Are hookup apps killing off gay saunas?

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Gay saunas across the US are facing an uncertain future, after an upswing in closures following the rise of hookup apps.

According to Associated Press, the number of gay bathhouses – often used by men looking for sex – has dropped from around 200 in the late 1970s to less than 70 today.

One of LA’s biggest bathhouses, Hollywood Spa, was forced to close in April after four decades in business, due to a decline in customers.

Owner Peter D Sykes said: “Bathhouses were like dirty bookstores and parks: a venue to meet people. Today, you can go to the supermarket.”

Some bathhouses have begun to offer incentives to lure back younger men who have been enticed by hookup apps, but to limited success

At another LA spa, 22-year-old Brett Sparks, said: “You’re either hooking up online or you are here, or you go to bars in West Hollywood, get drunk and hook up.

“Here it’s a safer environment – there’s condoms and other protection.”

Dennis Holding, who owns a Miami-based bathhouse, added: “The acceptance of gay men has changed the whole world. It’s taken away the need to sneak into back-alley places.”

Todd Saporito, of Flex Spas, says that the businesses need to change their model if they want to stay relavant.

His organisation’s flagship Cleveland spa was recently the centre of the city’s pride parade, and this year’s Gay Games event, as well as partnering with an AIDS charity to promote a crackdown on risky behaviour.

He said: “Bathhouses at some level will go extinct if you don’t offer something more than a towel.”

Earlier this year, former British soldier and gay rights campaigner James Wharton claimed that gay saunas are standing in the way of equality and should be shut down.

He said: “If we don’t, we feed the haters and we hand the bigots who remain a vocal minority ammunition with which to attack us.

“For me as a gay man, the notion that there exist within our communities a series of places that actively promote the convening of gay men for participation in sex of shades various and in groups of all sizes rather revolts me – and I’ve been round the block a few times, believe me.”