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In the West, gay men have been using bathhouses for sex since at least the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time when homosexual acts were illegal in most Western countries and men who were caught engaging in homosexual acts were often arrested and publicly humiliated.Men began frequenting cruising areas such as bathhouses, public parks, alleys, train and bus stations, movie theatres, public lavatories (cottages or tearooms), and gym changing rooms where they could meet other men for sex.

The American composer Charles Griffes (1884–1920) wrote in his diaries about visits to the New York City bathhouses and the YMCA.

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 favourite time was when the players were coming and going from their games."When a friend with "little experience but great desire" confided his homosexual longings to Charles Griffes in 1916, Griffes took him to the Lafayette so that he could meet other gay men and explore his sexual interests in a supportive environment: the friend was "astounded and fascinated" by what he saw there.

In the first two it was frequently possible to indulge in what the Spartacus Guide coyly describes as 'action', but behaviour at all times had to be reasonably cautious.

In the Grange Road baths in Bermondsey, however, all restraint could immediately be discarded with the small towels provided to cover your nakedness.

The places used for homosexual acts were to be taverns, baths, and casini (sheds or houses used for illicit sex and gambling).

The Eight of Watch (the city's leading criminal court) issued several decrees associated with sodomy and on April 11, 1492 they warned the managers of bathhouses to keep out "suspect boys" on penalty of a fine.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.American precisionist painter Charles Demuth used the Lafayette Baths as his favourite haunt.His 1918 homoerotic self-portrait set in a Turkish bath is likely to have been inspired by it.In general, a gay bath is mainly used for having sexual activity rather than only bathing.

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