Category Archives: DC

What is a bathhouse? Do people actually bathe?

So as I made a comment the other day, “Our library is like a bathhouse…all of these little rooms where people can walk around the hall..” it occurred to me that the majority of my class mates probably had no idea what a bath house really was like.  Sure, they have probably heard of it  in the context of HIV probably referenced to the ones that shut down in San Francisco decades ago, but I don’t think they know the true reality of the current state of bath houses, or that they currently still exist all around the world and contribute to the spread of HIV.

Much to my chagrin, the Spartacus Gay Guide still exists.  This was the same guide I used when I was 20 backpacking around Europe almost a decade ago.  Basically, anywhere in the world you go, you can use either the book (or apparently a iPhone app) to locate gay establishments such as bars, restaurants, and of course “saunas”. Most urban meccas in both the US an abroad (including, Europe and Asia) have at least one such bathhouse.  Houston, where I formally came from boasts 2.  One is part of the “Club Baths” franchise.  The Clubs is generally an upscale franchise, consisting of newly renovated saunas, steam rooms, pools and small rooms (I’ll get to this later). Generally such cities that have two bathhouse will usually have a nicer “upper echelon” one that is clean and somewhat hygienic and contains somewhat more upscale clientele, and a gross one that is filthy, skeezy, where you stick to the floor and it’s not advisable to not wear footwear.

Not all bathhouses are gross.  Some are QUITE deluxe.  The one I went to in Bangkok called “Babylon” was probably one of the nicest in the world with 3 bars, a full service restaurant, gardens, outdoor pools.  So the establishment can range from crab infestations to four star service.

So what exactly is a bathhouse? Wikipedia does a good job explaining to the novice in its article “gay bathhouse” (OOOOH and they even have a photo of the Crew Club in DC right near my house on 14th street. Did you really think the nation’s capital wouldn’t have a bathhouse?) especially in the “etiquette” and “layout” sections.  But for those of you that don’t have the patience to sift through such a gem I’ll get down to it briefly.  Basically most bathhouse operate on a “membership only” basis.  They call themselves “health clubs” and many do have a small (some extremely will equipped) weight area that they purport can be used for exercise (although I’ve generally only ever seen one person working out).  Even if a bathhouse boasts exercise equipment, most people come to a bathhouse to fuck.  There are usually also lockers (see below) communal showers, steam areas, sometimes an indoor or outdoor pool, and usually always small individual rooms, varying from simple with one small bed in a corner and minimal other room, to more deluxe, with a bigger bed, and TV playing porn.

Upon entering, you usually have to pay the “membership fee”.  Such fees can be one time only or you can usually get a 6 month membership if you plan on coming back and “working out” a lot.  You then have the option of purchasing either a “locker” or a “room”.   Both are assigned on an hourly basis, and you usually have about 12 hours or so (varies) in your room or locker.   With either option you are given a towel to change into.  Some more upscale places will also give you temporary footwear. If you buy a “locker” the only place to put your items is in your locker.  You will generally wander the hall, looking for someone to have sex with, either in their room, or in the sauna or some other communal place.  If you have a room you will proceed to your room and can leave your items there. See the photo to the left from the Crew Club for a typical price list.

Generally, paying the extra money for the room allows a client a little more privacy and flexibility with their evening.  They can decide who they want to invite in for sex, how they want to attract people for sex, who they want to have sex with etc.  The cheaper locker option, in my opinion limits flexibility.

Many bathhouses have also been places where gay men go to “party and play” or do drugs such as crystal meth and ecstasy and have sex.  Bathhouses have been known for their association with drugs and drug fueled sex, and still are venues where gay men may go to both seek and use drugs and to have sex.  Of course, such activity can lead to unprotected sex.  I know that any ads that the crew club has advertised in DC gay magazines have featured the phrase “No PNP” meaning “no party and play” i.e. no drug use tolerated.  I know they have also been doing much to crack down on bath house drug use.    However, its next to impossible to enforce these rules, as most bath houses have lax security, and given the nature of the establishments, unless you stick an undercover in the scene, its next to impossible to have someone patrolling private small rooms that patrons have sex in.

Then there’s the question of condom use.  Much like in any other sexual encounter,  condom use is up to the two partners involved.  Of course, drug use will lower inhibitions, and perhaps decrease condom use.  Also, since most of the time sex is anonymous it is likely that HIV status will not be discussed or disclosed during bath house encounters, and partners won’t know their true risk.  However, as a gesture, many bath houses provide condoms in common areas, and do all they can to encourage condom use.  However, what goes on between two consenting adults is something beyond their control.

So yes, technically one can bathe at a bathhouse, but more or less its a euphemism.


“Yes SIR Give me HIV SIR”: Leather and HIV

So on a whim, I recently googled “Leather and HIV”.  For those readers not aware of what leather has to do with homosexuality or MSM, in the gay (and heterosexual) community, there exists a subset of individuals who gather pleasure from dressing in erotic leather (i.e. chaps, harnesses) and having consensual sex with other leatherphiles.  Usually the sex will consist of individuals taking either a dominant or passive role playing “master” and “slave”.   In many large gay cities there is usually a “leather bar” where people with such interests can meet like minded people.  Here in DC, there is the DC Eagle.

The first hit was a recent study entitled HIV in the Leather Community: Rates and Risk-Related Behaviors The link to this article has the full text.   Interestingly, according to this study leathermen were 61% more likely to be HIV positive than non-leathermen.    The study also found that combined, HIV-negative and HIVpositive Leathermen were less likely to use condoms during receptive anal intercourse than non-Leathermen.  The same trend was found for insertive anal intercourse.   Additionally, role seemed to matter.  Combined, HIV-negative and HIV-positive leathermen who self labeled as “submissive” were less likely than those who self labeled as non-submissives to use condoms.

So next time you are hanging out at the leather bar, some food for thought.  I’d be interested to see some future studies.

HIV in the Leather Community: Rates and Risk-Related

Taking the “fe” out of the female condom for HIV protection

So recently I was reading my city’s gay newspaper, Metro Weekly, and the last page of the paper had a feature about the Washington, DC female condom campaign, and how the female condom can be used by MSM for anal sex (see article to the left). The condom, made of a synthetic rubber nitrile, contains two flexible rings, and can be inserted into the anus of a receptive partner prior to intercourse.

While initially I was confused why MSM would want to use the female condom when the male condom exists, I have come to understand that it provides another choice of prevention method.  And, the more choices that one has, the better.  Basically, there are times when an insertive “top” will not want to use a condom.  In these instances, the receptive partner can insert the female condom to protect himself and his partner.  Additionally, there are times when unfortunately it is next to impossible to negotiate condom use.   In the MSM community in North America, drugs like ecstasy and crystal meth increase sexual appetite, and decrease inhibitions, and thus condom use, fueling the HIV epidemic.    A receptive “bottom” can insert the female condom before going out to the club, drinking or partying, and stand a much better chance of protecting himself from HIV and other infections.

In case you wanted to see how to use the female condom is used I discovered this great video.  I’m not sure who produced it, or where it is from but I think it’s great. Unfortunately it says embedding has been disabled, but if you click on the “Watch on You Tube” link you should be brought the video!