Taking on Societal Preconceptions around Massage Therapy and Gender

Preconceptions around gender abound in society. They are often formed around societal biases of what is considered traditionally feminine and traditionally masculine, including professions. For example, being an elementary teacher is traditionally considered a woman’s job and a construction manager that of a man. But it goes beyond what society thinks is a good job for the different genders; it’s also about society’s preconceptions about who they are more comfortable interacting with in these settings. All of this is certainly true for massage therapy as well. 

There is a lot of stigma surrounding the male licensed massage therapist (LMT). When booking a massage, a lot of people get flustered over the question as to whether they want a male or female massage therapist, and when pushed, the majority of people specifically request a female LMT. We understand–we really do! Getting a massage puts you in a pretty vulnerable state. However, this trepidation often stems from societal preconceptions of massage therapy and who society thinks it’s okay to be a massage therapist. In this article, we are going to dig into the stigmas surrounding male LMTs and then break down the barriers so you feel more comfortable getting a massage from someone of any gender. 

Issue #1: Vulnerability

When you get a massage, you are invariably in some state of disrobe, and that can put you in a vulnerable state. Not to mention that massage techniques are performed on bare skin. This can leave many clients feeling uncomfortable, and often believe the preconception that a woman LMT will be less threatening. This vulnerability can also bring up body image issues and many female clients may harbor fears that a male therapist might judge her physical appearance. 

Issue #2: The Psychology of Sex

Massage is generally extremely relaxing, but it can also border on sensual for some. Clients are often afraid of becoming aroused during a session. It’s important to understand that this is normal and has nothing to do with sex, but rather the physiology of what is happening to the body during a massage. Massage techniques move blood around the body very quickly and this can lead to sensations of arousal. A good massage therapist understands this and relies on their training to ignore it to help keep the patient at ease. 

We also can’t delve into the psychology of sex and massage therapy without addressing homophobia as well. Some male clients don’t like to be touched by another man, let alone while semi-naked. It stems from being in a vulnerable state and thoughts of perceived homosexuality. 

Issue #3: Nurturing vs Strength

Across the board, clients often seek out female LMTs for their “caring” touch. They also often see male LMTs as rougher and stronger. However, this is based on the preconceptions that women are nurturing, a role often associated with mothers, and that men are macho and rough. But if you’ve seen women athletes or a stay-at-home dad, you know these are just biases formed by society that have no true meaning. 

Breaking Down the Barriers

Now, let’s break down these three stigmas around male LMTs.

First, it’s important to remember that licensed massage therapists of any gender are professionals. Many chose this career to help people heal their bodies. Because of the semi-naked state clients are in, it makes everyone feel vulnerable while getting a massage. But a professional isn’t there to take advantage of you or judge you. They are there to help you heal. To help put you at ease, remember that spas have interviewed all their LMTs. And if you feel uncomfortable about a technique, speak up and set your boundaries. A professional LMT will respect your wishes and won’t judge you for it. If something inappropriate does happen, don’t be afraid to report it. Spas and wellness centers want you to feel comfortable, and that means being unafraid to go to higher ups with concerns. 

When it comes to both issues regarding the psychology of sex and massage therapy, keep in mind that massage has little to do with sexual attraction. Rather, massage therapy is about healing your body using relaxation and medical techniques. LMTs of any gender are professionals, and are not there to “feel you up.”

Finally, when it comes to who society thinks is nurturing and who is strong, understand that in massage, a woman LMT can perform a deep tissue massage as well as any male LMT. The same is true that male LMTs can be just as nurturing as the women in their profession. 

So set your preconceptions aside; they are often based on biases of gender norms, something that society has been working to break down for many years now. Know that male LMTs are professionals who can help you meet your massage therapy goals just as comfortably and as well as their female counterparts. So next time you call to book an appointment and the receptionist asks for your LMT gender preference, simply ask for the best person that will help you meet your massage therapy goals.