Los Angeles County health officials are considering tougher enforcement of laws that require bathhouse customers to use condoms and follow other safer-sex rules posted in the clubs, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
The newspaper cites a recent study showing that newly diagnosed HIV infections are seven times higher among bathhouse patrons than others who are tested for HIV. The Los Angeles county board of supervisors ordered the health department to develop a proposal for updating the regulations by May 15.
As HIV infections increase across the country and growing numbers of gay men engage in unsafe sex, the bathhouse issue is being carefully watched by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as public health officials in other cities and counties. "Across the United States directors of sexually transmitted disease programs are very concerned about the role of bathhouses," Ronald O. Valdiserri, deputy director of the National Center for HIV, told the Times.
Lobbyist Steve Afriat, who was hired by several bathhouse owners to fight tougher regulation of the establishments, offers this caveat, according to the Times: "when you start regulating whether or not people can have safe sex, maybe one day you'll regulate whether people of the same sex can have sex with each other at all,"
Unlike San Francisco, Los Angeles County allows area bathhouses to stay open provided that owners instruct patrons about safer-sex practices. A wholesale shutdown of the 11 gay bathhouses and sex clubs known to be operating in Los Angeles County is not likely, Jonathan Fielding, the county's director of public health, told the newspaper. Research indicates that patrons will simply seek partners through other venues, such as the Internet.