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People want to know, but are embarrassed to ask. Once a man asked me and his wife smacked him (yes, she physically hit him and was MORTIFIED that he asked). I answered his questions and I’m going to answer yours. Yes, there is a dark side to massage. In certain areas of life I have been known to be a tad naive. It took me a LONG time to learn the lingo and tears were shed when I thought I had a legitimate client and all they wanted were services requiring a red light outside the door. So here it is. The down and dirty: Massage and Sex.

Despite State regulation,  illegitimate massage facilities seem to be on every corner with windows blacked out and neon lights a-glow. Each State has its own rules and regulations regarding massage services and some States have no regulation at all ( including; Alaska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Wyoming). In Florida, massage therapists are governed by the Department of Health. All licensed massage therapists must renew their license by August 31 of odd numbered years (this year!), their license must be openly displayed with their photograph, and all massage establishments (if you go to them for a massage) must have a separate license. So even though I’m a sole practitioner with no employees, I must have two licenses: one for me and one for my office (oh and pay all the licensing fees and taxes to the State, the County, and the City). Even with all of the regulation, there is no end to the advertisements for “sensual massage,” “light touch massage,” and “girls to do body rubs – no training necessary.” In case you were wondering, sexual activity is illegal in the massage business.

Sadly, the massage industry, as well as acupuncture and other health and spa services, has been used as a front for human trafficking. The victims are usually Asian women of diverse ethnicities and nationalities including Korean, Thai, Chinese, and ethnically Korean-Chinese citizens. The businesses are made to seem legitimate and the women are forced into “commercial sex.” For more information or if you know someone who is a victim, you may contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

On the flip side, legitimate massage therapists are regularly plagued by Creepers (an unofficial term used to describe how you make us feel). I try to make my advertising professional and use terms like “therapeutic” to make it clear that I don’t work on the Dark Side. Creepers tend to make the rounds – and if you’re a new therapist you can probably expect to receive more calls from them as you establish yourself. However, therapists do talk about it. A Creeper made it into my office once, several years ago. Everything about him screamed Creeper to me. He invaded my personal space, and during the massage wanted his inguinal (groin) region massaged. No, I didn’t do it. Yes, he used the term “inguinal” (he was a medical professional). I was upset at the end of the session. Honestly, I was also confused. His status in the community made me feel like I must have misunderstood his intentions. I called one of my besties, a seasoned massage professional. “Oh, he found you! I had forgotten about him! Yeah, he’s a total Creeper.” She wasn’t the only therapist who knew him by name. I never treated him again.

Important lesson learned: Follow my gut. I always follow my gut. She has never done me wrong. When I’ve tried to ignore her, I find she’s always right. Now I just listen and don’t doubt her. These are some things that usually set her off:

Creeper: Do you use draping?

Yes, I always use draping. I know some clients don’t like it. I will always, always, always, always use some form of draping. My go-to is a sheet with a blanket to keep you warm. If it’s too hot I’ll remove the blanket. If you prefer a towel, just tell me. But if you want my massage, your privates will be covered.

Creeper: Why do you need my last name? 

If I could hang up on you twice I would.

Creeper: Do you do Light Touch Massage?

There are a host of phrases the Creeper will use that sound innocent, but really aren’t. Terms like light touch, feather light, tension release, gentle touch, sensual massage, and hot oil are code words for things I do not do.

Creepers and Hand Holding

Explanation for non-Creepers: When you are on your stomach (prone) and the therapist is working on your forearm, your flexor muscles are triggered, causing your fingers to curl. At this point, some Creepers will hold your hand. And keep holding. Therapists can tell the difference between a finger curl reflex and hand holding (remember, we went to school for this). My Gut Rule: I will stop doing whatever it is I’m doing that’s making you misbehave. Abruptly. You’ll know it’s not okay. While we’re here, this applies to all body parts. Guys have it the most difficult. Sometimes things stir and you aren’t doing it on purpose. Therapists know that too. We know you’re not all Creepers. However I will stick to the Gut Rule and will stop doing whatever I’m doing so you can get things under control. Yes, we know you can get it under control.

In Honor of All Male Massage Therapists

Don’t assume for a second that the “ladies” out there are all innocent. I have heard terrible stories from male massage therapists who are treated aggressively and inappropriately by women searching for sexual favors. I can say that no client has ever grabbed me in any way – I can’t say that for my male counterparts. If you’re wondering WHY I would subject myself to this profession, let me be the first to tell you: There is a dark side to life. Estheticians? Yep, they get it, performing facials. DENTAL HYGIENISTS – oh my gosh I had no idea how much abuse they take from Creepers; and they are cleaning TEETH! My corporate jobs? I dealt with inappropriate behavior every. single. day. Bottom line? I love my work. Now that I’m in my 5th year of massage therapy I’ve developed a thicker skin and when a Creeper crosses my path I deal with it and move on.

To close, I’m going to share one of my favorite videos about massage therapy. It makes me laugh every time I watch it. Yeah, it’s totally true: