This is almost a trick question. By definition massage is a sensual experience. It is perceived through our senses. It makes you feel good. It is meant to be pleasing to the senses.
Is there an easy definition of sensual and sexual massage?
The problem arises with the fact that most people do not clearly distinguish between sensuality and sexuality. The distinction is quite simple:
- Sensuality by itself does not necessarily have any sexual intent
- Sexuality is sensuality with sexual intent
The original meaning of the word ‘sensual’ is that something is perceived and enjoyed through the senses. This is certainly the case with massage. And this is also what sets massage apart from medical and clinical environments which are generally not pleasing to the senses at all.
Where to draw the line?
I admit that it is often quite hard to draw a clear line between those two concepts. Therefore you can’t blame professional massage therapists for avoiding the issue and just distancing themselves from the entire problem by siding with professional, clinical and scientific concepts.
While that keeps us in safe territory, it also denies or downplays the fact that massage is in fact a sensual experience – as in pleasing to our sense of touch.
Most of our clients do want to experience this aspect – the enjoyment of being touched. So we end up with a dichotomy.
The story of an overly clinical massage
Once I was in a famous spa in Budapest, Hungary, the Gellert. I signed up for a massage, and for an hour a big and strong masseur proceeded to pummel me, slap me, yank me and brush me.
It really was not a pleasant experience. It was more brutal than sensual. Maybe it was therapeutic. I figured there must be something good about it since the Gellert is a world famous spa. But certainly I wouldn’t sign up for another session there.
The story of a heavenly massage
When I went back home home I arranged for a massage from a long term friend of mine. She has a peaceful and beautifully decorated treatment room. Aroma oils are being diffused, candles are burning, soothing music is playing, and she has an absolutely wonderful touch.
It is an environment that is highly appealing to all the senses. It is a sensual experience. Personally I would choose this type of setting over the Gellert any time.
She chose to provide such a sensual environment (pleasing to the senses). And she is highly professional and always booked. People love her and her massage.
Actually I should have written this in the past tense because she is not alive anymore. But anyone who was ever touched by her will always remember her beautiful, sensual, loving and totally professional touch. And her reputation will live a lot longer than her physical body did.
In contrast, all I remember about the Gellert therapist is that he was big and strong, and that I was glad when the massage was over. I told myself that it must have been good for me, but in the case of my therapist friend I did not need to convince myself.
Living your truth in massage therapy
I understand my colleague’s reservations about the sensual aspects of massage. As far as I am concerned, I have decided to live up to my truth in my professional Thai Massage practice. I love to receive massage that feels sensual and is professional at the same time, and my clients love it too.
When the therapist is totally clear in his or her mind about the distinction between the sensuality versus the sexuality in massage, then in my experience it will never be an issue for the client either.
Lumping the two concepts together as if they were the same is like ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’. Denying that massage is pleasing to the senses, and therefore sensual, or insisting on a purely ‘clinical’ massage, eliminates the main reason why people go to a massage therapist – they want to FEEL better. They don’t just want their dopamine levels adjusted or their circulation improved.
Spas are designed to be sensual environments
Why do massage spas play soothing music, put flowers in the room, decorate the rooms tastefully, and use aroma oil diffusers? Because all those appeal to the senses – to our sense of sight, smell, sound, and touch. They are sensual experiences, just like a good massage.
Considering this it is a paradox to claim that massage is not a sensual experience, because it is! AND it can also be professional and therapeutic at the same time. There is no conflict here.
Our clients trust us when we are clear, clean, strong and transparent. Therapists who are fearful of misconceptions are more likely to encounter clients who reflect that, since this is part of their energy and that’s what they send out to their clients.
Can sensual massage be professional? Maybe I should rephrase the question: How can professional and high quality massage not be sensual?
How can you learn more about this?
At Thai Healing Massage Academy we teach professional Thai Massage online training courses which cover many therapeutic applications. And we recognize that a supportive healing environment is best created if the client is relaxed, feels good, and enjoys the session.
In the hands of the right therapist Thai Massage can be a beautiful and highly effective healing art. If you are interested in learning more about it, check out our extensive online training library:
The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 18 years. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 online Thai Massage video training courses.