QUESTION: After 30 Years, Should San Francisco Allow Gay Bathhouses?

bathhouseSan Francisco has got its handlebar mustache in a twist over a 30-year ban on gay bathhouses that really isn’t a ban at all. The city hasn’t had any legal bathhouses since 1984 when, according to the Bay Area Reporter:

a San Francisco Superior Court judge issued an injunction forcing several bathhouse owners to remove doors from private rooms and have staff monitor patrons to ensure they were practicing safe sex. The order was to remain in place until the city’s public health director declared the AIDS epidemic over. Virtually all of the clubs closed rather than comply with the rules…

But there’s actually nothing on the books that says bathhouses are banned. Eros, a sex club that’s been offering its valued services in the city’s gay(est) district, the Castro, for 21 years recently learned that its sauna qualifies the club as a bathhouse, requiring them to obtain a permit.

Under the permit, however, they would have to comply with the minimum standards — monitors and all — that is, unless the health department revises these standards. The department just released this handy-dandy FAQ about bathhouses, sex clubs and other commercial sex venues in anticipation of a public forum. How frequent any of these questions were asked, however, is up for debate, but we’ll open this up to our own public forum.

What say you, Queerty readers, should San Francisco revise its policies on bathhouses?

FAQ Regarding Bathhouses in SF

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  • BarLackey

    Why waste time on something that technology has clearly outmoded – the sole purpose of a bathhouse is for men to hook up, and aps like Grindr and others take care of that quite nicely. No need to troll around in a towel anymore.

  • the other Greg

    I’m told Los Angeles has several of them and they do pretty well. San Diego has one or two also. Is everyone on Grindr practicing safer sex? – hardly! The barebacking nonsense is fueled by technology. Ironically, safer sex may be easier to promote in a bathhouse setting.

  • Dot Beech

    Bath houses are safe. Men are rarely, if ever, bashed or murdered in a bath house. It’s just far too public and far too contained for that. No other environment allows gay men to meet, socialize and have sex with less risk of violence.

    As for disease, there is nothing sexual one can do in a bath house that one cannot do out of the bath house. Bath houses have always been misidentified as vectors for disease transmission. As a result of that error, a lot of gay men unnecessarily became the target of violence and death. It was always wrong to ban them. We’re adults. We can protect our health in a bath house as well as we can protect our health any place else.

  • redcarpet

    I understand the history of why SF did this, i’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. But people expect freedom of assembly, even if that assembly includes butt sex. Especially in a city like SF.

    Not that I’m a fan, personally i’m just too uptight and nervous for bath houses. There is something to be said for the spontaneity they offer compared to Grindr. You don’t have to make an appointment for sex in a bathhouse.

  • the other Greg

    @Dot Beech: Good point – when I was single I always liked the safety angle. For one thing you needed ID to get in, which kept out the nut cases (and not incidentally, the closet cases).

    The following is from the FAQ page of a certain gay bathhouse chain that happens to have two locations in L.A. (I’ve never been there, but lest I be accused of advertising for them, I won’t name them here.) Just thought these were interesting and pertinent:


    Do you supply condoms?

    Yes, we supply condoms and they are always FREE.


    Do you offer HIV/STD testing?

    Yes, all of our clubs offer HIV/STD testing.


    I’m into bare backing will I have any luck there?

    Barebacking is NOT allowed in our clubs. If you are caught barebacking you will be asked to leave. Repeat offenders will be banned from all of our clubs for life.

  • BlogZilla

    I used to go to bath houses when I was real young. I found the whole atmosphere very impersonal and disgusting after awhile. I only met 3 friends during that whole time. And the whole idea just seems quite unsanitary and soulless to me

    The internet was a long overdue blessing.

  • BlogZilla

    @Dot Beech: Oh please. Get a reality check. The problem is, a lot of gay men don’t care, and involve themselves in barebacking, etc..

    It amazes me that unprotected butt sex is so popular, yet none of these guys would play in a sewer

  • Merv

    I reached the conclusion a long time ago that a certain percentage of the sexually active gay population is borderline sociopathic when it comes to not caring about preventing the spread of disease in the community. They might put on a condom if you asked them to, but if it broke in the middle of the act they would make no effort to correct the problem, even if they knew for a fact they were infectious. Because of this, it’s really quite foolish and irresponsible for a gay person to believe he can be safely promiscuous.

  • Wilberforce

    @Merv: A certain percentage? No. it’s the vast majority of gay men who are sociopathic, driven by internalized homophobia. The mainstream community have let hiv spread for thirty years without lifting a finger to stop it. They’re a disgrace.

  • CaptainFabulous

    I simply do not understand why so many of you are fixated and obsessed with what kind of sex other gay men are having. If two adults consent to having bareback sex that’s their choice, not yours. If you don’t want to do it then don’t. It’s that simple. We have fought long and hard to repeal sodomy laws so that we can be free to do whatever the fuck we want to each other. And now we have to deal with bullshit from our own community? I don’t think so. Mind your own damned business.

    Seriously, I think some of you need professional help. Your obsession with people barebacking is not healthy.

  • Cee

    Just drive 20 minutes to Steamworks in Berkeley. sn: apps like Grindr and Jackd can’t replace bathhouses because they’re not safe. You have to be really careful who you meet from Grindr and Jackd. You might end up in a body bag. Aside from that, it’s still a hassle looking for the right dude searching through profiles when you can just go to the bathhouse and get str8 to business in a safe environment.

  • Fitz

    we ALREADY have them.. we just don’t call them that anymore.
    Like Cee said, we have Steamworks. We have Eros, Blow Buddies, Truck (which gos from bar to sex club after 11 or 12 if you know the PW), not to mention the # of glory holes, open-secret park trails, .. SO many places. No one sees too worried about safety anymore.
    It is a public issue, in that people want publicly funded medicine when they get ill.

  • prosexinsf

    I would like to see bath houses reopen. But, if they are reopened, I predict that they will not attract enough customers to make them viable businesses. The most obvious reason is that it is increasingly expensive to start and run a business in this city. The less obvious but more pertinent reason is that the culture here is far more conservative than ever before. In general, gay men have internalized the anti-sex attitudes that emerged in the 90s, were reinforced by a fear based sex-ed agenda, and continued with the political prioritization of assimilationist gay culture. The current gay mainstream opinion tends to shame those who do not aspire to monogamy, and we’ve, in turn, created gay spaces that are almost entirely devoid of gay sex. I’ve heard friends say that while they would go to a bath house elsewhere, they wouldn’t go to one in SF because *gasp* they might see someone they know. I mean, we don’t want our friends to know that we suck dick because that is gross, right? All we want is our monogamous relationships to be recognized by the homophobic and sexist state, so we can reproduce acceptable cultural norms and adopt children, move to the suburbs, and join the military. Sucking dick, being naked, and fucking men is so 1970s and certainly won’t help Ellen peddle advertisements. In post-gay world, we should be coiffed and over-produced euches who dress well, give good advice to our galpals, but we must, by all means, remove as much “sex” as possible from homosexuality.

  • Pucifer

    SF’s gay bathhouses were closed as a result of anti-gay-sex hysteria.

    Now that we know condoms are practically 100% effective against transmission of the HIV virus, there is absolutely no reason to continue to penalize (no pun intended) San Franciscans by keeping bathhouses closed.

    And as others have pointed out in this thread, bathhouses are much safer than hooking up with strangers through internet, etc. And a bathhouse environment can be utilized to reinforce the “always use a condom” message through wall posters and distribution of free condoms.

    So there really is no valid reason to keep bathhouses closed other than to appease the anti-gay-sex hysterics.

  • Merv

    @prosexinsf: Or maybe some people get the whole sowing your wild oats thing out of their system and realize that there’s more to life than constantly chasing the next orgasm.

  • stanhope

    OPEN THE BATHS!!!!!! If one doesn’t like them, then don’t go. The baths are a great place to have fun and making friends/buddies is, in fact, possible there. Hell it’s safer than walking the streets of New York these days. The tech apps are nice but some people aren’t able to host so the baths are a safe alternative.

  • GayTampaCowboy

    @CaptainFabulous is 100% RIGHT!

    What’s REALLY got me frosted is that while all these sexual purists post negative comments about bathhouses (probably because they’ve been to them but were rebuffed), they seem to have NO problem with str8 bath houses. WHAT? Horror of horrors! Str8 people go to clubs to have sex with people they don’t know? YEP! There’s Twist, Tangerines Dream, Fantasies, Club Kiss – just to name a few (Oh, all you have to do is GOOGLE the term swing clubs and enter a city name to find them).

    So, here we have gay folks posting on Queerty, bashing gay men for wanting access to visit bath houses, as consenting adults looking to congregate at a LEGAL business for the primary purpose of engaging in various forms of sexual contact, as heterosexuals.

    Fine, you’re a sexually conservative gay man. Great. So you don’t find a bath house as an appealing option. Great. THEN SHUT UP, DON’T GO, AND DON’T JUDGE THOSE WHO WANT THE RIGHT TO ACCESS SUCH FACILITIES!

  • Ken

    As a gay man who lived in Los Angeles and frequented the baths more than a few times in my 20+ years there (and even promoted/hosted events) I can say that the need for the San Francisco Ban is over. Gay men make a choice whether to protect themselves or not. But at least in a bathhouse there are condoms and lube plentifully available (whether or not they’re used is up to the individual).

    But beyond that, the social apps (Grindr, Jackd, Growlr and such) have one minor drawback for hookups. You never know if the person you’re speaking to is the person in the picture. Furthermore you don’t know that if you go to this persons home (or meet somewhere else) if you could be bashed, robbed, raped (even for men who are looking for sex rape is a possibility, especially when you are intending on safe sex and have bare sex forced on you) and yes even murder is possible. At least in the bathhouses you can see the person you are choosing to hookup with before going to a private room (or screwing in one of the public spaces because you like showing off).

    If SF lifts the ban I think the owners of the Midtowne Spa chain (locations in LA (3 locations), Dallas and Denver). They are by far the cleanest and best kept up baths I’ve ever been to. Plus they push safer sex practices in all their locations.

  • sportsguy1983

    Just plain gross.

  • crowebobby

    They shouldn’t be reopened because I’m too old to take advantage of them.

  • Kangol

    Yes. Just make sure there are free condoms and ubiquitous messages urging safe(r) sex.

  • Ogre Magi

    San Francisco has club Eros, who could ask for anything more?

  • Ed

    NO – It’s not that we can’t trust the young ones, it’s that we can’t depend on each other to save one another. We proved that in the late 1970’s. Especially when we’re young and on a substance, we tend to throw caution to the wind and think we…or our partner…is invulnerable. Let’s just forget that, and open outdoor spray parks for the summer for everyone. Then, we can just all be celebrating cool summer fun instead of hot summer shorts.

  • calanwillard

    I’m 35- live in Cleveland, OH and we have 2 bath houses I’ve never been in them for sex but have a friend who worked at one and asked for a tour, I had a sleazy image in my head about what I thought it was going to look like inside… I was beyond shocked, it was very clean, and was very safe sex enforcing, which is hard to enforce unless you have a pecker checker going in for a close up when he sees 2 or more men butt banging.

    Now I LOVE, LOVE BAREBACK SEX. I dislike wearing the condom, don’t like em, period. HOWEVER, I buy and have a stack of the home HIV/AIDS tests, so I test the guy I’m going to top and while we are doing the foreplay stuff, the test results are in, and we both have a certain amount of reassurance that it’s ok to go bareback. They’re not cheap by any means but not outrageous either, so since I really like my bareback sex this is my avenue to keep safe, and I also go every other month or so and have my physician do a blood AIDS test… you can never be too careful and I always show people my results too so they see them and the quick AIDS test results together. I personally think they should make them cheaper or offered through some program that way the test is there when you need it, it’s worth waiting for the time it takes for the results to appear, sometimes you want to go right away when ya walk in the door, but to do this horse bareback ya gotta do it and ya gotta wait.

  • adam madam

    @calanwillard: clevelander here, too, and this town hasn’t had two bathhouses since one of them closed in 2010. glad the one you attended was clean and safe. reading your post over again, i don’t know that i believe you. you don’t pass the smell test, sir.

    sorry, if someone whipped out. . . an a.i.d.s. test as we were in the middle of foreplay, that would be absolutely the biggest buzz-kill ever. i just wouldn’t willingly continue to get it on with someone swabbing my mouth for antibodies, no matter how hot the prude was.

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