Bathing played a major part in ancient
Roman culture and society. Of all the leisure activities, it was one of
the most important, since it was part of the daily regimen for men of
all classes. Today many cultures see bathing as a very private activity
conducted in the home, but bathing in Rome was a communal activity,
conducted for the most part in public facilities that in some ways
resemble modern-day spas. Such was the importance of baths that a
catalogue of buildings in Rome from 354 AD documented 952 baths of
varying sizes in the city.
Although wealthy Romans might set up a bath in their home or country
villa, they still often frequented the numerous public bathhouses.
Small bathhouses, might be privately
owned, but they were public in the sense that they were open to the
populace for a fee. The large baths, called thermae, were owned by the
state and often covered several city blocks. Fees for both types of
baths were quite reasonable, within the budget of most free Roman males.
In addition to bathing, food and drink, sex was also for sale at these
ancient Roman bathhouses.
The hammam or Turkish bath is the Middle
Eastern variant of a steam bath, which can be categorized as a wet
relative of the sauna. They had played an important role in cultures of
the Middle-East, serving as places of social gathering, ritual cleansing
and as architectural structures. Europeans learned about the hammam via
contacts with Turkey -- hence the European name for it: "Turkish"
In the USA in the early
1900's cities grew more and more crowded and people frequently had to
live in places where access to hot water and good plumbing was limited.
Bathhouses arose to serve their bathing [and social] needs. In these
all-male environments sexual activity was inevitable. Many bathhouse
owners attempted to ban the activity or employed guards to keep guys in line,
but other bathhouse owners saw the additional cash that could be
generated by looking the other way and "tolerated" gays as long as they
Private Men's Clubs
the establishment of formal GAY bathhouses many health clubs and private
men's clubs served the same purpose. The YMCA [Young Men's Christian
Assoc.] was the most famous for its "gay bathhouse-like" facilities.
Lonely men, military men and gays would all use the YMCA as a cruising
ground. They usually had all the elements of a modern bathhouse --
steam, sauna, gym, swimming pool etc. -- and they were also exclusively
male. Many also had small rooms for rent [like a hotel] making them
ideal for gay encounters.
Young man, there's a
place you can go.
I said, young man, when you're short on your dough.
You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time.....
You can get yourself clean, you can
have a good meal,
You can do what ever you feel....
They have everything
for you men to enjoy,
You can hang out with all the boys.....
It's fun to stay at
the Y - M - C - A
In the 1950's all-gay bathhouses began
to be established. Homosexuality was still illegal and these first
bathhouses were subject to raids and harassment and only talked about in
hushed tones. In the 1960's all-gay bathhouses were increasingly
tolerated by authorities as a way of keeping gay-sex out of public
places such as parks and restrooms. In the 1970's there was an explosion
of gay bathhouses with more than enough business to go around. The pinnacle of which was probably the
"Continental Baths" of New York which spanned some 90,000 square feet
and could hold almost 3,000 towel-clad men. During the AIDS epidemic of
the 1980's over half of the bathhouses in the USA were closed, some
through court action [citing public health], but most due to market
Many Europeans today enjoy large and
elaborate bathhouse facilities unlike anything that exists in America.
Many bathhouses contain a multitude of pools and hydrotherapies [all set
to different temperatures]. Saunas and steam rooms may have different
aromatherapies such as eucalyptus. Some have music and lighting effects
and are designed to be leisurely all-day affairs. Some are family
oriented, where children are welcome; at others, men and women share the
same facilities and are clothing optional! Some facilities are designated all-men or
all-women on different days of the week.
Day spas in the USA are a new twist on
the bathhouse. Day spas usually offer beauty or health treatments such
as massages and facials in addition to the usual steam, sauna, pools
etc...They can be all-day events and can sometimes be quite pricy. Some day spas
require that a "service" be purchased to enter [such as a
others have "day passes" that let you use steam, sauna, pools etc.
without having to buy an expensive service. The photos below are from
the spa at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas suggestively called "THE
Also see: All
about Day Spas & how they work