What you wish you wish you knew going to a gay sauna

Did you know that men have been cruising each other for sex at bathhouses since the 15th century?

While the original intention of men’s bathhouses may have been hygiene, today’s gay bathhouses or saunas, along with other types of sex-on-premises-venue (SOPV) or sex venues, are intended as places where you can meet others for casual sex. SOPVs offer a place to explore and play with a wider variety of people, many of whom might not appear on a dating app grid.

Walking around a gay sauna or SOPV, you might quickly realise a whole new set of rules is at play; with everything from navigating consent to being comfortable in a sexualised space, there can be a lot to learn. Here’s what you should know before heading into a sex venue for the first time.

How does a gay sauna operate?

Like a hotel, you’ll arrive at your venue, and there will be a front desk where you’ll pay an admission fee, and in return, you’ll receive a locker key and a towel.

From there, it’s a matter of heading to the changerooms to change into the towel and store your clothes in a locker. Upon arriving, many people will also shower to freshen up, and many venues may have douching facilities if you want to prepare for bottoming.

After this point, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure. However, most people will circuit the space and explore the facilities, especially if it’s your first time there. What you’ll find inside might change from venue to venue, though many will have a sauna, spa, booths or cubicles with beds, and a darkroom, to name a few.

Some people find a space to chill out first and watch; others prefer to dive straight in and start cruising guys when they arrive. It’s up to you!

What you’ll find in a venue

There are two categories of sex venues you can expect – dry cruising and wet cruising. Dry cruising venues are either ‘sex clubs’ with multiple rooms and facilities within or ‘backrooms’, which are conjoined to adult stores or adult bookshops, usually with their entrance in the back of the store.

Wet cruising venues often share similar rooms and facilities but include a sauna, steam room or spa! Saunas and steam rooms are usually designed for the dual purpose of chilling out and sex – it’ll depend on the moment.

Within either of these types of sex venues, you might find some of the following spaces.

Private rooms

Private rooms are exactly as they sound and will have doors that can be closed and locked or left ajar if you want to beckon someone inside. Some don’t have any furniture or bedding, while others will have a vinyl mattress for easy cleaning.

Free condoms and lube

In all gay saunas, you will find a generous supply of condoms and lube. Most play areas and private rooms will have free condoms and lube; if you can’t see it, you usually won’t have to walk far to find some.


This space is dimly lit or moderately dark and can provide a sexy space where you can feel your way around somewhat anonymously.

Douching Room

Douching rooms have a toilet and a special tap for fitting a douche hose (either BYO douche or disposable ones can be purchased  from the venue) and water supply. Some even have special taps to ensure the water is at a comfortable temperature and pressure. Read our beginner’s guide to douching if you want to learn more about it!

Gloryholes and Suckatorium

For the uninitiated, a glory hole is a hole in a wall where one guy sticks his dick through while the other sucks it, wanks it off or gets topped by it. You can find these in various spaces! A suckatorium is a series of cubicles raised at different levels with gloryholes between them that is the ideal dick height for a guy and the perfect mouth height for the guy who wants to suck.


Playrooms are an invitation to roleplay and explore different fantasies, usually with props like prison bars, bales of hay, a barber’s chair and more! Perhaps it’s time to try out that sweaty farmhand fantasy.

Sauna, Steam room and Spa

Within the relaxing steam and heat the steam room and sauna provide, you can find guys chilling out, engaging in one-on-one wanking, sucking or fucking, watching (voyeurism) and or even group play.

Wet venues also often include a spa, which is perfect for cruising guys, wanking or kissing before taking play to another area. Most venues  don’t allow sex  in the spas – so it’s a good idea to check before you get too carried away.

Sling Room

Adventurous or curious alike can be drawn to the sling room, which is where a leather sex sling is suspended from the ceiling. A person waiting to be fucked, or fisted lies on their back in the sling with their legs supported by stirrups.

Video Room

Some sex venues will have video rooms with TVs, monitors or even a cinema-style projection screen set up playing porn. There will usually be seating where guys might wank or find partners during their experience.

What’s the etiquette for hooking up?

If you’re interested in approaching a guy, or if a guy is interested in you, in gay saunas, this is usually facilitated through the act of cruising. Cruising is a non-verbal code of communication that uses eye contact, body language and body movements to communicate the desire to have sex.

How to cruise

While to some, it might seem intuitive, the cruising rules aren’t always clear. So, let’s go over the rules of cruising or what non-verbal signals you can expect to communicate your interest or disinterest in a potential sexual partner.

How to show your interest when cruising

Make eye contact with your desired partner and maintain it beyond the usual length of time. This can be followed by using your eyes to glance or nod towards an intended destination, like a cubicle or other room.

Use body language to show your interest. If you lean with your body in an open position in a doorway, you might smile or even begin gently touching or grazing your crotch or nipples to show your keenness. Some people may light brush their hand or arm past their potential partner as if moving through the space in close proximity.

How to say ‘yes, I’m interested’ to someone cruising you

Once you’ve noticed someone’s cruising you, it’s usually a matter of mirroring their behaviour, either copying their body language or returning their eye contact.

Some people may nod or smile to show their interest. Next, it’s common for either person to gesture towards a desired location or start walking towards it while the other follows them. If you turn around and your person has disappeared – it’s clear that the interest might not have been mutual, and you can move on to the next thing.

Once you’ve arrived, you can speak and discuss if condoms are going to be in play, which many guys still like to use even with PrEP and undetectable viral load in the mix.

How to say ‘no, I’m not interested’ to someone cruising you

Opposite to showing interest, if you’re not keen on a particular person, you should break eye contact and subtly move your line of sight away from the person.

Some people like to stay where they are but shift their bodies to face away from the person, moving them out of their line of sight. Others might choose to move to a new area. If your eyes meet and a guy begins to lead the way, but you walk away or fail to join them in a cubicle, they should quickly get the idea that you’re not interested.

No means no

Remember: no means no. You have the right to say no to anything you don’t want to do, and you are also responsible for respecting others if they say no to you. Consent is an important part of sex, and either person can withdraw it and end the interaction at any time during an encounter.

While it’s usual not to speak out loud while cruising in these spaces, it’s always OK to verbally say the type of sex you want to have and reach an agreement with your partner. If you’re ever unsure of a non-verbal cue, checking in verbally is a good idea; your safety is more important than spoiling any mood.

Although rare, if you are having trouble with a particular person following you or otherwise not respecting your decision, the venue staff are there to support you and see that the person is removed.

Consent in darkrooms

Navigating consent in darkrooms can pose different challenges, where you’re unable to read the usual visual cues due to the lack of light. Some might assume that darkrooms are an “anything goes” space, but this isn’t the case. Instead, you should consider that consent in darkroom spaces is granted until someone withdraws it.

Withdrawing consent can be done verbally, by telling someone you want them to stop, or by deliberately removing a person’s hand or body part, off your body. It’s crucial that as soon as a person shows signs of withdrawing consent, others in the space must respect and stop further engagement.

If this doesn’t feel safe, please listen to your own needs and consider if this particular part of the venue is one you want to engage with – there should be plenty of other areas to explore.

Tips for improving your gay sauna experience

Did you know that ACON has an incredible team of SEXPERTs who attend some Sydney SOPVs and parties during our festival seasons? ACON SEXPERTs can answer all sorts of questions about safe sex. So, if you spot one, feel free to ask them for some advice. In fact, much of this article has been assembled with their support. Thanks SEXPERTs!

Read on for some final tips from the SEXPERT team for a better sauna experience:

  • Certain SOPVs attract particular communities, while others are more mixed and have days dedicated to particular communities, like trans-Tuesdays or gay and bi-men Sundays. So, do your research and find your tribe!
  • Gay saunas and other SOPVs often have themed events, like leather, underwear or towel-free (aka naked) nights! The venue’s website or social media are the best places to find out what might be coming up on their event calendar.
  • Of course, we couldn’t go without saying – make sure you’re looking after your sexual health by using condoms, PrEP, or undetectable viral load with your partners!
  • As a general rule, it’s best not to take your experience in the sauna too personally. Not every trip to a venue will be the same; sometimes, you’ll have a lot of action and other times, you won’t.
  • If you’re not having much luck, try moving areas, and if it’s quiet, you might try relaxing in the sauna while you wait, or some venues may even give you a pass out to leave and come back later. You can also ask the staff and other patrons when it’s busy throughout the week or ask if it’s busy when you arrive before you go in.
  • Venues like this aren’t always where you can find personal connection if you are experiencing loneliness. If you’ve entered a venue and found it’s not meeting your needs, it’s OK to leave and check in with yourself, and know that there are other mental health support services there if you need them.

Whether you’ve decided on a steamy adventure to a gay sauna soon or to keep this in your back pocket for later, hopefully, you feel a little more prepared!