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Gay bathhouses , also known as gay saunas or steambaths , are commercial spaces for men to have sex with other men. In gay slang in some regions these venues are also known colloquially as "the baths," "the sauna" or "the tubs", but they should not be confused with public bathing. Gay baths are primarily for sex, not bathing. Not all men who visit gay bathhouses consider themselves gay , regardless of their sexual behavior. Bathhouses vary considerably in size and amenities Template:Spndfrom small establishments with 10 or 20 rooms and a handful of lockers to multi-story saunas with a variety of room styles or sizes and several steam baths, Jacuzzi tubs, and sometimes swimming pools.
Most have a steam room or wet sauna , dry sauna, showers, lockers, and small private rooms. Many bathhouses are, for legal reasons, "membership only", though membership is generally open to any adult who seeks it, usually after paying a small fee. Unlike brothels , customers pay only for the use of the facilities. Sexual activity, if it occurs, is not provided by staff of the establishment but is between customers, and no money is exchanged. Many gay bathhouses, for legal reasons, explicitly prohibit or discourage prostitution and ban known prostitutes.
Records of men meeting for sex with other men in bathhouses date back to the 15th century. A tradition of public baths dates back to the 6th century BC, and there are many ancient records of homosexual activity in Greece. Men began frequenting cruising areas such as bathhouses, public parks, alleys, train and bus stations, movie theaters , public lavatories cottages or tearooms , and gym changing rooms where they could meet other men for sex.
Some bathhouse owners tried to prevent sex between patrons while others, mindful of profits or prepared to risk prosecution, overlooked discreet homosexual activity. In New York City , the Everard nicknamed the Everhard  was converted from a church to a bathhouse in and was patronized by gay men before the s and by the s had a reputation as the "classiest, safest, and best known of the baths".
The Everard closed in American precisionist painter Charles Demuth used the Lafayette Baths as his favourite haunt. His homoerotic self-portrait set in a Turkish bath is likely to have been inspired by it. His biography states: So great was his need to be with boys, that though his home contained two pianos, he chose to practice at an instrument at the Y, and his favorite time was when the players were coming and going from their games.