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Welcome to the Digital Bathhouse

by Vince Pellegrino
Saturday Nov 10, 2012
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Manhunt, Adam4Adam, Gaydar, Grindr. Asspig, Craigslist ... these websites and mobile apps and the many, many more like them have made gay sexual trysts easier to order in than Chinese food. With all these sites and apps where gay men can so easily hook up with willing partners after checking out the pics followed by (maybe!) a quick chat to see who will host, who bottoms, tops, flips ... whatever.

Then after more negotiating ... and more negotiating ... and more negotiating ... the more entrepid one actually ventures outside (gasp!) to visit the awaiting party. Or parties. Outside, he can see everyone looking at him as he checks the address on his smartphone -- a dead giveaway to a traveling trick.

Following the old "bird in the hand is worth two in the Ethernet," once you get to the door, you’re pretty much assured of having sex. Whether or not that sex with that real-life person will be were anticipating depends on your mutual chemistry.

But most of us bad boys who have gone through the endless back-and-forth, enjoyed each other’s pics know that once all the preliminaries are through, we’ll just shrug and make the most of the encounter.

Then what?

In most cases, that will be the last time the two have sex or even see one another again. Instead of a repeat, the vast majority of men simply move on to the next guy who passes online inspection. The game begins anew.

If this all seems like déjà vu to an old hand like myself, it’s because it is. This is just a digital version of the old bathhouses, those multi-level sex palaces that flourished in the years between Stonewall and the AIDS epidemic.

Many of us old timers remember with fondness of the multitude of sexual encounters in such infamous bathhouses here New York like the Everhard, the St Mark’s and my personal favorite (it was near my home), the Club Baths. It was at the Continental Baths that Bette Midler and her then pianist, Barry Manilow, launched their careers; it was also the inspiration for Terrence McNally’s play and later movie adaptation, "The Ritz."

Those bathhouses and the backrooms throughout the world gave much pleasure and immediate gratification to gay men during the years when gays were without the freedoms to associate, let alone marry. The baths provided a protected sanctuary for gay men to play without threat of arrest or public humiliation.

Now, apps like Grindr have burst open those brick-and-mortar bathhouses and turned the whole city into a bathhouse. The streets are the hallways, where you check out another member as he passes you on the street.

Bathhouses and online hookups share more than that, however. In both worlds, there’s little-to-no opportunity to get to know more about the man with whom you just had a very intimate and passionate encounter other than his physical attributes and maybe some kinky interests.

How many men have ever followed up an online hookup with dinner or a movie? Do online hookups ever lead to more encounters of a longterm nature? Whatever happened to dating?

Sure, I know several people who met their partners on online or in a batthouse. But the odds for long-term success are less likely to occur in comparison to those who chose to meet someone in a nonsexual setting and let the sex come naturally in the course of the relationship.

As a therapist and gay man who openly admits to having enjoyed both long-term relationships as well as anonymous bathhouse sex, I can see many gay men becoming addicted to this sex-at-your-fingertips. Some, I fear, are in danger of becoming sexual compulsive, which by its nature obviates the possibility of a longterm relationship with a significant other.

You can choose where you want to go with this. But don’t fool yourself that online sexual hookups are going to be any different than what they portend themselves to be.

If that’s all you’re looking for, fine.

But like the bathhouses of yesterday, don’t expect anything more than a good time. And be honest as to whether your behavior on these sites isn’t indicative of a compulsive behavior that may lead to an inability to find true happiness in a relationship of co-equals.

Also, people need to keep in mind (too many don’t) that, just as the bathhouses became unitting tools for the spread of AIDS, online hookups can lead to a similar result for those who find a condom too much of a bother.

That’s the ultimate price of a good time.

Dr. Vince Pellegrino has PhDs in educational theater and drama therapy from New York University and is a board-certified psychotherapist in New York City and Connecticut. He teaches communications at Hofstra University. He is currently working on a book, "Gay Communication Game," about "Gayspeak"; an interactive TV program featuring real-time therapy sessions in development. Go to Dr. Vince TV for more information.

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