Trying Out a Gay Sauna? Know Before You Go!

Last Updated 16.02.2022
23 min read

The first police raid of a gay bathhouse occurred in Florence, Italy in the 1400s. Yes, that's how long gay saunas, steam rooms, and bathhouses have been around. But even though they were illegal, gay saunas and steam rooms continued to be a place where gay men could gather and hook up, in a much better place than a public park, dark alley, or a sleazy hotel. Today, you can find a gay sauna in most major cities in the world, although you will find that there are all levels of regulations and restrictions. In some cities, like San Francisco for example, legality has come and gone based on public health issues. If you are thinking about going to a gay sauna, then you will need to be "in the know" about many things. Read on.

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Are You a Candidate for a Gay Sauna?

"Sex without love is a meaningless experience, but as far as meaningless experiences go, it's pretty damn good," Woody Allen once said. This may or may not be the reason for the popularity of gay saunas all over the world. Meaningless sex can be quite satisfying. But are you a good candidate for such sex?

This is the first question you have to ask yourself. Remember, gay saunas are for men who often look for one-time experiences with other guys, not gay dating or serious long-term relationship building. If you are already in a relationship, think twice about going to a gay sauna. Do you want to jeopardize that relationship? In short, hookups at gay saunas should not have the same goals as dating.

If you are single, free, and enjoy gay encounters without commitment, then the gay sauna experience may be for you. You may feel like Adam Jayyar, who said in a recent tweet: "Also frankly? I'm fine with casual sex being a feature of gay culture. I don't need a bunch of sad-eyed clout chasers shaming me for that..."You must understand, gay saunas are not set up to foster longer-term relationships. Do not go to a gay sauna looking for anything more than a temporary hookup. If you know this upfront, you will not be disappointed".

Can a gay sauna experience result in more than just a casual hookup? Yes, of course. Many modern gay saunas are set up on a club membership model, where members may get to know one another through lots of amenities - a lounge, live shows, bars, hotel rooms for the night, special events, themed nights, parties, and such. These upscale facilities can foster relationships that may become long-term.

What You May or May Not Find at a Gay Sauna

Gay sauna facilities vary widely. The basic gay sauna became common after World War II. Lots of gay soldiers, who had had satisfying experiences while in the military, wanted to continue those experiences in a "safe" place. It was the law of supply and demand. What followed was a full variety of gay saunas and bathhouses to cater to gays with diverse wants and needs and financial situations. Here are all of the amenities that you may or may not find at today's gay saunas. It is up to you to do the research on the specific gay saunas in your area and what they offer that you may find attractive.

Above all, remember this. Most gay guys go to saunas for sex. And many gay men hook up with total strangers. Now, you don't have to do this, especially not your first time there. You may just want to enjoy the other amenities - the workout room, for example - and just check the whole place out. If you're going to enjoy the gay sauna experience, or even cough up a membership fee, you're going to want to make sure you'll be comfortable.

The Changing Room

Remember your high school gym and locker room/shower area? Then, you probably remember the smells of terrible odors - sweat, dirty socks, moldy towels, and more. And you may have wondered how often those areas were actually cleaned. This is not the case at a gay sauna. Once the AIDS epidemic hit, and especially in its early stages when people were unsure about all the ways it could be transmitted, extra caution about keeping the changing rooms, as well as other areas, cleaned and disinfected became critical. This is even more critical, given COVID.

Most changing rooms will have lockers for storing personal items and clothing. And you will be given a towel for wrapping around your waist. In a more upscale gay sauna, you may have the option of a room with a private jacuzzi and frig with alcoholic drinks, so that you may have private encounters. You will be paying for this, though, and prices can be a bit high. 

Usually, changing rooms will have supplies of condoms and lubricants - complimentary in some, or paying from vending machines in others. For your first visit, bring your own supplies - there are no guarantees, and they can be pricey.

The Showers

These areas in a gay sauna are open, much like they are in a high school gym - no surprise here. The more important piece of advice is that you will want to take a shower - you like to smell great, right? Plus, this will give you a chance to check out others who are doing the same. The only exception to this "rule" is if you have come straight from home and taken a shower right before you left. But why do that? You will be missing some of the total experience that a gay bathhouse offers.

You will need to bring your own shower supplies., especially if you have a body wash that you love. Cake soap is so last century, and no gay spa provides or sells it. You can buy small bottles of body wash at most bathhouses, but why? You have your favorite - use it. And don't forget your body lotion or oil - you want to look your best. A good general rule is to forego strong-smelling body washes or colognes at a gay spa. Others may be turned off by them or even allergic. Using hypo-allergenic bath supplies and shampoos is your best bet.

Sauna, Steam Room, and Jacuzzi

A good gay bathhouse will have all three. So, let's unpack how you will navigate and use these amenities.

The Sauna

If you've never used saunas before, be prepared for heat - dry heat. They have been in use for thousands of years - famously by the Mayans and Finns. Traditional saunas create dry heat by placing stones in a hot fire. They are used to promote relaxation and do help people unwind from their life stressors. Here are some fast facts about a sauna room.

  • The temps usually range from about 155 - 212 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Most saunas use the Finnish model, with a humidity level of about 20 percent
  • A sauna will raise the body temperature and cause quite a bit of sweating
  • In addition to heat created by stones and fire, there may be wood burning, electrical heaters, or infrared that heat only the body, not the entire room

The Steam Room

Guys will use the steam room to relax, of course, but also to meet and hook up. The obvious difference between saunas and steam rooms is that the steam room uses moist heat. Many gay men use the steam bath to make or accept advances, so you should expect this to happen.

Body temperatures in steam rooms are raised about the same amount as in a sauna, and sweating will also happen as pores are opened.

The Whirlpool

Drop your towel and jump in. Here is the third amenity that turns a gay bathhouse into a full gay spa. This is also a great way to relax and check out other men, as they do the same with you. Again, like with open showers, expect advances and even physical contact that may include touching, making out, and such. But for obvious health reasons, sex is not allowed. Couples will have to move to other parts of the club for that.

The "Dry" Areas

So-called dry areas are those in which sex is not allowed. They are typically just for relaxation, non-hookup fun, and conversation. Depending on the gay sauna you choose to visit, these might include a lounge to relax in, a bar for alcoholic drinks, dance floors with live music or DJs, and even special live shows or other events. In these places, you can check out other guys and be checked out as well. If any sex is anticipated, then you will have to move to other areas within the site. 

Spaces for Sex

Usually, there will be plenty of designated areas for sex, either public where others can watch or join in, but also in private if you are uncomfortable with others around - a stall, a so-called dark room or a private room for a more intimate experience. And for kinkier activities that are special rooms, such as fetish dungeons. Let's unpack a few of these:


These are tiny closet-type rooms that most gay clubs, saunas, and bathhouses have. They could hardly be called a room and are usually without a closure. Guys who have sex in stalls understand it will be very public.

Private Rooms

Private rooms are larger than a stall, with either a pad or mattress on the floor. Of course, each room has a door, but here's the thing. A door open is a sign to others to either watch or join in. if you find a door open, and you are thinking about participating, watch for facial expressions, nods, and such that signal to you.

Dark Rooms

Dark Rooms are places where almost anything may go on. There is no lighting at all, but you can usually see the outlines of other bodies. Depending on your past experiences, a dark room may or may not be comfortable for you. But if you are open to sex with one or more guys and want it all to remain anonymous, then this may be for you. One specific caution here: lots of guys in a dark room will not be using condoms - you decide if the risk is worth it. Some sex clubs don't have dark rooms because of the health hazards.

Fetish Dungeons

 These are for guys are into the kinkier side of sex - bondage, submission, dominance, and discipline. If you have past BDSM experiences and enjoy them, then cruise for others who do too. 

Now that you have a good idea of what a typical gay sauna facility may look like and offer, and you have an understanding of how you can navigate around, it's time to take a look at general "rules" of etiquette when you visit a sauna for the first time.

Etiquette in the Gay Sauna

If you have ever been to a library, church, symphony concert, or even to your grandmother's house, there are rules of etiquette - written and unwritten. You probably would not cuss or go shirtless at church or even your grandmother's. In fact, your behavior will change to different levels depending on where you are at the time. The same applies to everywhere gay guys meet up - from online gay chat rooms to physical facilities where gay guys meet up. And in the case of a gay sauna, these rules also apply to individual areas of the place.

The gay sauna, along with other sex-positive places, exists because the guys involved follow the rules. If you choose not to do so, you can expect to be asked to leave. You may even be permanently barred. Also, not following the rules of etiquette creates risk and problems for everyone else. That's a great way to have a really bad time.

Rule 1: Of the Gay Sauna: Staff has the Final Word

When you go to a gay sauna, forget everything you perceive about the customer being right. That doesn't fly here. Staff exists to ensure that everyone is safe and that things run smoothly. Their instructions are final.  Even if they establish a rule that conflicts with what you read here, that's what stands. Here's an example:

Recently a frequenter of gay sauna clubs, Scooter McCreight, tweeted the following:  "Starting today with a community discussion about how I was denied entry into (name of bathhouse deleted) last night because they have a rule AGAINST NAIL POLISH!" If that's the rule, then guests must comply.

 If you find that you are frustrated, keep in mind that the staff wants everyone to have a great time. You'll find that the rules ultimately help to ensure that the sauna is a safe, fun place for all gay guys. Having "dry" places is a prime example of such a rule.

Rule 2: Condoms in the Gay Sauna

You shouldn't have any trouble finding condoms in gay saunas. Most have them readily available and highly encourage their use. Depending on where you are visiting a gay bathhouse or sauna, it may even be a legal requirement that they provide these to you. However, you should consider bringing some of your own if you are unfamiliar with the condom policies of a particular gay sauna.

One thing that a gay sauna cannot do is force guys to actually use the condoms they provide rather than those they bring from home. Unfortunately, some gay men take significant risks by engaging in bathhouse sex (also called "bareback") without condoms. This typically happens in a dark room or when two guys mutually agree to it.

This is weapons-grade stupid. You are likely to be engaging in sex with people you have only just met. Surely, you don't believe that every single gay person you encounter to be forthcoming about their latest HIV or STI tests. 

The gay sauna is full of people who are quite eager to have sex with you. Forget about the guy who wines about wearing a condom. Every gay bathhouse is full of people who are willing to take this basic precaution. Stick to activity only with these guys.

Rule 3: Ditch the Clothing

Jackie Kennedy once said: "Sex is a bad thing because it rumples the clothes." Obviously, this is not a problem at a gay sauna for members or visitors. No one's clothing will get rumpled unless it is stuffed into a cubby or backpack without being neatly folded.

If you aren't comfortable with public nudity, chances are you aren't going to have a good time in a gay sauna. When members or guests arrive, they will be issued lockers and a towel. The point is to ditch your clothing asap.

The only exception here is that sometimes a jockstrap or fetish wear can be acceptable. Look around to see what seems to be acceptable. If the no clothing rule bothers you, consider things from the point of view of another guy. Imagine walking around naked at your favorite gay spa, and some random guy is there ogling you fully dressed in his street clothes. Isn't that creepy?

Rule 4: Gay Sauna Keys: Pick a Side

When you check-in at a gay sauna, chances are you will be given a set of keys. That's for your locker. If you have chosen to purchase time in a private room, you will get a key for that as well. It turns out that these keys have a greater purpose than simply providing you with access.

Instead, men who visit a gay bathhouse have developed a unique way of communicating their preferences. Does your key come with an elastic band? Carry your keys to the right to tell other gay guys that you are a bottom. The left side indicates to gay men that you are a top.

Just remember that not all men know about this, and some may choose not to use this method. The purpose is to better communicate in the gay sauna. It isn't a hard and fast rule. Remember that there are gay men who are versatile.

Rule 5: Silent Communication in the Gay Sauna

Have you ever played blackjack in a casino? If so, you know that you don't loudly announce whether you want the dealer to hit or pass. Instead, you use silent communication, usually with hand gestures. This same rule applies at your favorite gay sauna. Use touching, eye contact, and body language instead.

Why the oath of silence at the sauna? Listening to some guy chatter on is annoying. Go to a gay bar or coffee shop if you want to have a conversation. That's not what the gay sauna is for.

Rule 6: Communicating Through Touch at the Gay Sauna

This is the part that requires respect and awareness. On one hand, groping people is risky behavior. On the other, when you aren't speaking, it's a key way to communicate. So, don't be offended if someone reaches out to touch you to indicate their interest. You can also do the same.

Just be sure to be observant and respectful. If someone steps away or shakes their head, that means no. Stop and don't persist. Remember that guys at the gay sauna must absolutely respect your rejection as well. We can't emphasize enough how important this is. Remember that a gay sauna is going to be under much more scrutiny than gay bars or clubs. One person who refuses to respect consent or denial can ruin it for everyone.

Rule 6: Giving Gay Men the Look

Your other option for communicating with men in open areas of the gay sauna is to use eye contact. When someone looks at you and makes eye contact, you can bet they are interested. They will assume the same of you.

If you get a smile or a nod in response, you can assume that it is all systems go. However, someone looking away or shaking their head, unfortunately, means that you should move on to the next gay guy. Don't worry, you are in a gay bathhouse. You will have plenty of opportunities from the shower area to the steam rooms.

Rule 7: The Gay Sauna and the Top or Bottom Question

So, it's a bit creepy and presumptuous when someone approaches you at a gay bar to ask if you are a top or bottom. That's because those gay areas are for drinking, conversation, dancing, and socialization. Different rules apply to the gay sauna.

You are specifically at the gay sauna in search of sexual experiences. This question matters. Fortunately, most people handle this in a very direct way. Gay guys will simply go for the part that interests them. As always, pay attention to non-verbal cues here.

Rule 8: Use Dark Rooms for Anonymous Sex at the Gay Sauna

A dark room is available at almost every gay sauna to give men a place to have anonymous sex. Just keep in mind that these spaces are not intended to be private. When you enter a dark room in a bathhouse, there will be other men in that room as well, although you will not see them - only their shadows. And sexual activity can be pretty random.

These rooms give gay men who are still in the closet a safe environment for sex, free from the fear of recognition. Gok Wan a fashion consultant, author, actor, and more, speaks to this fear with the tweet: "I can still remember how scared I was at school of anyone knowing I was gay. It was crippling and made me very isolated..." Adult men can still have this fear.

A word of caution. Some gay guys use these rooms to engage in sex without condoms. If you aren't comfortable taking that risk, consider enjoying the other areas of the sauna.

Rule 9: Watching in the Gay Sauna

Yes, it is okay for people to watch at the gay sauna. If that bothers you, then you should consider investing in a private room. You can also look for a less "populated" area.

Sometimes, a third (or fourth) might indicate they want to join you. Invite them with a nod or shake your head to indicate that they should move on.

Rule 10: Ditch the Fragrances at the Gay Sauna

Hit the open showers as soon as you arrive. This lets you clean up, and also washes away any strong colognes or deodorants. Remember that not everybody appreciates these scents, and they will linger behind in steam rooms and other spaces long after you have gone home for the evening.

Tips for an Amazing Gay Sauna Experience

Following the etiquette rules at a gay bathhouse will make your experience much more pleasant. Any sauna or bathhouse that does not have rules means that a rather chaotic atmosphere could be in place. You may be grossly offended or offend others in these environments.

Your best bet is to patronize those facilities that do have rules and to follow them. Beyond that, some other tips will find helpful. Read through these and take heed of those that apply to you. The goal is to have the best experience possible.

Bring a Backpack

There's a reason why women carry purses. They have all of the necessities, whether going shopping or out for the night. They will also change out items in their purses, depending on the purpose for their outing. You should follow their example. 

You already know the purpose for a visit to a gay spa, bathhouse, or sauna. Think about all that you may need, because some of these items may or may not be provided, and you do not want to be surprised by not having something you need.

Most guys sling a drawstring pack over their shoulders - condoms, lube, a portable douche kit, and such. A towel, on the other hand, won't be necessary - you'll get one. Unless you're willing to leave that backpack just anywhere (you may have money in there, for example), you will probably want to go to the expense of a locker. And you can always go back to that locker for any supplies you need. The locker is also a place to store your clothes.

Cash Only is the Norm

Almost every gay sauna is cash only. That's due to privacy concerns. Most gay men don't necessarily want the local gay bathhouse making an appearance on their credit card statement. This also ensures discretion. At a gay sauna, there may be open showers, but many of the guys are still in the closet, and using cards is not an option.

So, bring cash to pay your entry fee, for any fee-based options, and maybe grab a drink at the bar. Other than that, leave your wad of money and valuables at home.

Watch Your Drinks at the Bathhouse

When you are at a gay sauna, plan to buy your own drinks. Don't accept offers to share beverages and keep an eye on your glass. While the practice isn't super prevalent, men have been given drugs such as GHB. This can lead to some dark situations. Worse, there have been cases of overdoses. This isn't something that only happens at gay bars. It can occur anywhere alcohol is being served.

Gay sauna culture and alcohol are definitely connected. Be careful and engage in harm reduction practices. Consider enjoying your first time at the gay sauna without using any alcohol. This way, you will be alert and get a feel for the place.

Put on Your Flip Flops

You wouldn't go to your local workout place or sauna and walk around in your bare feet. Why would you ever do that at a gay sauna? Grab a nice pair of slides or flip-flops. They will keep you out of contact with anything undesirable on the floor and are easy to get on and off when you need to get rid of them.

Go to the Gay Sauna with a Friend

If this is your first bathhouse experience, consider taking along a trusted friend. Choose someone who has spent time at the local gay sauna, so they can guide you. If nothing else, you can simply follow your friend and do what they do.

Sex isn't Mandatory at the Gay Sauna

Plenty of men are anxious the first time they go to a gay bathhouse. That's normal. You may even experience performance anxiety. Relax. You don't have to have sex. You can simply enjoy the atmosphere and a bit of voyeurism.

The sauna you attend may have areas for people who don't want to have sex. They might have workout facilities, lounges, and recreation areas. It's also common for a gay sauna to have spaces for non-sexual activities on the main level, and more sex-friendly spaces upstairs or downstairs. Some may even have themed nights where sexual activity is allowed. 

Final Thoughts: Go to that Gay Sauna and Enjoy

You may be new to the gay sauna experience. So what? Having new experiences should be a thing in everyone's world - straight or gay. Maybe you just want the non-sex experiences the first time out. Great! Go to those areas and activities that are dry - the workout room, any bars or dance spots, the lounge, and such. You will be in a safe place in these areas.  Have some conversations with some regulars, get a "feel" for the place, and see if the type of guy who frequents this place is a match for you. If so, you can then move to explore all of the "wet" areas, on your schedule and at levels that work for you. if you use your own schedule, you will not be surprised. Above all, do what feels right for you, but do not be afraid to try new encounters. John Barrymore has often been quoted: "Sex: the thing that takes up the least amount of time and causes the most amount of trouble." Becoming a frequenter of gay saunas, guys can take the "trouble" out of sex. It just might be for you.

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