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Professional Versus Sensual Massage

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Some people  actively or furtively seek out the combination of massage and eroticism. Others detest just the thought of it and would rather have it eradicated from the face of the earth. When my professional massage colleagues read this title, they will cringe that those two words are mentioned in the same sentence.  And all professional massage associations will ban me for writing about it (just kidding, I hope). It’s a hot topic. It gets tempers flaring, and opinions shooting about like arrows.

Who is this article for

Some people will think: “Finally someone who is not afraid to talk about it, someone who would rather be controversial than boring, someone who is not hiding behind a predefined set of opinions.” If you are part of the latter group, I am writing this article for you.

Is massage and sensuality all bad, unprofessional, unethical, or could it also be beautiful, uplifting and inspiring? I will let you decide.

Massage and eroticism is not a black and white issue

This article is unusual because it really does not deal with the two extreme ends of the spectrum: on one end the professional massage therapists with a strict code of ethics and on the other end the “therapists” in the red light district with long painted fingernails, breasts bursting out of skimpy dresses and makeup more resembling a tropical bird than a human face.

There is an area in between. It can be a grey area, or it might not be grey at all. You will see.

Just to make it clear where I am coming from

But before we get into it, here is my official disclaimer: I have been a professional massage therapist for over 14 years, and I am about as clean in this department as Snow White in the Seven Dwarfs story. If there would be medals for professional conduct in massage therapy, I would deserve one. Seriously. So now you know where I am at. You can always read the testimonials on my website or the comments on my forum.

I am writing this to  give you some food for thought and to expand your way of thinking. Massage and sensuality is not a black and white issue, it is not a matter of right and wrong as you will see.

Three different scenarios

Scenario # 1: This one is definitely in the grey zone. It happened when I was traveling to Hanoi, Vietnam. I wanted to experience a massage. So I went to a tourism office and explained that I wanted a clean professional massage with nothing sexy about it. In some Asian countries you have to make that clear since massage can have different meanings here.

So I made it very clear and they gave me the address of a spa. When I went there I was greeted by a receptionist, everything looked clean and professional, all the therapists wore white uniforms and all the treatment rooms had a private sauna which you could use before the session.

My therapist definitely knew what she was doing and she gave me a good professional massage. I was properly draped and everything seemed to be fine until at the very end she put her hand on my genital and asked me if I wanted massage there. I declined and that was it.

So now the question is: Did this one suggestion invalidate the entire massage which was otherwise good, clean and professional? Clearly this is not acceptable behavior as far as my standards are concerned. What we had there was a professional spa with optional extensions that definitely fall into the ‘unprofessional’ category by western standards. But apparently the Vietnamese standards are different from ours. Is that bad or just different? You decide.

Scenario # 2: This one is not in the grey zone. Imagine this: You and your wife decide to have a baby. You want to make the event beautiful, meaningful and full of good energy. So you decide that you want to create a suitable atmosphere by decorating the room nicely, lighting candles, burning incense, and giving each other a wonderful sensual massage before your attempt to conceive a child. You want to make the time of conception a beautiful memory for both of you. Here we have a situation where sex and massage are perfectly compatible by the highest standards.

Scenario # 3: You and your partner or spouse have allowed your relationship to slip into stale boring territory and it looks like it might not last much longer. Your intimate life, if there is any, is totally uninspiring and there is not much attraction or desire. Both of you start to think about other options for your life. But you have been together for a long time and have a lot in common. You can remember that at one time you were very attracted to each other.

So you do some research about how to rekindle the  flame of  attraction and you decide that  both of you will learn some massage techniques so that you can give each other wonderful sensual massages and breathe new life into your uninspiring intimate routine. You both find out that this feels amazingly good and it works! You gave your relationship a new lease on life. Instead of heading for separation, you discovered a new way of interacting with each other by using massage as a tool. It saved your relationship.

I think by now it is clear that “sensuality and massage” is not necessarily a dirty word, it is not automatically an unethical combination. In fact, outside of the context of professional massage therapy it can be a perfect combination. It can be part of life, and it can help to make life better. My purpose is to defuse this ‘hot topic’ and provide some food for thought. I leave it up to you to make up your own mind, and I would love to hear your opinions in the comment section.

 

24 comments to Professional Versus Sensual Massage

  • Thank you Shama for stepping out a little bit on this topic. It is a bit touchy sometimes. I agree that in the context of a healthy (or even unhealthy) relationship sex and massage can be very fulfilling.

    I have to admit that I was one of those MTs that cringed at the mere thought of sex and massage because I think of how many times I have been solicited. I have heard so many jokes as well. When I first became a therapist, I would get upset and angry when someone would call asking for such a thing. Now I feel I have become more comfortable in my own skin and realized that it is not personal. If that is what they seek, they are the ones who have to look at consequences if there are any. Now I simply state that this is not something I offer and I tell them what I DO offer. It is then up to them to decide what is right for them.

    Thanks again, Shama, for bringing great information to the table as usual!

  • Thanks for your comment Andrea. It looks like you have reached a healthy mature attitude about this topic. I think all therapists need to get there and leave insecurity and confusion behind. You hit the nail on the head when you say that you simply state what you offer without feeling offended by people who have a different idea. I think this is the best attitude you can have.

  • Hi Shama,

    You do know how to come up with arresting titles for discussion! But seriously, nice to see you continually posting topics, it is really appreciated.

    There is another very important scenario in the sex and massage debate which I would like to mention and that is the area of sexual healing in massage.

    From my experience, as a male therapist, this refers to a female client whose sexual energy has been hurt or harmed, as for example as a result of an abortion, an act of sexual violation or even an act of sexual abuse.

    I have been very lucky – and somehow blessed – to have had female clients coming for this sort of healing. The healing of sexual energy in massage does involve the cleansing, or stripping out of ‘bad’ energy from either Sen Sumana, Sen Nanthakrawat, Sushumna, Ida/Pingala, Conception Vessel, Kidney Meridian or the Root Chakra (depending on how you look at it) and, at some stage, might involve working very close to the organs of reproduction.

    Any massage therapist working in this area of healing has to be completely 100% neutral in their sexual energy and has to be completely honest in their intention when it comes to this form of healing. Neutrality and clear intention need to be clearly transmitted to the client, so she won’t feel confused or threatened.

    In my experience of healing sexual energy in female clients, I have never had the need to touch the organs of reproduction. You can heal an area of the body without actually touching it. This is a very important message to impart.

    I am only mentioning all this simply because it is an area of great importance in healing massage work. It needs to be shown that the healing of sexual energy can be done and it needs to be shown that the healing of sexual energy can be achieved in massage without the need to touch any of the sexual organs.

    With love and best wishes.

    • Claude Ratliff

      Thanks for writing the article, but I have to say I thought I was going to be reading something about customers who are aggressing against MT’s in the work place. In that light, your article was not satisfying. First, a couple of people in the privacy of their home engaging in a bit of foreplay massage, has nothing to do with a professional practice. The point was a bit moot because the public would have no problem separating that from what takes place in our treatment rooms. Again, it is my concern that the issue of “sex and massage” in the work place is a very important issue. This regards the safety of MT’s and eliminating public misconceptions about professional massage services. Which brings me to Robert’s post. Do you include this “healing of sexual energy” in your promotional materials? Do you consult and contract with your customers about providing “sexual healing”? I have retired from a career of Social Work and find the idea of sexual victims volunteering for this service to be extremely unique.

      To Shama, thanks for writing your article. It was an interesting perspective, but did not satisfy my concerns about “sex and massage” in the professional setting. To Robert, I cannot agree with what you do for many reasons, not the least being your claim to be able to “heal” a sexual dysfunction by “stripping away negative energy”. It is my professional opinion that so-called “energy work” is a sham and belongs in the realm of faith-healing and voo-doo.

      • Thanks for your response Claude. I understand your concern. I wrote this article with a different idea in mind. In my mind massage is not just something that belongs in a professional office, but it has a place in the non-professional world as well.

        I wanted to highlight the various ways how massage can be used, and I wanted to diffuse the dichotomy that exists between professional massage therapists who protect their clean image by distancing themselves from anything sensual and sexual, and regular people who might use massage in a sensual and sexual context.

        I wanted to point out that massage and sensuality or massage and sexuality is not a dirty word. And I wanted to help professional therapists feel more at ease with the natural sensuality (not sexuality) of massage which is one of the main reasons why people like to receive professional massage.

        Actually my perspective in this article is quite different from what you pointed out in your reply. You are emphasizing the ‘clean professionals’ versus the public who ‘engage in a bit of foreplay’, and you state the two have nothing to do with each other.

        While I understand where you are coming from, I want to emphasize that there is a connection between the two. They are both using massage. While the setting and the intention might be different, they can both be good and beautiful.

        Rather than emphasizing the difference, I am trying to create a bridge in understanding, a synthesis. I am pointing out that non professionals can learn massage as well and use it in a beneficial way in a relationship setting. And therapists do not have to be so apprehensive of the fact that massage exists in a different, non professional setting.

        Regarding aggression by clients in the treatment room against therapists, I have to say that this has never been a problem or an issue for me in my 12 year long career as a massage therapist. I understand that this will be more of an issue for female therapists. But being male, this is not an area of expertise for me which is why I don’t write about it. But I welcome feedback or comments from female therapists.

        One comment about energy work. There are several very established and professional therapies that are based on the concept of subtle energy flow in the body. These include Thai Massage, Shiatsu, and Cranio Sacral therapy. All of them have a proven history of being very effective.

        Regarding faith healing, let us remember that there have been many scientific studies that have proven that placebos are almost as effective as the real pills. Placebos work because of the faith that people have in them. So rather than being voodoo, faith healing is actually a scientifically established fact.

        Sure, there is voodoo and faith healing that is very questionable, but I don’t think that justifies throwing out the entire concept.

        I appreciate the points you made and I understand where you are coming from. I am just trying to point out some different perspectives and different ways of looking at this subject matter.

        Thanks again for taking the time to write your comment. I welcome your opinions even if they differ from mine. Such exchanges help us all to open our minds, learn from each other and acknowledge the different ways of looking at something. We can all learn something from each other.

  • Hi Robert,
    great to hear from you again with another well thought out comment. I think you encapsulate the issue in your paragraph:

    “Any massage therapist working in this area of healing has to be completely 100% neutral in their sexual energy and has to be completely honest in their intention when it comes to this form of healing. Neutrality and clear intention need to be clearly transmitted to the client, so she won’t feel confused or threatened.”

    I would carry this even further and say that this attitude of the therapist is not only imperative when working on sexual or reproductive issues, but this is the ideal attitude in general that makes the therapist effective and the client feel totally safe and supported.

    Thanks for your great comment! I really appreciate your contributions to my blog.

  • Hello,

    I want to thank you for this article. I am a massage therapy student at this point. I am 40 years old and this will be my third career. I was a nurse for years, then I worked in business for about 6 years and now I am unemployed starting over. I have found there is so much healing in “touch” and I seem to heal weather I am giving or receiving the massage.

    While I am in the practicum room giving massage I can often see others as they give massage, and we practice on each other.

    Sometimes I relate massage to making love. I see some people give such a gentle, rythmic, nurturing massage that it is almost like a dance or making love. Then I see others who give massage and the entire massage table is shaking and I think… ohhh that is rough and there is no love there. I would not feel safe and supported if I were receiving a massage like that. It is during a massage like this that I feel safe and supported.Their is a certain intimacy in getting a massage, and though it may have nothing to do with “sex” it definitely has to do with expressing sexuality.

    I was feeling a bit weird for having these thoughts. This post helped relieve those thoughts.

    Teresa

    • Hi Teresa,

      Thanks for your comment. I totally understand what you are saying and I resonate with it. Actually I appreciate your courage to express it. Some professional therapists would cringe reading your post, but I also know many who have opened their hearts and minds, left their fears behind, and work from a real heart space.

      Personally I would always prefer a therapist who embraces the natural sensuality (not sexuality) of massage and works from a heart space over a therapist who is just muscling me using a strictly clinical approach. I just wrote another article that highlights this idea:
      http://thaihealingmassage.com/can-a-sensual-massage-be-professional/

      I think you will like the story line in it.

      Thanks again for your comment. I hope to hear more from you.

      Shama

  • I said an expression of sexuality, but maybe the word I could have used is sensuality.

  • I think that it can be good to bring the subject of Tantra Massage into this discussion. I do Thai Massage as a hobby and studied in Chiang Mai.

    I have also received a professional Tantra Massage and I know a couple of practicing therapists. I can assure you that neither of these women offer sex, but do include the genitals in their massage. Its easy to place this into the category of a dirty massage, and we can often feel uncomfortable about moving into this grey area.

    The experience of these massages can be quite profound as they do not necessarily include orgasm. I have found a deep bliss and relaxation in a sessions which can become a very spiritual experience. There is a lot of difference between a Tantric Massage and a normal massage with a “Happy Ending”. I have since done some training in Tantra Massage with a partner and I would really recommend it as a way of enhancing a monogamous relationship. I also know swingers who love including it in their parties.

    Unfortunately for many guys when they think of massage its all in the same category as sex and many female therapists have a hard time with guys who want a bit extra. If you go to India women who go for an Ayuvedic massage get a hard time with male therapists who want to give a little extra.

    As Westerners we like to keep our boundaries and concepts firm , but in Asia the whole scene everything is more negotiable. There is a lot of dirty massage over there, and there is not a lot spiritual about it.

    Sex is a huge area of life in all the worlds society which is so frequently corrupt, dysfunctional and violent. So in massage therapy we can adopt the position that we just don’t want to go there. I personally think that sensual Tantric massage therapists can help individuals become more functional in their attitude to sex. Its like opening up a Pandoras box, but as long as compassionate caring people keep away the box will remain a jungle.

  • Graham I agree with you that this is not an issue that can be neatly separated into black and white scenarios. Certainly in Asia the boundaries are much more fluid, as you said. One example which I can add to the discussion is that that here in Thailand there is a famous healing resort, called Tao Garden, which is run by Mantak Chia.

    They have been offering both sessions and courses on ‘genital massage’ for many years. But it is nothing sexy at all. It is really only therapeutic and does not involve any sensual stimulation at all. Actually it can be quite painful to receive. Many people swear by it and claim that they had reaped significant health benefits.

    And then there is tantric massage which definitely has a place in the wide spectrum of massage. It is easy to get judgmental about those unusual applications, but right and wrong are really not hard facts, but are more often than not constructs of our minds.

    In the western massage scene we like to neatly categorize everything into legit and non legit, right and wrong, good and bad. In Asia this simply does not work, as you mentioned. You have black and white here with countless grey shades in between, and it is often not possible to draw a line and establish a clear demarkation between professional and non professional massage application.

    Is Tao Garden’s genital massage or tantric massage legit or not? This just depends on whom you ask and what that person’s cultural filter is. This can be very confusing for western therapists since it does not fit into their world view. It cannot be neatly defined.

    I think this discussion thread is a great way to widen our perspectives. Thanks for your contribution Graham.

  • Shama,

    That too is a great article. Believe me I cringed for having the thought for the longest time. I needed a place to express the feelings. Please understand, it is a feeling from a heart space and not sexually related. But the massage actually becomes an art or a dance. There is a certain healing that I can not explain. I am new and learning each day. Thank you for listening.

    Teresa

    • Teresa, I know exactly where you are coming from. I see my massage as an art, a dance, like a piece of music where everything is designed to match up beautifully. So we speak the same language.

      I write my articles in part so that people can express their feelings even if they are somewhat outside of the mainstream massage establishment. I am not afraid of controversial subject matters. I know that many therapists have opinions about them, but do not easily find a place to express them in a non judgmental and supportive environment. So I hope I can provide this service through my blog.

  • Jess

    I think in the context of a committed relationship or personal life its no one’s business. But when money is exchanged under the guise of massage then it puts everyone in the business at risk. We need to keep these clear boundaries in order to educate the public of the difference.
    I know in my area a MT was sexually assaulted recently after giving a massage to a man.
    This happened in a very well known chain not someones home or small office. When these lines are blurred we are all put at more of a risk.

    • I am sure the lines were not blurred at all as far as the policies of this spa are concerned. However we are dealing with human nature, and some of them will blur lines in their mind no matter what rules you set. Luckily massage therapy is a very safe profession, and the vast majority of people respect our boundaries, at least in the western world.

  • I have an experience to add to this thread. I went to a local convent a couple of years ago to receive a Healing Touch treatment from one of the nuns. To make myself totally clear, she did not touch me at any time during the session. I was fully clothed and on the table,under a comfortable blanket. I noticed immediately that her energy was fully neutral. I’ve never experienced a more neutral energy field. As the session started, I fell into a very very deep state of relaxation. After a while, I felt a warm glow in the area of my heart. The feeling was that of deep relaxation, pure love AND sensuality. The feeling of glow gradually expanded to include every part of my body–including, to my great surprise, my abdomen and the area around and including my genitals s It wasn’t like having an orgasm. It was an experience at once profound, alive and exciting. At first, I felt embarrassed (although there would be no way for anyone looking at me to know what I was experiencing), and I had the thought, “Is this an okay way for me to feel? She’s a nun!” But, really, it had nothing to do with her. She was simply a vessel who held a very safe, neutral space in which I could experience whatever I needed to experience. I didn’t tell her about the sensations I experienced, but I left that room with a heightened sense of life and vitality. I felt that I experienced my soul directly, and that my soul includes the most intimate and sensually alive part of me. I’m not sure whether I’ve been able to express this experience adequately, but it definitely changed my perception of my own sensuality and yes, also my own sexuality.

    • Thanks, Laurie, for sharing this beautiful experience with us. I always love it when I hear such stories where it is obvious that sexuality or feelings in the sexual organs can be a transcendent and sacred experience and that such feelings can manifest in healing sessions of all kinds, even without any touching at all.

  • kala

    nice experience but in my country you will not get that type of things happening but i agree for only couples to do or have that type of things done in their home,but not at a massage place but nice for letting me know what does happen in the outside world.

  • Coco Le Roux

    Well Shama, great topic, where have all these people been for the past centuries, of course massage and sex go well together, not because I’m French, because massage before sex brings out the best in your partner, massage is not restricted to, fingers, elbows, knees, forearm, feet and hands, you can have great pleasure with your partner when practicing sensual massage using other parts of your body,of course this form of massage you do not offer to your regular clients, if you are a great therapist you know you can turn it on if you wanted to, but you are a professional and you behave like one, you must control your mind and not have your mind control you, keep your focus on the healing process and concentrate on the therapy being done, if the client starts to feel a little hot, it can happen when you have golden hands, just apply some pain and you will get them back on track, Shama I have a good story regarding this topic, but I will need to tell you outside the box, thank you Shama

  • Can’t wait to hear your outside the box story, Coco!

  • Angela Grundler

    Your article has deeply touched me. There are people who totally separate the two things and others who put massage and sex together and don´t accept anything else. Learning massage has almost cost me my marriage because my husband is one of the latter. He could not bear the idea of me being touched by just some other guy or me touching anyone else. We went through many discussions where I have tried to make him see my point of view, that a good massage makes me feel wonderful in my body and my soul without being a sexual experience and that this is what I want to transmit to other people when giving a massage. If there are “misunderstandings”, well, this can happen, but as a professional therapist you should be able to control that. Finally it depends on oneself, what you are looking for, what you are offering, how clearly you express yourself and last not least – your intuition. I´m convinced that massage can be a great tool for improving sexual life in a long-standing relationship, so, overall, as to me the question is not if you can combine massage with eroticism (of course you can), but if a professional massage can be combined with eroticism.

    • Mainly I tried to show in my article that there are all kinds of different scenarios. It is not an issue which can be pigeon holed or nailed down to one conclusion. This applies to both massage and sex and their combination. I have seen many variation from having lived in many countries around the world. So I have decided to be non judgmental about this issue.

      I can imagine that it is hard for you to communicate your point of view to your husband. Luckily I am married to a massage therapist who shares my views in this matter and there is no conflict.

      It is part of the human experience that there are many different opinions and paths and options, and conflicts are bound to occur. There are massage therapists who are puritanical in their views, then there are those on the opposite end who have no morals about it at all as long as the money is right. There are even some who believe in erotic massage as a sacred ritual as in tantra. We all have to choose our own path and allow others to choose theirs even if it does not agree with what we believe.

  • alan

    Hi shama.
    What about the scenario of where you are doing a professional massage and discover the client wants a bit more.
    As a male with a female client this can be quite tricky.

    • These things happen rarely, but if they do, you have to deal with it tactfully or decisively, depending on the situation. This is not just an issue in massage therapy, that’s just one of those things in life that can happen under all kinds of circumstances.

      Massage therapists are not the only profession where unwanted advances by the opposite sex can happen.

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