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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.
Another service offered by the baths was voter registration. Mark's Baths in New York City, with the assistance of the League of Women Voters, conducted a voter registration drive on its premises.
In Melbourne the first gay bathhouse was Steamworks in La Trobe Street, which opened in 1979 and closed 13 October 2008.
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.
As homosexuality was decriminalised in New Zealand and most Australian states during the 1970s and 1980s, there was no criminal conduct occurring on the premises of such "sex on site venues".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.The baths also encouraged more advanced forms of sexual experimentation. Langguth wrote: "...[The baths at Jermyn Street] represented a twilight arena for elderly men who came to sweat poisons from their systems and youths who came to strike beguiling poses in Turkish towels...Griffes himself had had his first encounter with a man interested in sadomasochism at the Lafayette two years earlier (he found the man "interesting" but the experience unappealing), and several men interviewed in the mid-1930s referred to experimenting in the baths and learning of new pleasures. although they were closely overseen by attendants, they provided a discreet place to inspect a young man before offering a cup of tea at Lyons." Steambaths in the 1930s: The steambaths that had been well known to me were those of East Ham, Greenwich and Bermondsey.