Welcome to the Bathhouse: A Straight Man's Guide
The average heterosexual probably envisions a bathhouse as a place where gay men can go, twenty-four hours a day, to have sex with whomever they want.
I know I did and frankly I was jealous. After all, bars are iffy, swinger's clubs are too expensive and masturbation gets old. I was ready to step across the pond and join in the game the other team was playing, if just for one night, but I was also worried.
What were the rules? Would I run into someone I know? How far would I go?
Luckily, I had a guide. A friend of mine (and a regular to this type of establishment) invited me to check out Excess, a spa at 105 Carlton St.
After entering, we were offered our choice of a locker for $8 or a room for $30. My friend, I'll call him Ducky, got us lockers, explaining that if we wanted a room, whomever we ended up with would probably have one.
He also briefly explained the rules of the joint with the proviso that I only really needed to remember four of 'em:
Silence is golden. Easy and quick sexual encounters are the name of the game and no one wants to have their fun spoiled with intimacy, disclaimers or any kind of recognition beyond basic physical need.
Non-verbal negotiation. A look generally indicates interest but often, a guy will touch you to see if you're interested. If you're not into the guy who's approaching you, don't look at them or push away their hand. Usually, they'll back off.
Come inside. If you pass by a room and the door's open, that means you're invited to at least solicit a proposal for sex by standing in the doorway and waiting to see if you get an invitation.
If the question is "drugs" the answer is "yes." Poppers, a nitrate inhalant that acts upon the body like alcohol intoxication except it hits you in seconds, are used by a lot of guys to increase their pleasure and reduce lack of control. You don't have to use them but feel free to take a snort if offered.
Proceeding inside, we first came to a bar area where men in towels were lounging on sofas, watching porno. Passing through, we came to the first of many confusing hallways. Ducky knew where he was going and led me to the locker room where we stashed our clothing and, garbed in white towels eerily reminiscent of a high school shower, we set out to get lucky.
It was a good thing I had a guide because I would have been hopelessly lost without him. Every doorway seemed to head off in a new direction and a lot of passageways seemed to randomly turn at sharp angles, leading you into claustrophobic dead-ends. Turning a corner, one would happen upon other men, in varying states of undress, alternately watching porn and doing things to each other. The crowd was split almost down the middle between Caucasians and Asians (of both the east and south-east variety). Some of the rooms were quite dark and you couldn't see anything but that didn't dispel the ever-present feeling of being watched.
I've heard girls talk about how they sometimes feel like they're on display but I hadn't felt that meat market vibe since the swinger's club and it was rather humbling, here moreso because the sex was less regulated and there was definitely an anything-can-happen feel to the place.
After a brief stop at the showers (hurray for hot tubs!), we parked ourselves in one of those bizarre, cubist-inspired rooms and I steeled myself for what I believed would be the twentieth-century equivalent of a Maenadian orgy. Minutes later, I was forced to reevaluate my initial idea of a bathhouse. Men entered and left the room and but no one was being pushy and I was largely left to my own devices.
I was surprised that there really was not a whole lot of conversation. Instead of the verbal sparring that constitutes the usual negotiation for sexual favours, men would sit down and size each other up, waiting for an unspoken acknowledgement that their services would be required. No one spoke and because there was no sound on the porno loop, the overall mood was one of solemnity punctuated by bouts of hardcore sex.
After some initial hesitation, I dropped all pretense of objectivity and decided to get the ball rolling. Adopting a pose that suggested I was open to whatever, I leaned back and waited for the first guy to approach. He wasn't long in coming and neither was the second or third.
Most of the men were older than I was and while not many of them were good-looking, I figured I couldn't really turn any of them down because, as a tourist, I wasn't there to find someone I was attracted to. I suppose quite a few of the other inhabitants were pickier but it still seemed like good odds to me.
This being a public room, there wasn't any anal sex going on and most men seemed content to provide blow-jobs and feel me up. One would wander off and another would take his place. Surrounding our little party were about half-a-dozen guys on average, watching intently and jerking off.
I very quickly learned that staying in one spot makes a guy seem like the village bicycle and it's best to move around. Ducky was busy following that advice and I was soon left to my own devices.
Coming upon an open door I looked in to find a man, face-down on a bed. Seeing me, he beckoned me to come inside and, after lubing up and providing me with a condom, indicated that I should fuck him. I gamely tried to get into the spirit of things but just couldn't go with it. The blowjobs were one thing but between the lube and the condom, I couldn't feel anything and the general unfamiliarity of the situation hit me. I excused myself and after spending 5 minutes trying to find my locker and nearly 15 minutes attempting to locate the exit, I made it outside, feeling exhausted and generally out-of-it.
I didn't run into anyone I knew and while I don't think I would do it again, it was surprisingly different from the sex I'm used to. The guys were generally rougher and they tended to fetishize one part of the body at a time. More importantly, they were male and while it's easy enough to go with the flow, there's a difference between kind of liking how something feels and really loving it. I ended up going way farther than I thought I would but, as Colin Powell once said, "You don't know what you can get away with until you try."
Despite it being one of those experiences that would undoubtedly translate very differently for each and every person who gave it a shot, bathhouses are everything you've probably imagined and maybe some things you haven't. As far as I'm concerned, it only confirms how much fun you can have if you're inclined to enjoy that kind of thing. Lucky bastards...
Photos from the Excess website