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Debunking the Myths of Gay Male Therapists

Squid Ink: What About My Happy Ending?
Thursday, February 18, 2010
By Jason Knight, CMT, HHP, Aromatherapist

It isn’t news that the massage and bodywork industry is a difficult field to be in if you’re male, especially when you only account for about 15% of the population of therapists. Whether straight or gay, therapists frequently battle homophobia from straight male clients who assume all male therapists are gay and looking to exploit their position for sexual pleasure. Conversely, therapists battle the extreme opposite with gay clientele who arelooking for sexual pleasures from male therapists. On either side of the coin, being a legitimate gay male therapist can be nearly impossible.

Flipping through the local gay and lesbian news magazine can seem more like looking for escort services than seeking therapeutic massage. The Gay and Lesbian Times lists more than two-dozen ads for massage, many of which offer “discreet,” “erotic” and “sensual” services. Photos of naked or half-naked men in sexually provocative positions, confusing the reader on what services the ads are selling, accompany even the few ads that indicate “non-sexual” services.

Brian, a massage therapist in Cincinnati who has been practicing massage for more than 20 years says, “the only way for a male to make a great income in the massage industry is by catering to gay men who are looking for a hot guy to rub them down. Catering to erotic and sensual massage is where the money is at.”

While 25-40% of ads in gay and lesbian publications may actually offer legitimate therapeutic services, the numbers dwindle to nearly zero when you go online. A simple search of “male massage therapist” turns up more than a hundred-thousand sites with therapists offering erotic or sexual services. Craigslist, which is quickly becoming one of the largest problems with many local law enforcement teams, seems to be nothing but prostitution under the guise of massage. Responding to one ad that looked somewhat legitimate and asking for rates, I received an email back that could not be mistaken for anything but a solicitation. “Well my rates are $55 in-call and $75 out-call, I offer all types of massages and also erotic services. I am a certified masseur… I do also offer massages in the nude if you would like and also cater to all and any fetishes or fantasies you may have at no extra charge. I do offer a guarantee that if you are not 100% satisfied with my services in every way, it will be free, so don’t worry I’ll take great care of you,” along with half a dozen photos of him flexing half-nude.

When it comes to placing ads for legitimate services, certified massage therapist Jason from San Diego suggests being listed with only legitimate massage organizations. “I used to run an ad [in a gay publication] but I received too many requests for massages with happy endings. I think by being lumped in with all of the ads that offer extras and escorts offering full body erotic massages, that it was difficult to break away from those ads and get people to realize that I was a legit licensed massage therapist.”

Speaking of Ethics

The Code of Ethics from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage (NCTMB), one of the governing bodies of national massage certification and a code in which therapists must adhere to in order to remain certified, states to “Refrain, under all circumstances, from initiating or engaging in any sexual conduct, sexual activities, or sexualizing behavior involving a client, even if the client attempts to sexualize the relationship unless a pre-existing relationship exists between an applicant or a practitioner and the client prior to the applicant or practitioner applying to be certified by NCBTMB.”

Similarly, the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP), the largest massage and bodywork association in the nation with more than 70,000 members, affirm in their Code of Ethics that “I shall in no way instigate or tolerate any kind of sexual advance while acting in the capacity of a massage, bodywork, somatic therapy or esthetic practitioner”…”I shall not be affiliated with or employed by any business that utilizes any form of sexual suggestiveness or explicit sexuality in its advertising or promotion of services, or in the actual practice of its services.”

In fact, nearly every bodywork association in the United States, aside from sexological bodywork which requires its own extensive training and certification, lays out a strict policy in avoiding sensual and sexual contact with clients in its Code of Ethics that its members are required to adhere to. Speaking on the ethics of therapeutic massage, Louie from San Diego and a member of both NCTMB and ABMP asserts, “sex and commercial massage should not be combined due to the inherent power differential present during a massage session. When the client is placed in an unequal position (i.e., completely disrobed and lying supine or prone on a table with no covering but a thin drape,) introducing sexual emotions into that exchange can lead to any number of confusing and/or misleading situations.”

But Brian disagrees. “I’m a licensed massage therapist and healer, but focus on sensual massages. I am not a prostitute. There’s a major difference between having sex with someone for money and giving someone a sensual massage that empowers them and helps them connect with their own sacred energy. The work I do, if anything, is more of a healing experience for my male clients as they are able to be naked, and feel comfortable with themselves and me.”

So is it legal?

No. However, many massage therapists still offer erotic services regardless of the legal implications. “Massage therapists still do erotic massages with clients outside of their day job, including myself,” Brian explains. “Google ‘gay massage’ and ‘male massage’ for websites you can list yourself on, but I wouldn’t put your massage license number on those websites to let people know you are legitimate. Use common sense.”

While the local San Diego Police Department was not available to comment, several people who are affiliated and who wish to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of their jobs say that the police department take these claims very seriously. Vice squads routinely monitor, investigate and prosecute local massage establishments as well as those who place ads on sites like Craigslist, which has been marred by hundreds of stings and arrests nationwide including a sting that lead to 104 arrests in Seattle, WA. “When you exchange sex or sexual gratification for money, in this case, under the guise of a massage therapist, it is prostitution and we take that very seriously,” said a Seattle Police Department spokesperson regarding the sting. But with hundreds of ads posted every single day, the task for local law enforcement agencies becomes hopeless.

What now?

Being a male therapist in the massage and bodywork industry can be difficult. Being a gay male massage therapist can be impossible, but certainly not unattainable. Despite the negative connotation of being gay and being a male in the massage industry, regardless of those who offer services that go against all of our ethics, and in the face of a culture that views touch as nothing but sexual, being a strong gay male pioneer in the massage industry will help change the way our society views therapeutic massage, curb unlawful services, and pave the way for a more accepted view of complimentary and alternative medicines.

“I’ve always felt like I possessed a talent to help people through my touch, and I’ve always had a desire to help or be of service to as many people as possible,” explains Louie. Jason found his calling after moving to Hawaii and experiencing Lomi Lomi massage, “that really pushed me over the edge of wanting to become a therapist.”

Like Louie and Jason, I entered the massage and bodywork industry because I have something to offer. I create a safe space in which my client can choose to heal if he/she so chooses.

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Comment by Mark Rebillard on March 13, 2010 at 4:41pm
How is it that Brian and others practicing "erotic and sensual massage" can call themselves licensed massage therapists? Male, female, gay or straight; if sex is a part of your "treatment" you've abandoned the ethical principles the profession and should not be allowed to advertise as a licensed massage therapist. Prostitution has found a safe harbor under the banner of massage for too long. I'd like to see professional bodywork and massage associations do more to protect the perception of massage therapy by helping these folks find another term for what they do.
Comment by Julie Onofrio on March 7, 2010 at 12:06pm
I think the perception of men in the massage profession is very telling of what we actually do need to heal. Men don't want to be massaged by men, women don't want to be massaged by men and male to male massage (gay sensual massage or whatever) is the way people get around it all. I think we have a lot of healing that can be done by getting massage from men in both sexes.

I also have seen male massage therapists shoot themselves in the foot by saying things on the phone like "do you prefer a female?" instead of just saying "I have an opening tomorrow." I also think it is difficult because men are not used to being the minority so it is a big learning opportunity for everyone.

Men need more support in figuring this all out and learning how to get over the perceptions of people. It is so rich for healing!

Comment by Laura Allen on March 4, 2010 at 6:55pm
I had a gay therapist in my practice for a couple of years. He was very popular with female clients. I made a big attempt to send clients his way because I wanted him to succeed. This is a small town full of homophobic people. He didn't see very many male clients and if the ones he did asked for any monkey business, he never said anything about it. He got tired of the small-town mindset around here and moved to a bigger city.

There aren't any ads offering sexual massage in our hokey newspaper, but in any of the big cities here in NC, there are plenty of them.
Comment by Robert Chute on March 4, 2010 at 4:08pm
Good. Thanks, Jason.
Comment by ASIS Massage Education on March 4, 2010 at 4:04pm
When I worked as a massage therapist in Marin County, just over the bridge from San Francisco, I advertised in the Therapeutic Massage section of one of the newspapers that catered to the GLBT community and even stated "Strictly therapeutic/non-sexual." Every call I got asked if I offered a happy ending. That was the last time I advertised there. I did well instead by growing a client base of mostly women from mothers, yoga/health club enthusiasts and psychotherapists in Marin. Before long, via word of mouth, I had a pretty strong practice going for 10 years there.
Bradley Blalock, LMT
Comment by Jason Knight on March 4, 2010 at 3:59pm
Robert, thanks for the comment. I was in now way implying that ALL gay clients are seeking sexual services, I was however, pointing out the quickly growing trend. It is alarming when nearly 65-75% of newspaper ads are explicitly advertising sexual services, another 10% that offered it upon request, and the remaining legitimate therapists are continually asked if they offer those kinds of services. When you go online, the percentages skyrocket. So my intention was to point out the trend, offering a perspective of how difficult it can be to be legitimate, and by making others aware, empower other to battle this from inside the industry.
Comment by Robert Chute on March 4, 2010 at 3:49pm
It must be added that many gay men seek out the therapeutic touch of male therapists, gay and straight, because they're simply more comfortable with men. I've personally had many gay clients, female and male. Their sexuality--or mine--is never part of the equation because the clinic room is a sexual vaccuum.

The article is interestring, but the subtext could be inferred that if the client is gay and you're male, that they're out to get you. Not so, and there are no toasters awarded for fresh conversions (as Ellen says.) I hope that the author did not intend to imply all gay male clients are only interested in happy endings when attending a therapeutic massage session. That's a popular stereotype, but not at all universal.

I once asked a fellow therapist who I knew was gay if he had suffered any homophobia from clients or potential clients over the years. He said it had happened a couple times, if through mutual friends outside of work they figured out he was gay. He didn't wear is homosexuality on his sleeve. Neither do I make a big deal of being het. I've had one gay male ask for more and several female clients ask for more over the years. The answer is the same regardless. ("I've got a long to-do list. You are not on that list.")

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