As a person who writes about sex and sexuality, the topic is on my mind a lot. I look at ordinary day to day events, and my mind processes them by examining how it relates to what we learn about sex, what messages we get, etc. And so much of what I encounter has shades of sexuality with it.
Recently, I had an hour-long massage appointment… well, half of an appointment. I had just finished meditating at home when the branch called me – I was missing my appointment, so I left immediately. I arrived relaxed despite the rush (because meditation) and went into the little private room. I explained where the tension was in my back – sitting in front of a computer at my desk to write does that to me I guess. The massage therapist (MT) listened and asked for my preferred amount of pressure, then left the room. I climbed onto the massage table and laid face down.
The MT knocked and re-entered the room and began the massage on my back. As I was lying on the table, I focused on relaxing and let my mind wander about what to write. I started to think about writing about massage and how misunderstood it is; some people have trouble with massage and others think it’s only a “sex thing.” Then the words “Not all touch is sexual touch” came to mind. I thought about a few things:
~ My girlfriend who was a client at an upscale weekend spa retreat recently; a male MT got inappropriate and, as a person with a history of unwanted sexual contact, she got understandably scared and angry. I wanted to write about that.
~ How I used to limit myself to only female MTs. I used to feel anxious about the touch of a man other than my husband as I didn’t have an active ability or knowledge about how to express my bodily boundaries. Nor the confidence to speak up if something did cross the line.
~ How some men won’t go to male MT. Men in my past feared the touch of another man and possibly getting aroused by another man with the idea that that arousal made them “gay.”
~ How many of my MT friends (the men and the women) have clients who are inappropriate with them and ask for (or demand) a “happy ending,” perhaps because they do not understand the concept of consent nor personal boundaries.
I thought through all of these bullet points all while I allowed myself to feel how great the massage felt. I melted into the table. More thinking about the blog, more melting, and then I noticed I was getting aroused. The therapist did something that felt like elbows and forearms on my back as if to stretch my spine. In doing this stretch, my mons pubis was pressed into the table as a result of the pressing down on my lower back, and very quickly and quietly I had an orgasm. I was shocked yet I completely understood that it was a result of an involuntary response to the stimuli. The MT touched only my back; nothing even remotely close to my vulva or breasts but combined with the relaxation and a bit of pent up sexual energy – bingo. I did not share this with the MT because it didn’t feel right to make this a sexual event (because it wasn’t anyway).
I reached out to a few of my MT friends via Facebook to ask how often these above scenarios occur. It sparked some good conversation. One friend wrote back, “An arousal response to any touch is common- and is hardwired into our brains when secondary, and tertiary factors are present, i.e., relaxation, nakedness, a daydream about your lover, etc.” A massage itself is not inherently sexual and yet perhaps because it is so misunderstood, a few of my MT friends shared that they consciously do what they can to have clear safe touch boundaries. Another friend shared that a back rub is always a back rub for him, never a seduction move.
Massage has many benefits. It is a treatment that can be therapeutic for aches and pains. It can be used to relax stressed muscles. Some athletes use it for recovery. Massage generally is a healing modality and is not intended to be a sexual service – that is something entirely different. Perhaps because sex is so stigmatized some sex workers label their work “massage” to advertise and some clients seek “massage” when they are really looking for sexual services. As a result of this euphemism, it puts people who actually offer massage at risk.
~ If your provider is inappropriate with you, feel confident to tell them that they have crossed the client-therapist line (a violation that the AMTA would absolutely want to know), that their touch is unwelcome, and you expect an apology. If you are so moved, report them to the management of the facility or directly to the AMTA.
~ If you are an MT and want to offer one-way sexual touch to your clients, please look into Sexological Bodywork to learn the legal and ethical ways to provide this service for your customers.
~ If you are a client and your provider is explicit in their materials that none of their services include sexual touch, then respect that. Do not refuse to pay them for the work they did or force yourself on the practitioner (because that’s assault). Just enjoy the beautiful and powerful feeling of touch.