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Taboos, The massage, Therapist and client

Massage and the sexual aspect

Nudity and intimate touch are in many places considered sexual. As a consequence massage is often associated with sex which poses a large problem for those giving professional non-erotic massages. In some countries regulations and laws have been passed to ensure the separation. Unfortunately there are still many countries where there is no official regulation, and for the costumers it can be hard to see what an advertisement for massage truly covers.

These problems exist for both the client and the massage therapist. As a customer it is hard to see through the jungle of massage types and special offers. They risk at worst to get masseuse who doesn’t know what she is doing, and at best get a rather embarrassing experience.

In France there are no official regulations, and anybody can claim they do “massage de relaxation”. This in essence means that on the yellow pages both sex-workers and massage therapists are listed under the same category and a client can’t tell which he is calling when he wants to book a massage.

This especially proves a problem when they look at the individual massage therapists who work from their homes and offer massages at the workspace or at the client’s home. The problem is less when it is spas and hammams, though also here the name of a place can be misleading and cover up for sex-work.

For a massage therapist there is another range of issues. Being listed as giving “massage de relaxation” in the yellow pages brings many unwanted calls from people wanting erotic and sexual massages. It gets even worse should the massage therapist place an add in a local paper, this in spite of it being under the strictly non-sexual section. The phonecalls come in none the less, and at times even late at night.

There are some things that can be done to prevent this. Using a landline phone instead of a cell phone will sort some unwanted calls. Not advertising in local papers, Craiglist and other free forums is another way to avoid unwanted calls.

It does make it hard for a new massage therapist to establish herself. If she wants to avoid the risk of sex calls and clients wanting more than she can offer, she can’t advertise in the normal media and has to rely on word-of-mouth to establish her business. This will typically take a couple of years and many gives up before they reach that stage.

Many of those problems are dealt with in countries/states where there are regulations. In the US for instance there are laws prohibiting nudity during a massage and/or insisting on draping. In other countries it’s illegal to advertise for massage if you are a sex-worker. Some places have high requirements to become a massage therapist and it is an official recognized education. For instance in Canada you have a state where you need 3000 hours of school to call yourself a massage therapist. In these places massage therapists are registered and must pass tests to get the registration. They also have separate listings in the yellow pages and can’t be confused with sex-workers.

In the unregulated areas there are usually non-profit organisations who work towards regulations and official recognition of massage therapy and massage as a non-sexual form of relaxation. Members of these organisations have to live up to certain requirements and adhere to codes of conduct. They are trying to ensure certain standards within the business and provide clients with useful information on what can be expected when they get a massage from a massage therapist.

In France the FFMBE is working towards official regulations and requirements for massage therapists, as described in an earlier article.

About Pia Poulsen

Pia Poulsen is educated as a wellness massage therapist at Institut FIGARI in Paris, from where she passed her certification exam in January 2008. Since then she has expanded her skills to become the first Advanced LaStone® practitioner in France as well as a certified LaStone® instructor.


15 Responses to “Massage and the sexual aspect”

  1. Regardless of the presence of associations and regulations, I sadly believe it boils down to trial-and-error when searching for a good, non-erotic massage. Especially if, like me, you enjoy receiving your massage nude in a country (Canada) where associations strictly forbid this.

    Having received many impeccable professional, non-erotic massages from unregistered masseuses in the past, I tend to try a masseuse from craigslist once in a while. Usually, a quick conversation on the phone will let you know if you are dealing with a sex-worker, or if you can expect an actual massage with a minimum of technique. Word-of-mouth also works well in this grey zone.

    I've also had the exact opposite – registered massage therapists ending the massage on a clearly sensual tone, with hands roaming a bit too close for a professional massage, asking me wether “there was something else I needed massaged”.

    While being with a registered therapist guarantees nothing, at least here you have a chance of receiving an actual pro massage, and can simply say “no thanks” to the erotic part if it pops-up (no pun intended!).

    Posted by MasterBaker | Monday 12 October, 2009, 17:02
  2. Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts. It's always interesting to hear what others have to tell and how they do things. There's so much to learn from it.

    Yes, it's often a shady world, and with massage as something so intimate and close, it's easy to break that boundary. This is why I at my massage school was told to completely disassociate massage and eroticism. If we massaged my partner for our training, we had to take a break, drink a cup of tea or the like before even considering the “happy ending”. Precisely to make sure the two things becomes completely separate.

    It is sad to hear that registered massage therapists give erotic massages as well. I can see it as an easy way to make some extra bucks. Though to me, it would feel degrading and lower the value of my skills and the healing relaxation I provide. I know sexual energy is one of the most powerful there is, but it tends to get stuck with lower instincts and not be fully utilized to heal and aid the persons.

    Wouldn't registered therapists who do erotic massages be expelled if it's discovered? It seems like there's an interest in maintaining the link between massage and eroticism.

    Posted by Pia | Monday 12 October, 2009, 19:42
  3. Of the three therapists I've met that offered an erotic twist to the massage session, I've only “exposed” one to her association. She clearly was in the business to make money, not to make people feel good.

    Weeks later, the lady was back in business, licensed with another association …..

    The two other therapists were kind ladies that gave me a great massage, took good care of me and gave their 100% during the massage, and as such I just didn't have the heart to cause them to lose their license.

    while we're at it… you would be surprised to know that most, if not all massage parlours are members of an association and can give legitimate receipts here in Canada. While I can't be 100% sure, my guess is that these places are “using” the license of one (or a few) registered therapists to do their shady business. Corruption corruption corruption…..

    Posted by MasterBaker | Tuesday 13 October, 2009, 17:23
  4. That's unfortunate that an association doesn't check former memberships and why people might have been kicked from them. I guess the economic interest is too big for them to cooperate and work together on things like this.

    I have no idea of how things are with massage parlours in Paris or France. Though seeing that anybody can give some rub and massage, it's not quite the same issue.

    Has Canada enforced draping and such to try to disassociate massage and sex-work? I know that's the route they took in the US so you can't get an undraped massage.

    Posted by Pia | Tuesday 13 October, 2009, 18:49
  5. Yes, the economics probably explains this lack of checkups from the associations.

    Did a little research, and as far as I know, Quebec has no laws regarding draping.

    As for associations, they handle this through their code of conduct. The code forbids touching or massaging the private parts of a customer, so that covers the sexual aspect of the question. As for draping, instead of forbidding it, the code simply says that the therapist has the right to request that the customer be draped, and can end the session should the customer refuse.

    So basically nudity is accepted if agreed mutually between both parties.

    Posted by MasterBaker | Saturday 24 October, 2009, 04:39
  6. Interesting that it is the therapist that has the right to ask for the client to be draped. I assume the client can request the same?

    It is really a shame that massage and sexuality are so closely related and associated in people's minds. It puts up barriers that does interfere with the healing and flow of a massage. And I'm not thinking of the physical barriers, but rather the mental and how it becomes harder for a client – or the therapist for that matter – to just let go and receive the massage and the energy exchange.

    Posted by Pia | Monday 26 October, 2009, 10:26
  7. Sorry for the long post, here goes!

    Oh absolutely, should have mentioned that. The therapist has the right to ask for the client to be draped, and in the same way the client has the right to be draped or wear underwear should he chose to do so­. It Depends on the comfort level of both persons. It takes two to tango.

    You are right, it is a shame that massage and sexuality are so closely related. Some of it comes straight from our education and the way nudity is perceived in the society. North American mentality is that being touched while nude is an action only performed in an intimate relationship (I'm very broadly generalizing, bear with me!). Sure, the doctor will touch you, but the touch, the settings, everything is clinical; Whereas during a massage, the touch is oriented towards well-being, relaxation, and pleasure of the senses.

    I feel like sharing my experience….. My first massage session ended with a most pleasant sexual release, one I was not expecting. That sent me on a long streak of seeking massages with “happy endings” during my youth.

    I'm now in my thirties, I have received quite a lot of massages over the years, and I consider myself a respectful, nice and fairly mature person.
    I no longer go to get massages hoping or wishing for a sexual outcome. And yet, even with a squeaky-clean professional massage, having the therapist massage my head, my glutes, or my belly systematically brings up an erection and gives me pleasurable sensations, regardless of wether I'm nude or draped.

    Is the pleasure sensual? Most definitively. A massage is a sensual experience (even if the sex-workers have taken that word and abused it).

    The human body has different erogenous zones, and touching those zones can make the receiver aroused. Is it sexual? A better question might be : Is it wrong to be aroused or have an erection during a massage? That's the tricky question. I used to think it was wrong, but I've changed my mind on this. As far as i'm concerned, the answer lies in the intention of the client (and sometimes the intention of the therapist as well).

    Personally, it took me a while to separate the too; For a long time I've felt bad when I had erections, felt like I was doing something wrong or reprehensible. But I am now capable of accepting myself like I am. While I'm enjoying a massage, if an erection comes up, I know that I'm not there for a sexual experience, so my conscience is clear. From there, I just accept my body's reaction, and take in all the pleasant vibes and sensations that the therapist provides me. I'm lucky, my massage therapists accepts it as well, does not interpret my reactions like sexual requests, so we are both comfortable and can enjoy the massage session fully, as it was meant to be enjoyed. No fears, no judgment, Just receiving a pleasant massage and enjoying the experience.

    Pia, you now have a good idea as to why nudity and the sexual aspect of massage are particularly interesting to me on your blog entries!

    Posted by MasterBaker | Monday 26 October, 2009, 17:35
  8. MasterBaker,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I hope they can help others to understand that there's no shame or wrongness in an involuntarily erection or feeling some arousal during a massage. I think it at some point has happened to all of us.

    As you say, intention is the key here. Intention is a very important ingredient in massage especially from the therapist.

    I would think it wrong should a client lie and have sexual fantasies while receiving a massage, no matter if those show or not. Here the intention of the massage becomes something else, and the energies released have a different nature. I'm certain many therapists will pick up on it and begin to feel uncomfortable about it.

    It's not wrong though to feel a touch arousing you as long as it's just an observation and then letting go (or trying to) of the sexual implications. Meditation during a massage can help with this, and massage is a good way to meditate.

    We should also keep in mind that massage also aims at giving us greater awareness of our bodies and the signals it sends us. It is an amazing instrument and it can communicate in so many ways. If we can't acknowledge a sensual feeling while being massaged, then how can we then 'hear' when our body tells us we've abused it? Soreness is a warning signal, but we need to be in tune with our body to pick it up before it becomes a pain and possible injury.

    As you say, Intention is very important.


    Posted by Pia | Tuesday 10 November, 2009, 08:36
  9. This is the most intelligent discussion I have seen on the subject – thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Posted by Anonymous | Sunday 6 June, 2010, 01:02
  10. Thank you Anonymous – I'm happy you've enjoyed it. Feel free to contact me if you have further questions or thoughts you'd like to share.


    Posted by Pia | Sunday 6 June, 2010, 09:51
  11. As an LMT down in the States, I have to say that at times mandatory draping is comfortable, and at times it is tediously in the way. It can definitely be a help or comfort, if either the client or therapist needs to feel protected, but it can also simply get in the way, with layers of sheet and blanket getting creased into a joint during a stretch. For a couple of my clients who like deep work, and are comfortable in their skins (and that I am comfortable with!), it would be nice to have a less 'fussy' massage.

    Excellent discussion y'all have up; it's been a good read so far. And Pia, I stumbled across you while doing research for a college paper on US massage licensing standards, specifically as compared to France and Canada. Benissimo.

    Posted by Jeana | Thursday 15 July, 2010, 06:08
  12. Dear Jeana,

    Thank you so much for your feedback. It's always great to hear what other massage therapists think and what their experiences are.

    I fully agree that draping can also be a form of protection, and I understand that need. I hear the frustration of “fussy” massages when neither client or therapist have the need for draping but law requires it.

    Good luck on your paper, I would be interested in reading it once it's turned in.


    Posted by Pia | Thursday 15 July, 2010, 09:19
  13. Hey Pia, mandatory draping as far as I'm concerned is a skill easily mastered and well worth the effort of learning, I can work with a long time client in the nude but often they get cold: the reason for the draping is to keep the client warm but yes it gices both sides a de-sexualized that is universally illegal in Canada( yes including Quebec).. being a non-erotic massage therapist with 2650 hours of education I would suggest anyone, Especially those in Canada to simply use common sense when choosing a therapist.. in the hopes that other countries come up with good legislation to protect the client as we have here. Massage is more and more being studied for it's medical benefits and I would hope anyone practising “massage” would want to have the education to back up the manual technique. There's alot of damage you can do to a person if your not properly educated and stimulating 6 out of 11 body systems with every stroke of your hands in a hell of a responsibility… When your trying to find a ” proffesional” therapist there are many associations, at least in Canada, through which you can find a legitimate( non-sex worker) thrapist…I would recomend depending on what your looking for talk to those registered with an association and refer through the association .. that or look for someone who has teamed up with a chiropractor or accupuncture clinic they will never ofer a ” happy ending” for the issue of whether what you experience on the table should be considered erotic or non-erotic.. We're dealing with tremendous sensory input, and due to societal view, we're in an “intimate condition” experiencing that sensation.Do I think it's wrong hell no I see it all the time, do I mention it or comment on it or take it as anything other than an autonomic responce to because I know the medical reason for it and accept it, just as I accept the ocasioal client who suffers an emotional release on the table, I have a client who recently broke down into tears and we had to take a half hour break for them to recover.. it goes with the territory… touch is VERY powerful. Science has proven you can die without touch, so react to it however your going long as your behaviour towards each other is one of understanding and kept on that proffesional level carry on… Since we're on the subject.. My ethics and communication classes somprise 200 hours of my education.
    Can't wait for the world to better recognise massage as the medical treatment that it is!!

    Posted by Anonymous | Sunday 5 September, 2010, 06:15
  14. Dear Anonymous,

    I agree draping can be necessary to keep the client warm, especially if the room can't be kept warm enough. I always try to keep the temperature so high that my client is comfortable without draping, but do I sense them to be too cold, I drape them even if the draping tend to obstruct with the flow of the massage – a flow which is a trademark of one of my techniques.

    In my opinion, massage can be many things, including a medical profession. But it can also be relaxation and de-stressing, and not a medical treatment.

    Many people seek massage just to relax and ease the sore and aching muscles that we all build up during daily life. They don't have any medical problems that need treatment.

    When we address these clients, I would strongly hesitate to call it a medical treatment as they have no disease or medical condition which we treat.

    In those cases I do not believe it's necessary with several thousand hours of education. Learning a good massage routine, developing intuition, touch, and compassion, learning contra-indications so you know when not to massage and understanding the basic anatomy. Plus of course client confidentiality and ethics. This ought to be enough to provide the clients with a good relaxation and wellness massage, and knowledge to refer the client to a physiotherapist or osteopath when that is necessary.

    Here in France massage therapy is not medical treatment. We are only allowed to provide relaxation and well-being to our clients. In other words, wellness as opposed to medical treatments. The physiotherapists (and osteopaths) are those who provides treatment massage for their patients.

    So where in Canada relaxation and medical treatment are done by the same person, here in France they're done by two different, where the state covers the expenses to the medical professional (physio therapists).

    I believe this system can work well, as long as massage therapy is recognized officially as something non-erotic and there is a minimum requirement as to skills and knowledge of the therapist.


    Posted by Pia | Tuesday 7 September, 2010, 07:48
  15. that is correct… most of them associate the word and use them interchangeably. this site proves useful for my clientele explanations. thanks for such an interesting debate online.

    Posted by toronto bdsm | Saturday 4 December, 2010, 01:38