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HIV Community Spotlight

Bye-bye "Bathhouse?"

Nobody ever really went there to take a bath, anyway. Now, men's spas join the anti-AIDS network.

April 2000

Nighttime in the city, 1982. A man walks into a bathhouse, the social and sexual Grand Central for the gay community. It is dark, and the thin walls vibrate to the beat of dance music. Men wearing little or nothing prowl the shadowy hallways.

Nighttime in the city, 2000. A man walks into a bathhouse, the social and sexual Grand Central for the gay community. It is dark, and the thin walls vibrate to the ubiquitous beat of dance music. Men wearing little or nothing prowl the shadowy hallways.

There the similarity between the two experiences ends.


Changes Afoot

Once a bastion of sexual abandon where there was no rules, bathhouses have changed. You notice it right away. There's a sign. "Sexual counseling available free."

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As you walk in you're handed a "safe-sex kit," with condoms, lube and a list of do's and don'ts; the rules of safest, safer and unsafe sex. The message: this is a safe place to be nude, but don't expose yourself to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Soon, bathhouses will be one convenient place to be tested for those diseases. AIDS service-providers, including APLA, will be part of that effort.


The Evolving Bathhouse

The Hollywood Spa doesn't even call itself a bathhouse anymore. It's a "24 hour entertainment center."

Rosa Klein and Mike Kephart sit in the spa's busy office, a room customers almost never see. There is no erotic artwork here, no pornographic videos playing. The lights are bright, the desks are piled with paperwork, and computers keep track of inventory. This is one of the busiest men's spas in L.A. County, and it's changing the business of bathhouses.

"We're hoping it doesn't deter people from coming in and having a good time," says Klein, "but at the same time, they have to think about realities."

Spots like the Hollywood Spa are a center for sexually active men. That makes them a perfect place to track rates of sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came up with grant dollars to do just that, L.A. County's HIV Epidemiology program picked the Hollywood Spa and Midtowne Spa as sites for testing.

"We're not here to preach," says Kephart, "we're here to provide. A good portion of our customers won't go out to be tested, but they're here. It's going to be a private thing. It's set up so it's not intrusive into the club itself."


Expansion

To make sure the testing is private and unintrusive, Hollywood Spa is adding more rooms. The testing center will be part of the bathhouse, but set off in a distinct space.

By summer, Hollywood and Midtowne Spas will offer syphilis, hepatitis B and HIV testing. Eventually, the spas may offer testing for a wide range of sexually transmitted diseases and same-day results from HIV tests.

For anyone who tests positive for HIV, a representative of APLA will be on hand.

"It's not like we want to make every person who tests positive a client of APLA because not everyone needs that," says Lee Klosinski, director of APLA's Education Division. "But we want to make sure they understand all the services available to them."

Those services include medical care, further testing, social services, and counseling.


A New Age for Bathhouses

Bathhouses have always been a sanctuary for gay men. But they're changing. Counseling, testing, moving up-market, and fighting AIDS.

"I think there's a much greater sense of social responsibility by the owners," says Lee Klosinski. "They understand they have a responsibility to their patrons. And I think they're classier places."


This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).


  
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This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.
 
See Also
Fact Sheet: HIV/AIDS and Young Men Who Have Sex With Men
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