if they weren't raided by police. In the '70s, the boys were even entertained by none other than the iconic Bette Midler and Barry Manilow, who got their start singing in the baths (Check out some incredible archival footage of Midler in 1971 at the-now-abandoned Continental, who's owner just passed a couple months ago at the age of 91).

by Jake Myers

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