Massage therapy has long been an inappropriately sexualized profession.
Because prostitution is sometimes disguised as massage, some clients assume that massage therapists offer “extra” services like happy endings.But licensed massage therapists are professionals who go through extensive training. Nearly all states require 500 to 1000 hours of training in anatomy, physiology, and the theory and practice of massage therapy to be licensed, and many states require additional hours of continuing education every year to maintain that license. Cosmopolitan.com spoke with 12 massage therapists who detailed sexual harassment ranging from inappropriate comments and exposure, to touching and solicitation. Some of their names have been changed to protect their privacy.
A client came to see me and requested an abdominal massage and glute work. We started the massage and when I got to the abs, it became very obvious that he had an erection. I had to modify where I was working, but he kept trying to inch up to my hand. When he flipped over and I was working on his glutes, he basically started humping the table. When you’re in massage school, they say this can happen, but they don’t totally train you on how to deal with it. At that point I wasn’t even a year out of school, so I didn’t know the best way to address it. I just pushed harder to make sure he couldn’t move. He left me a very large tip, which didn’t feel like normal gratuity. He also scheduled three more appointments with me. I don’t remember what happened, but I never ended up seeing him again. The place I worked at the time didn’t have a great reputation for dealing with clients who didn’t respect the therapist, and I found out later that he had been doing the same thing to different female therapists.
I had a client that I vetted really well before seeing. I had talked with him for 30 minutes, I hadn’t picked up any red flags, and his communication was strictly professional. He was from out of town, and he booked his session in his hotel room. I get there, and he tells me he wants to take a shower before we get started. I said it was fine, but it would cut into his massage time. He said it wouldn’t take long. That was my first red flag. It was strange to me because he went to take a shower before I filled out the paperwork, and so when he came out of the shower he was sitting on the bed with his towel around him filling out the paperwork.
Throughout the session, there were other small incidents that made me uncomfortable. He continually adjusted himself throughout the massage, and he kept saying he was too hot. I left the towel off his back and tried to put cooling gel on his back, but he continued to fuss about being too hot, even though the hotel room was pretty cold. When he was face up on the table, he kept trying to adjust himself so I could see under the drape. He also kept making comments about how he was thirsty, so I offered to get him his bottle of water across the room. Right in the middle of me doing some upper thigh work, he gets up and takes off the towel to get his water, and I nearly smacked his genitals. He kept telling me that he isn’t shy and I can look at him while he was drinking his water. When he got back on the table, he grabbed my leg. I asked him if the pressure was too deep, and he said it was fine, he was just comfortable that way. Instead of having the guts to say it was inappropriate, I just said I needed to be able to move around and I forcefully took his hand off my leg.
I had practiced in my head to tell him the session was over, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I felt so embarrassed and guilt-ridden when I got home and I cried for hours. I kept thinking I should have been more alert because of the small things he did that made me uncomfortable, but I wasn’t sure if what happened was a normal thing or a misunderstanding. Once I sought out support in various groups, it was made clear that what I went through wasn’t OK.
What was really interesting about this client, was that once I looked into his info, I saw that he used a fake name and he had used his business address. He was actually a very high profile attorney in my city and he used to work for the FBI. When I described what happened to others without mentioning his name, another therapist reached out to me and said she had an experience with that particular man as well. It’s scary that he had done this before, and that he was doing this so subtly and making therapists questions if it’s a mistake or miscommunication. This was one client where I did file a police report on him, not only for my own safety but for other therapists. The only thing he really could have been charged with was indecent exposure because there was no type of solicitation and there wasn’t a whole lot of evidence that when grabbed me it was assault. But it’s still important when these things happen to have it on record.
There was one guy in his 70s that was a regular at the spa I work at. He had been coming there for a while, and one day he was on my schedule. One of the therapists told me he was a sweet old man, but he likes to grind into the table a little bit. I was like, what? Sure enough, while I was working on this client, he went from talking about his daughter to grinding against the table when I started working on his lower back. I move to his glutes, and he continues. I moved to his thighs, but at this point he’s moaning, breathing heavy and slamming himself into the table. I told him he needed to stop moving his pelvis, and he pretended like he couldn’t hear me, even though we had just been talking. I told him the massage was over and he needed to go out and pay. I stepped out and told my boss that I didn’t want him on my schedule again, and she said she would take him next time he comes in. He still comes in, but he acts pretty professional with her and I haven’t had to work on him again.
When I worked at a men’s salon, I found that the environment that I worked in definitely influenced the way that clients saw and interacted with me. There’s nothing wrong with the company I worked for, but they do use sex appeal to sell their services, and that can sometimes attract certain clients. There was one man who would come in with his cousin and they would get facials and massages. One time I was massaging this man and while he was facedown, he grabbed me by the back of my calves and asked if he could buy me and take me home with him. This was a regular client, and he didn’t act this way out on the floor. I was able to finish up and wiggle away from him, and that was actually one of the last times I saw him.
I had another client who would come in on a fairly regular basis. He would always insist on starting face down and ending face up. He wanted a lot of hip and leg work, and pelvic and abdominal. No one needs that kind of work unless they are an elite athlete, so that was already a red flag. During one massage, he got an erection. I know erections can be a natural reaction so I try to ignore them, but this client had wiggled himself enough so he had loosened the draping and when I looked to the side I saw the tip of his penis hanging out of the sheet. I readjusted the sheet but he was already starting to get harder.
When I got to his abdomen, he usually would hold the sheet down, but on this day he let go of the sheet on one side and the hardest penis I have ever seen flew up and hit me in the back of the hand. Part of me wanted to laugh, part of me wanted to get upset, it was just ridiculous. He feigned embarrassment, apologized and covered himself up. Then I finished up the session and left so he could get dressed. When I came back in, he was gone, and he had ejaculated onto the table and I could tell it was intentional. There was a bathroom immediately across from the room, and he could have gone there if he needed to do that. It was frustrating, irritating, and I felt so disrespected.
I recently had a gentleman say to me, “Hey I tip well and I don’t tell,” after I sat down and laid hands on him. I tend to just ignore people like that. They can say what they want, but I’m not going to do what they want. I laughed it off when he said that, and then he told me that his therapist in his hometown “helped him out,” implying she did something sexual. I tried to play dumb saying, "Oh people do that?" The funny thing is, right before I worked on him, I worked on his wife.
When I was first out of massage school, a guy asked me if I always massage in shoes. I said yes, we need to have our feet supported. And he’s like, oh, well you know, I kind of have a thing for feet. He was face-down, so he could see my feet when he asked me that. There is something about people not wearing clothes that makes them think this is OK behaviour, and that comments like that are somehow acceptable. I’m very lucky, I’ve never been attacked.
For the past 8 years, I’ve worked primarily with professional athletes. There was one client who I had worked with for almost a year, and once, I was massaging his legs up to his glutes and he yells back and asks if he can ask me a favour. He then asks me if I can, “Stick a finger up there,” to which I responded saying only if I could record it and send it to TMZ. Afterwards. he apologized to me and I had a serious conversation with him and said it was not appropriate or OK to say that. Oddly enough, there were a few more incidents after that. One time he answered the door completely naked, and he started making appointments at later times, like midnight.
Another massage client asked me to come downstairs to grab water and some candles, and when I went downstairs he was receiving oral sex on the couch. He acted like I wasn’t there, and I was just like, whoa, and covered my face while I grabbed the water. I went back upstairs and he came up and told me he didn’t realize I would walk in on that. It definitely seemed like it wasn’t an accident since he told me to come downstairs. This was also a client I had worked on for four years. He acted normal during the massage, but I was in shock for days after it happened.
Another client would ask me if I “finish strong” and when I pretended I didn’t know what he meant, he was like, you know, an “explosive ending.” I asked him then if he was asking if I was a prostitute, and he acted like he wasn’t, and then finally admitted that was what he was asking for. I jokingly told him that I needed dinner and a date first. The next time he saw me he brought me lunch, and then the time after that he brought me lunch from an even nicer place. He told me I could come to his house or hotel, and he would send me text messages trying to get me to do it. He would also apologize for saying that, but then would try to do it again. After a few times of this, I had circled some ads in the newspaper for prostitutes and told him that should help him. Then I ended the client relationship with him. I actually ran into him two years later and he tried again. And then he sent a gift basket to my office to apologize.
I walked into a client’s hotel room for a session, and the man said to me, “After these 90 minutes, I’m going to make sweet love to you.” He was an older guy, and I saw he had alcohol sitting on his nightstand. I told him I was going to get paid whether I massaged him or not, so at that point, he said he would be good, and the session turned out fine. When I left the hotel room, the person at the front desk asked if I had just gone to his room, saying she would have warned me if she had known. Apparently, he had been creepy and trying to touch the cleaning staff. I did report his behaviour to the company I worked for and they said they would no longer accept him booking appointments.
I also had a college student as a client, and for the whole massage he was pretty quiet. When the massage was done, I told him I was going to wash my hands. When I came back in, he was still laying on the table and he asked if I could massage right there, pointing to his penis area. He said he would give me $60. I said if he didn’t get up, I would call the cops. He didn’t get up even after I said that, so I gathered up my stuff quickly and ran out of there in case he tried something. I also reported him and he was banned from the service.
I made a hotel call for one client. He was fine during the massage, didn’t make any suggestive comments or advances. At the end, I went to the bathroom so he could get his clothes back on, which you usually do for a hotel massage. When I came back out he had the towel around his waist, so I started packing up my stuff and when I looked up he was in front of me and then he pinned me against the wall. I asked what he was doing and ducked out under him so the table was between us, and said he must have misunderstood, that I was not a hooker. He didn’t push it, he just said, "Oh, I’m sorry, how much do I owe you?" I was scared, I felt violated, and I never did hotel massages again. I actually stopped doing all calls after that, and I had steady enough business so I didn’t really need to take on new clients.
I had a first-time client come in complaining about a groin pull, so he kept trying to get me to go further and further up. Obviously, because of my training, I know what to look for with a groin pull. He also was trying to get me to into the perineal region, and he ended up asking me to go inside his butt and massage his prostate. After that, I told him that he needed to leave. He said he would stop asking things like that, and then he asked me if I could add time to his session. I told him I would double check with my sister who was babysitting my kids, but I actually contacted my sister and told her to call the police. I was concerned for my safety because I’m a solo practitioner, and even though I have cameras, it wouldn’t stop something in the moment. The police came to the office and escorted him out. He contacted me the next day and told me that his doctor told him to find someone to massage his prostate, but I didn’t even answer him. The creepy thing is, he actually works across the street from where I work.
Back when I was working at a spa, I had a client ask me at the end of the massage if that was all there was. He thought he was going to get a happy ending. I told him I didn’t do those kinds of services, and I left to go get him a glass of water. When I came back, he had ejaculated all over my sheets and had already left. I notified the staff, and they flagged his client record so he was unable to come back to book services.
I had another client who was not fond of the fact that he had to be draped. I explained to him that was the protocol and the law, and he would say that it felt better to be natural. I was massaging his leg and he put his hand down under the blanket and started touching himself. I’m unfortunately nearby a “full-service” massage place, and he brought up that those services happen there, saying that women there will take their shirts off and rub their nipples on him. I told him that’s not what happens where I work, and if that’s what he wants he needs to go there. I dismissed the session and even though he tried to act like he didn’t do anything wrong, I haven’t seen him since.
In my first year out of school, I had a guy come during the massage. He had been squirming on the table at one point, but I didn’t realize what happened until after he left. I noticed after the massage that the sheet that had covered him was wet and sticky. I told the manager about it when it happened because I didn’t know how to clean it up, and then they told me he had done that to another therapist. I’m not sure if they hoped the first time was an accident, but after he did it to me they didn’t invite him back to our spa as a client.
I run my own massage therapy business, so I would always just take calls as I receive them. I was at the mall with my mom and my 4-year-old son when I get a phone call from a man wanting a massage. We went through the phone call and scheduled a time, and then near the end of the phone call he asked if I offered release. At first I thought he said relief, so I asked him again what he meant, and he said release, like a happy ending. I said no, I definitely do not do that, and then he asked me if he could jerk himself off instead. I said absolutely not, and told him the appointment was no longer happening. He asked me why not, and then I hung up without responding. It put me so close to tears and it ruined the nice family day I was having. I was not prepared to be spoken to that way. It’s so degrading and demeaning.
I was massaging a client while he was face down, and I noticed he kept wiggling so the sheet wrapped around him kept coming up. He was also pretty chatty, asking me if anyone had ever been inappropriate with me. I was kind of like, where is this going, and then he asked me if I ever had anyone expose themselves to me. When I said yes, he asked what I do about it, and I told him I usually stop the massage. Then he wiggles out of the sheet and exposes himself, so I can see his erection pressed against the table while he’s face down. I just ignored it, covered him up, and kept going. When I turned him over, I think he was surprised I still didn’t acknowledge it because he sat up and looked to see if his erection was visible. Usually I would stop the massage, but it felt like he was just trying to get a rise out of me and see how I would react. The place I worked preferred if we didn’t stop the massage, even if we felt uncomfortable. It’s his word against mine, and he could tell management that the massage wasn’t satisfactory. So in this case, I felt like it was best to ignore it and just continue on. I did tell them I no longer wanted him as a client after that massage though, and I never had to work on him again.
I do deep tissue massage, so I get a lot of athletes. I had a client come in who was a deadlifter, so I could tell it would be a taxing massage because of his physique. He moaned very loudly during the massage, and when I got to his glutes, he started grinding his pelvis into the table. When I turned him over, I knew there was going to be a problem. He had an erection and it was laying on his leg, so I was trying to figure out how to deal with that. If I went around it, I felt like he was going to point out that I missed a spot. I massaged everywhere except that leg, and ended up asking him to move his erection, which he did. Near the end of the massage, he asked me to massage his glutes again, which I said no to. He also asked if he could see me again. I told him I could, but then I went and told management not to put him on my schedule again. When I was cleaning up after he left, I realized the sheets were wet and he must have ejaculated.
By Kate Beckman
This article first appeared in Cosmopolitan.