And They All Lived Happily Ever After
By Sharon Livingstone
The worlds of massage and sex services have long been tied to each other. Not because massage therapists perform sex services but because our society (and laws) has so far failed to shake its prudishness and has forced sex workers into euphemisms to operate, advertise and discuss their work. Massage, beautiful word that it is, has served both professions well.
It is not ideal, however, to have massage therapists approached with requests to perform sex services. Any realist will admit that it’s a situation that won’t easily be resolved or terminated. Massage is not a protected or trademarkable word. Anecdotally, the Canadian experience shows us that protected titles do not stop massage therapists being approached with requests for sex services.
So what can we do to minimise the impact and frequency of requests for sex services?
The first step is for massage therapists to remember that sex work is still work. Shaming sex workers is part of the problem, not the solution. Stating our offence at the suggestion we perform sex work demeans those who derive their income from sex work.
If we ask to be treated with dignity and respect, then we need to treat others with dignity and respect.
Shaming or getting angry with people who are genuinely seeking sex services shows a complete lack of compassion, empathy and nuance.
If we are in the business of care, we shouldn’t be discriminating against people on the basis of a pretty fundamental human drive.
Why Do Some MTs Get No Requests and Others Get Swamped?
Things that may influence the number of enquiries for sex work:
- Socioeconomic status of your work location
- If sex work is not legalised in your state
- Home based clinic
- Poorly worded advertising
- Advertising in the wrong place
- Clinic/business name is ambiguous
- Only a mobile phone number listed in ads/website
- Gmail or similar email address instead of one linked to the business.
Apart from societal attitude changes, there are practical ways that massage therapists can minimise the number of enquiries for sex services.
1. Get a website that:
- Lists your qualifications
- Sets out what work is carried out e.g. describe what is meant by “remedial massage” (or what is not).
- Include a professional photo of yourself
- Refer – with links – to your massage association and state that you abide by its Code of Conduct/Practice, and if in a relevant state, that you abide by the Code of Conduct of the health complaint agency or body (e.g. HCCC in NSW or Victoria)
- Maybe include “what happens at your first appointment” where things like “you’ll be asked to fill in a form that includes your medical history”, and “you’ll keep your underpants on during the treatment” can be added under “you’ll be left to get changed”.
Tip: If you’re creating your own website, get it proofread and get critical feedback before it goes live.
2. Get online booking software and refer potential clients to that. Preferably software that requires people to provide their full name and contact details.
3. If working alone, consider using a virtual assistant to take calls and make bookings.
4. Before advertising with local papers, local magazines or sites such as Gumtree, do a search under massage and see what other services are listed. If it’s mostly sex services, it’s not the right place to advertise a remedial style massage.
5. Nomenclature – Pick a title that makes it as obvious as possible what you do – Massage Therapist, Remedial Massage Therapist, Myotherapist, Soft Tissue Therapist. Masseur/masseuse can be trigger words, so best avoided.
6. In text messages, keep language professional – use proper terms, no abbreviations and no calling clients “hun” or “love” or “sweetie” etc.
For new enquiries
- Have a list of questions for new clients: e.g. what area of the body requires treatment, how long have they had the issue, are they currently under the care of another healthcare practitioner, have they had massage before, how they heard about you.
- Don’t answer text messages with text messages. Telephone to ask pertinent questions, get an idea of red flags.
- If working alone, avoid same-day bookings for new clients unless they’re referred by a trusted person.
Strategies I’ve read have been employed to deter those seeking sex services include:
- Letting the enquirer know that they’ll be required to complete a pre-treatment form that includes their full medical history
- Photo ID at first treatment
- New male clients only accepted with referral (this was for home clinics or mobile services).
What to do if you get an enquiry for sex services
Some people genuinely are seeking sex services. They’re not contacting you to be malicious.
Some businesses that operate as a “massage parlour” do offer massage with non-penetrative sex services. Not everyone knows the difference between “massage” and “massage”.
- Be polite.
- Seek clarification on exactly what services they require e.g. if they’ve asked for full body, ask them to be specific with the issues they’ve been experiencing. They might simply want their entire body to be massaged and don’t have a specific issue.
- If it is clear that they require sex services, not the massage service you provide, tell them – politely – that you’re not the right therapist for them.
- Wish them good luck and hang up.
If you’re in a SMS discussion with a potential client and feel they’re asking for sex services, terminate the discussion with something along the lines of, “It sounds like you’re looking for a sex worker. I’m a (remedial massage therapist), which is something different, so I can’t help you further.” Block the number.
Getting cranky at people making enquiries achieves nothing. And, apparently, there are people out there who contact MTs only seeking that over-the-top, hysterical reaction.
Over the last few years, massage therapists have received text messages claiming to be from a couple of bodybuilders who specifically ask for work on their “glutes”. Hands up if you’ve received one of their texts? Hmm, an awful lot of you. It’s obviously not a genuine request. The originator(s) are playing that game with massage therapists, wanting a reaction. That they’re still doing it shows that they’ve suckered a lot of massage therapists into interacting with them. Some who know it’s a scam still want to play with them, sending an allegedly witty response or giving the originators a bit of verbal abuse. While they continue to get the reaction – any reaction – their text messages harassing massage therapists will continue. Imagine if we all responded with silence? Imagine if we blocked their number and got on with our day? Imagine …
Or you think a client may be asking for sex services
During a treatment, a client makes a suggestion of, or directly asks for, a sex service. It happens to anyone who is in the intimate space of a patient so Massage Therapists aren’t the only target. Regardless, it can be quite confronting.
What should we do?
1. Remain calm.
Then we have choices, such as:
1. Immediately terminate the session, explaining the reason to the client. Leave the room to allow the client to dress.
2. It’s possible to continue the treatment after explaining to the client that sex services are not offered, but only if the therapist feels comfortable doing so.
If you’re working alone, and feel unsafe, call a colleague, friend or family member to explain what’s happened, and keep them on the phone until the client has left.
Whatever happens, keep detailed notes of what happened, including what was said, what you chose to do and the outcome. And get support from a colleague, friend, family member or counsellor.
What’s worked for you?
What strategies have you used to deter or filter requests for sex? Comment below to let us know.
About the Author
Sharon Livingstone is a massage therapist in Sydney, NSW. A love of sport drew her to the industry but discovering job satisfaction came from helping people live with less pain keeps her in it. Sharon is a writer, keen bushwalker and frustrated traveller who is also a coffee snob.