Perhaps a bath seems like a private luxury, a time for secluded self-care. But save for the usual differences in size, what actually makes a bath all that different from lounging in a hot tub or hot spring? What’s stopping you from making the bath a social affair? Don’t let the engrained social norms of homophobia and masculinity hold you back. Take a bath with your friends. Oh, and make a TikTok about it while you’re at it. It looks fun.
On the app, videos of groups of guy friends taking a relaxing bath together are making the rounds. They wear bathing suits, probably both to appease TikTok community guidelines and to maintain comfortability amongst each other. Nevertheless, they still look like intimate experiences. In one, three fully-grown men are stuffed into a regular-sized tub together. In another, five lounge in a larger, jacuzzi-style tub, but sit with their arms wrapped behind each other’s backs and legs stretched across their laps. As they lower a bath bomb into the tub, they do so as a collective unit, hands cupped beneath one another’s.
While being crammed into a tub might not be the height of serenity, that’s probably not the point. Instead, it’s more about bonding. The ritual of collective bathing appears in numerous cultures, amongst whom it’s often perfectly acceptable to bathe nude with strangers. One of the TikTok accounts regularly sharing the experience of taking a bath with the boys is @bath.house, who created the latter TikTok above. In the name alone, the videos reference this history of collective bathing rituals.
That said, in the U.S., the significance of bath houses in gay culture partially informs the practice here. Either way, the camera helps create distance from the homoeroticism of the experience of bathing together in close quarters — when we know it’s being filmed for a TikTok, the question of intent seems fruitless to debate.
This trend of men bathing together for TikToks is reminiscent of Barbara Kruger’s 1981 work Untitled (You Construct Intricate Rituals) in which the words “You construct intricate rituals which allow you to touch the skin of other men” are laid over an image of men playfully fighting. Bathing together might be one of these rituals, but doing so for a TikTok brings this concept of construction to a peak. The camera itself is the justification for touch.
But is that worth overthinking?
Probably not. Women often take baths together in their bathing suits, and while homoeroticism is certainly projected upon it, it’s rarely considered the purpose of the act. Men bathing together should be given a similar understanding. And so what if it’s “gay,” anyway? Particularly if you have a bath like the one used by @bath.house, to not take a bath with the boys would be a missed opportunity. TikTok it if you’d like, share funny photos to your Instagram story, or don’t. Sure, it’s an excuse to touch each other’s skin. It’s also something simple and enjoyable that doesn’t require rationalization.