In the 1970s, bathhouses acted as magnets for gay men, both to meet other singles and to experience music, dancing and social time. That changed with the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, which prompted major cities like New York and San Francisco to shutter the popular gay bathing spots. Laws required the removal of private rooms and video booths, as well as to have a “monitor” on-site to make sure nobody engaged in unsafe sexual practices.
Now the City by the Bay will consider removing those regulations entirely. “Our current regulations for adult sex venues were put in place as an emergency measure at the height of the AIDS crisis when San Francisco was desperate to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said City Supervisor Raphael Mandelman said a statement. Mandelman is openly gay, and the spearhead of revoking the arcane restrictions. “Decades later, with the emergence of PrEP and in light of San Francisco’s reduction in HIV diagnoses to under 200 for the first time since the 1980s, these regulations — including a ban on private rooms and required monitoring of patrons’ sexual activities — have no public health rationale and need to be changed.”
Mandelman hopes to enact new regulations that would allow traditional bathhouses to reopen, as well as require them to offer condoms, STD testing and education. “When properly operated, by providing access to safer sex educational materials and supplies and HIV and STD testing, these venues assist rather than impede our efforts to control the transmission of HIV,” Mandelman said.
If enacted, the new restrictions would go into effect this July.