“Gay OL,” as many gay men have christened it, is home to hundreds of thousands of men “window-shopping” in the M4M (men for men) chat rooms.

There are, of course, several Web sites devoted specifically to the gay community — like and Planet Out.

(Like many of the men in this story, he asked that his real name not be used.) Within minutes of entering one of six AOL chat rooms designated for gay men in Atlanta, he exchanges naked photos with other men — some with their faces cropped out — and arranges a sex date.

What AOL lacks in steam rooms and towel-wrapped men it makes up for in steamy chat and naked pictures zooming across its servers.

Chat and IM with someone in your area, or you can talk to lots of singles at once in our chat room forum, it's better than a regular chat line.

Men and women alike are using America Online to pick up, peel off and put out with a kind of glee unseen since the summer of love.

“They have millions of subscribers, which would keep even the most active gay man busy.”The popularity of the gay penis prowl on AOL has more to do with the company’s technology than any gay-friendly stance on AOL’s part.

Instant messaging, for example, allows private conversation in public rooms. Nothing beats AOL for the immediacy of naked pictures popping up on your screen almost instantly.”Rory O’Neill, president of Cybersite, which specializes in building online communities, says Paul isn’t just imagining AOL’s speed and ease of use.

With a limit of 23 participants each, the six Atlanta rooms are always packed — Steve has to hit the “return” key over and over to get in. The first thing you notice upon entering a gay chat room is the absence of, well, chat.

On repeated visits to different chat rooms, you’ll find the public area of discussion silent.

But none of these has the reputation among gays that AOL does as the go-to place to get laid. “It offers an easier means to an end,” says Paul, a health-care analyst in Atlanta who says he visits AOL’s chat rooms nearly every day.

“I don’t have to get dressed up and go to a bar, drink, get my clothes full of smoke and wonder if anybody’s interested.” But avoiding the bar scene is only part of it.

But for heterosexuals, AOL is merely a swinger’s lounge.