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Many bathhouses are, for legal reasons, "membership only", though membership is generally open to any adult who seeks it, usually after paying a small fee.

Unlike brothels, customers pay only for the use of the facilities.

Six men aged 14 to 22 were prosecuted for an offence against public decency and the manager and two employees for facilitating pederasty.

In the United States on February 21, 1903, New York police conducted the first recorded raid on a gay bathhouse, the Ariston Hotel Baths.

26 men were arrested and 12 brought to trial on sodomy charges; 7 men received sentences ranging from 4 to 20 years in prison.

Also popular in the 1910s were the Produce Exchange Baths and the Lafayette Baths (403–405 Lafayette Street, which from 1916 was managed by Ira & George Gershwin).

His 1918 homoerotic self-portrait set in a Turkish bath is likely to have been inspired by it.Bathhouses vary considerably in size and amenities – from small establishments with 10 or 20 rooms and a handful of lockers to multi-story saunas with a variety of room styles or sizes and several steam baths, Jacuzzi tubs, and sometimes swimming pools.Most have a steam room (or wet sauna), dry sauna, showers, lockers, and small private rooms.In the late 1960s and 1970s, gay bathhouses – now primarily gay-owned and operated – became fully licensed gay establishments which soon became major gay institutions.These bathhouses served as informal gay meeting places, places where friends could meet and relax.