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Massage Aha!

Professional therapeutic massage therapy in Kansas City, MO by Aaron Harris, BCTMB

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On Being a Male Massage Therapist

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I have heard objections to hiring a male massage therapist many times over the years.

“I could never have another man ‘rub my body’ like that.”

“I don’t think I would be comfortable with a man I don’t know coming to my house.”

“I just can’t relax around a man.”

Let me make two points very clear right from the start:

  1. I’m not interested in a debate about systemic discrimination against women in the workplace. There is no debate. Women have been making less money, been denied hard-earned promotions and advancements, suffered sexual harassment and mortifying situations in the workplace for as long as they have been ‘allowed’ to work.
  2. Most of the objections, especially from men, stem from an ingrained negative stereotype of massage therapists as a type of sex worker.

To my first point, in California, women make up nearly 90% of all certified massage therapists. This is an industry where being a woman is actually an advantage.

I have been denied employment at more than one spa because they were specifically looking to hire women. I am not whining. I’m not even remotely irritated by this. I’m just stating a fact.

This is one reason, among many, that I chose to focus my massage practice on clinical and medical massage. Wrong or right, many clients feel more comfortable discussing the scientific aspects of their health care and treatments with a male therapist. There are simply more opportunities in clinical settings for a male therapist.

The Battle Against a Common Stereotype: Massage as Sex Work

Regarding my second point above, there is a pervasive stereotype of massage therapists as prostitutes. Fueled by decades of massage fantasy pornography, news reports of sex trafficking rings being run out of “massage parlors,” and stand up comedy routines about “rub and tug” businesses have contributed to and perpetuated this stereotype.

And the truth is, yes, there are many sex workers who pose as massage therapists. Yes, there are sex trafficking rings that masquerade as legitimate businesses.

When you have a business that is at its core personal and intimate, taking place in private rooms, often late at night, there are bound to be bad actors.

The vast majority of massage therapists, however, conform to professional standards and ethics.

This doesn’t mean that our clients don’t occasionally try to fulfill their misguided fantasies. They do.

I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying those clients very early in the assessment and can set their expectations from the beginning of the session.

If you’re looking for a ‘happy ending,’ there’s a movie theater down the street. You’ll find one there.

Why the Gender of Your Massage Therapist Doesn’t Matter

A properly trained massage therapist uses body mechanics, not simple strength in their arms or hands, to perform bodywork. With proper mechanics, any therapist, male, female, or other can deliver enough pressure to access and effectively manipulate any muscle in your body.

And trust me when I say that I’ve had some of the most painful, firm massages in my life at the hands of a barely 5 foot tall, 90 pound woman. And, some of the weakest from men built like football players.

Simply put, there is no difference in the strength of a massage based on whether the therapist is male or female.

What About the Therapist Seeing You Naked?

A professional massage therapist will always keep you properly draped with a sheet or towel. Outside of a few very specific and rare conditions, there is no reason for your genitals to be exposed at any time during a massage. Treatment of those rare conditions is usually reserved for specially licensed practitioners.

As therapists, we have seen every conceivable body size and type. We got into this profession to care for and treat pain and stress. We develop a skill that allows us to view body parts in terms of their underlying components. When I am working a client’s hips, I’m not “staring at their ass,” I’m visualizing the Gluteal muscles. I’m looking for signs of inflammation, watching the range of motion of the hip, and evaluating the tone and fibers of the hamstrings.

We don’t care about stretch marks, cellulite, birthmarks, or other physical characteristics outside of evaluating them clinically. I will examine a mole simply to see if it sparks suspicion of malignancy. I’ll check out scar tissue to evaluate if I need to modify my technique to address the scar and underlying structures.

A professional massage therapist will never force you to undress beyond your comfort level. If you feel more secure wearing your bra or boxer shorts during a session, do so! There are some techniques that are most effective with skin-on-skin contact, especially friction strokes. You should discuss your needs with the therapist before your session and address any insecurities you may have about undressing.

There are also several massage modalities, or styles, that don’t require you to remove your clothes at all, including, shiatsu, thai, craniosacral, and chair massage.

Professional Ethics

California Massage Therapy Council Certified Massage Therapy Council Seal
California Massage Therapy Council Certified Massage Therapy Council Seal

When you choose a California Certified Massage Therapist, you are choosing a professional who has received a formal education, submitted to a background investigation, including fingerprinting and criminal history examination. Part of our education includes personal and business ethics, proper draping to maintain a client’s modesty, and methods to discourage transference and countertransference.

Professional Associations

A therapist who has elected to join a professional association has taken an extra step to affirm their adherence to the highest ethical standards and practices.

These professional associations also state a list of common core values that members share.

I have selected the American Massage Therapy Association for my professional alignment.

American Massage Therapy Association Logo

Conclusion

There are many factors that you should consider when choosing a massage therapist. Education, specialty, personality, knowledge, associations, and experience among them. Whether you choose a male massage therapist or not, your decision should be based on other information. Gender is immaterial.

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