Disclaimer: I’m no longer a massage therapist. I do keep my license current and I’m perfectly happy working on family and very-close friends, but otherwise, the world of massage therapy is fading into my past.
Nonetheless, I’m cleaning out some old blog ideas, if you will, and I write the following post anyway, in case it helps other massage therapists feel like they’re not alone in what can otherwise be a slightly alienating, lonely environment. With any luck, someone will nod and say, “good! I’m not abnormal after all.” And with even greater luck, someone may have an “a-ha” moment when it comes to dealing with these douchebags.
Vocab: to bring everyone up to speed, a “perv” is short for “pervert”, those (almost overwhelmingly) males who mistake a licensed healthcare worker for a thinly-veiled prostitute. For most massage therapists (especially females, but male therapists have been propositioned, too), screening out and dealing with these pervs is part of almost-everyday life, an occupational hazard. I’ve dealt with many of these scum myself, and there had been a lot of pent-up frustration by the time I retired from massage therapy.
So without further babbling…
To all the pervs I’ve massaged before:
You know who you are. You know what you want. You know what you do. Guess what? So do we (LMTs). You’re not fooling anyone. We’re not stupid. We see everything. Sometimes you catch us off guard, but generally you fall right into a predictable pattern, no matter what part of the country (or world) you’re in, no matter how old you are, and no matter what type of massage therapy you claim to seek.
Generally, it started–and typically ended–with that first call to my office to set an appointment. Over the years, I’d learned to screen you. Usually I can tell from your voice, your choice of words, and your overall vibe, whether you’re up to no good or not.
To either confirm my suspicions and/or give you the benefit of the doubt, I dig, I ask questions, I gather information. I get nosy, I want details. I probe further. If the conversation is going to go downhill, the time is now: predictably, you start asking questions that you think seem normal but are, in fact, totally out-of-character for any legitimate massage-therapy-seeking prospective client. Things like draping, what I’m wearing, and what kind of pressure I provide.
Sure, there are legitimate reasons to ask questions about things like pressure; do I go deep enough? Some legitimate clients are pain sensitive and want to make sure I’m not on the East German Women’s Olympic swimming team. And perhaps there are legitimate people out there who bring up draping issues; some get too cold or too hot, and there’s a legitimate interest in boosting the odds of being comfortable throughout the session. Some legitimate massage clients do prefer not to be draped at all, but most of the innocent, genuine ones are well aware that to voice such a request first-thing can understandably set off red flags.
And there is never, ever a legitimate time to ask what I look like or what I will or will not be wearing. All I am to you is a set of hands, driven by a brain above the shoulders and a heart behind the sternum; everything else is irrelevant. Clothing, professional, and sanitary/clean – that’s all you ever need to know.
When I suspected that your intentions were muddy, I tactfully but very directly asked you what type of massage or experience you’re looking for. Heads up, seekers of the World’s Oldest Profession: this is your chance to fess up. And I suggest you do, because if you don’t, you’ll end up on my massage therapy table, horny and expectant, trying to throw me hint after annoying hint while I warn you, after a certain threshold of which I will abruptly end the session, leaving you frustrated and unfulfilled, and still indebted to the tune of $70 for the hour of time I set aside for your sorry ass. You’d best be honest on the phone and save us both the hassle; it’s not like you’re going to get what you’re looking for here.
Typically, I could head you off before that first appointment even got scheduled. That’s really the best situation for all parties involved. You were then free to seek illicit services elsewhere, and I saved myself from the awkward and vulnerable position of having to tell an unknown and possibly hostile stranger “no”.
If you somehow managed to slip by, though, you had a good act down. You may even tolerate draping with so much as a single word of protest. With any luck, you even refrained from conversation topics that made me feel easy and uncomfortable. And hopefully, you behaved yourself in the nonverbal department, too. Yes, I saw some of you gyrating or rearranging yourself under the sheets, even if you were face-down. If you’re face-up, well, the sheet tent is an unmistakable, dead giveaway.
There’s no excuse for that, not even medical. If you are known to consume the little blue capsule of pharmaceutical Enhancement, you should know to hold off popping one until after your massage. It’s not meant for relations with me anyway; you’ll have to to wait till long after your session to actually put it to any use, so why jump the gun? The shit-eating grin across your face is especially sickening and rudely presumptuous, and is not a nice touch. You’re not winning any friends here.
Some of you managed to resist pulling that little shenanigan, before being exposed, so to speak. Yep, that’s right–some of you have actually lifted up the sheets to reveal all your goods.
Let’s be brutally honest: this was not an accident; it was 100% intentional. The question is, what were you thinking? Did you honestly think that I would glance at your endowment (even if out of morbid curiosity), which I always made it a point not to do anyway, and succumb to some instinctual primal urge that you’ve convinced yourself I have buried deep within the recesses of my brainstem? Do you think that your equipment is all that impressive or that you have something special I haven’t seen before? Top secret: you don’t. I’m an adult with a marriage partner and I’ve been through med school, which means I’ve seen it all–and indeed dissected it all–with a scapel–before. Yes, including that part.
A couple of you, though, not wanting to risk a prematurely-terminated session, would wait until the very end of what had, up until that point, been a legitimate session. I indicated the time was up and that we were finished, and what did you do? You ripped off the sheet, exposing your entire ventral side, with one or both eyebrows raised, expecting that I might do something about your physiological predicament. You know what they say about the correlation between the spelling and meaning of the word “assume”, right?
And no, I do not consider the little viscous liquid present on my sheets a tip. That’s not a gift; that has now converted an entire set of twin sheets into an official biological hazard that I now need to take extra steps (and extra time) to deal with. Yes, it is considered a biological hazard by default, because I have no clue what you’re carrying around in that viscous liquid you produce so much of. Thanks. Not.
Yes, even if you strip the sheets from the table while changing your clothes after I step out into the hall to wait, and you bundle them up (which yes, some of you have done), I still notice, I know what you did, and I still have to take the extra precautions, because I don’t know your bodily fluids from Adam’s.
Should you manage to behave yourself for the first session (or the first few, even), if you are indeed a perv, you will indeed get found out. Mark my words. Massage therapists are feel-good people who often look at the world through rosy, warm, fuzzy lenses. We’d love to give each and every suspect the benefit of the doubt. If you ever find yourself charged with a crime, you want therapists in particular on your jury, because we want nothing but a global utopia and we can see the good in even the emptiest and most volatile of souls.
But we’re also uncannily perceptive. We base our entire lives on the ability to observe, to watch. We notice things, subtle things. Not much escapes us. So whether you misbehave on the first visit or the twenty-first, we will know, and we will remember. If you’re “iffy” to start with (i.e. you raise my suspicion), we’ll watch you like hawks. We’ll know something is up when your tips get more and more outlandish, or you start scheduling uber-lengthy sessions.
Or maybe you’ll make semi-strange comments or start professing how devout Christian you are. Or maybe that goodbye hug (which in and of itself is not unusual or forbidden) will have a creepy undertone or linger a millisecond too long. Eventually, you will make little mistakes, the evidence will add up, the gut instinct will holler, and we will know the truth.
For those of you who seek out services from the World’s Oldest Profession but keep your legit, licensed massage therapy and illicit requests separate, we thank you. I personally don’t care how much of a perv you really are as long as it doesn’t involve me in any way.
If you save your Other Requests for the line of work that caters to those primal desires, and I can’t otherwise tell that you’re a perv, then I appreciate your ability to tell the difference between a licensed practitioner and a Red Light District worker, and I appreciate the respect you have for me and my profession to make the effort to do so, and we thank you in advance for leaving us out of your aroused agenda.
As for those of you who haven’t yet figured out that distinction (LMT vs prostitute), when you make that first phone call to an LMT’s office, come right out and say what you want. That way, s/he can get on with telling you no, you can get embarrassed or sheepish, get off his/her phone, and stop wasting his/her time. Move on to the next possible outlet for your desires; lather, rinse, repeat until you strike gold.
Problem solved. See? That wasn’t so hard. Those of you who called me up and hemmed and hawed and beat around the bush weren’t going to increase the odds of obtaining that which you seek. This ain’t my first rodeo; let’s not take a stab at pretending anything other than reality.