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Can A Professional Massage Also Be A Sensual Experience?

You could also rephrase the question: Can a sensual massage be professional – or is a sensual massage unprofessional? This depends on how the word ‘sensual’ is interpreted.

By its most literal 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.

What is the difference between 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. Stroking a baby or a kitten is a sensual experience for the receivers. The same goes for a good, heartfelt hug among friends. But it doesn’t go further than that.
  • Sexuality is sensuality with sexual intent. In this case, sensuality is a springboard for the next step.

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?

drawing a line in massage therapy

I admit that it is often quite hard to draw a clear line between these 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 them 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.

What massage clients want and what therapists project

massage client's expectations

Most of our clients do want to experience this aspect – the enjoyment of being touched. After all, how many massage clients have the intention of NOT feeling great in their session?

So how do we reconcile the client’s desire to feel good with the therapist’s desire to not come across as sensual?

Do we, as therapists, provide a pleasing or sensual experience to clients, or do we withhold it because we are worried that it might be misinterpreted?

To illustrate this, let’s look at some real-life examples.

The story of an overly clinical massage

strong massage

Once I was in the famous Gellert spa in Budapest, Hungary. I signed up for a massage, and for one hour a big and strong masseur went about pummeling me, slapping me, yanking me, and brushing me. That’s really how it felt to me.

It was not a pleasant experience at all. It felt more rough or even brutal than pleasant. I’d say it was as far from sensual as you can get in a massage session.

I tried to convince myself that it had to be therapeutic somehow. 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

beautiful massage room

When I went back home, I booked a massage with 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 certainly a sensual experience, as in ‘pleasant to the senses‘. Personally, I would choose this type of setting over the Gellert any time.

She went to great lengths to provide an environment that is pleasing to the senses. And she is highly professional and always booked. People love her and her massage.

Anyone who was ever touched by her will always remember her beautiful, sensual, loving, and totally professional touch.

She has a wonderful reputation – not just because of her skills, but because of the pleasing environment which she created.

She made sure her clients had an enjoyable experience through all of their five senses:

  • Her heavenly massage touch
  • The aromatic smells of incense and essential oils
  • The soothing sounds of the music
  • The sight of the beautiful decorations in the room
  • The taste of the excellent herbal teas she provided after the session

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

follow your truth in massage therapy

I understand my colleagues’ reservations about the sensual nature 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 (as in wonderful) and is professional at the same time.

My clients love this kind of experience as well. There is no contradiction here.

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 most people want to get a massage session – they want to FEEL better.

They don’t just want their dopamine levels adjusted or their circulation improved, or their lymph nodes drained, although these are benefits as well, of course. But they are not the primary reasons why most people treat themselves to a massage session.

And even if someone wants a massage primarily for therapeutic reasons, this doesn’t mean that it cannot or should not feel good as well.

Spas are designed to be sensual environments

massage spa tools

Why do massage spas play soothing music, put flowers in the room, decorate the rooms tastefully, and use aroma oil diffusers?

Because all of these appeal to the senses – to our sense of sight, smell, sound, and touch. They are sensual experiences, and they add to a good massage experience.

Considering this, it is a paradox to claim that massage is not a sensual experience – because it is! AND it can be professional and therapeutic at the same time. There is no conflict here.

Our clients trust us when we are clear, clean, confident, and transparent. Therapists who are afraid of misconceptions are more likely to encounter clients who actually have those since this is part of their energy and that’s what they send out to their clients.

Can a professional massage be sensual? Maybe I should rephrase the question: How can professional and high quality massage not be sensual?

How can you learn more about this?

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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:

Visit Thai Healing Massage Academy’s online training library with 20 Thai Massage courses for all your training needs and all levels of skills.

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author's picture

The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over two decades. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 professional online Thai Massage training courses.

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Is Thai Massage Really A Massage?
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29 thoughts on “Can A Professional Massage Also Be A Sensual Experience?”

  1. Gordon Inkeles has not only mastered the art of massage, but he is a master teacher. His descriptions and instructions are superb. Tasteful nude photographs and detailed drawings of muscles and tendons illustrate each technique. Each step of the massage is easy to understand and duplicate. One evening of review allowed me to confidently provide my wife an hour of stress relieving massage. The next hour was one of the most sensual of our 23-year marriage.Raising 4 children and balancing two careers, doesn’t allow for much stress-free togetherness. We had truly forgotten how much stress interferes with intimacy.Mr. Inkeles, we can’t thank you enough for teaching us how to give each other such a marvelous gift: the release of stress through magic fingers. Not only is it therapeutic, it is extremely sensual. When mom and dad are more relaxed and romantic, the children benefit also.One final note regarding the nude photographs: while there is full frontal nudity, it is not senseless nudity. The photographs demonstrate the text. It would be difficult for me to duplicate the techniques from simply reading the text or studying drawings.

    • Hi Stephen, I have one of Gordon Inkeles’s books too, and I agree with you that there is definite value in using massage in this way. Many couples would be much better off if they would implement such a massage in their relationships. Thanks for your input!

  2. A few days ago I had a deep tissue massage from a woman here in my small town in Australia. She had strong fingers and managed to find some really crunchy things in my muscles particularly in my neck and shoulders. I usually go for a pretty sensual Huna massage. When I walk out of the Huna I can feel very relaxed and its like I am walking a couple of inches above the ground.

    The deep tissue was a bit painful, but I could feel that she had the skills to release a lot of tension that I had built up. A day later I could feel the difference, better than the Huna.

    So its horses for courses. I believe there is no one style of massage which is ideal for everyone. Therapeutic can be good, and sensual can be good. It depends on your body and the skill of the masseur.

    • Good to hear from you again, Graham! Sure, no massage works well for everyone. Sometimes I just need a relax massage, just for the pleasant sensual feeling, and sometimes I need a more therapeutic session, and I always appreciate the fact that there are so many options and therapies to choose from. As far as I am concerned, the more the better.

      • Hi there. First time replying on this subject, long time massage lover. I have been receiving regular deep tissue massages for a year, and even though my massage therapist applies deep pressure that might be uncomfortable, he still has a very sensual touch. You don’t have to be a butcher to be able to work a muscle on a deeper level! And, Yes, touching is sensual, but sensual does not have to be sexual and I thoroughly appreciate it!

  3. Hi – I am a stranger to this website, but I found the article an awakening so thank you. I qualified as an aromatherapist more than ten years ago but have never been able to make an income from it because I am male and there is a lot of suspicion out there.
    Through a charity auction for the local Wellbing Centre I offered a massage to the lucky winner – the winning bid was passed over twice before I received my client.
    Nevertheless I the masseur and she the recipient of the massage experienced the most professional and sensual massages and that is before I came across your article. I love to help an individual become aware of their own Divinity and to share in realising my connection with all beings through the gift of massage; both giving and receiving. Namaste. Carl

    • Hi Carl and welcome, now you are not a stranger anymore. It seems that you intuitively understand the concept of massage and sensuality. Good for you, and I hope you will continue to give people wonderful professional and sensual massage treatments.

      • I got an offer from a couple to do sensual massage and emediatly looked it up to make sure it wasn’t sexual.I wouldn’t mind It as long as the couple wants to keep it professional.

        • Now that’s not an easy thing to determine. It just depends on what you mean when you say that you want to keep a sensual massage professional.

          In my article I say that massage is, or can be, by nature a sensual experience, even if it is done in a totally professional environment.

          However it sounds to me that this couple wants something more in the sexual arena. I guess you have to talk to them and get total clarity what exactly they want and what exactly you are willing to do or not.

  4. hmmm…i most appreciate detailed work that is ‘enveloped’ in long, sensual strokes…when the therapist’s intention is very clear to provide a professional massage with loving presence it can be powerfully healing.Thanks for putting it out there, Shama!

  5. Hi, Shama, I think the type of massage you resort to depends on the client. Since a professional therapist can work on all levels (energetic, skin , muscles, bones) he can satisfy various needs, preserving the magic touch, i.e. making the procedure on the whole very pleasurable, which implies sensual.

  6. Hi Shama,
    Although your article is very interesting, I prefer not to use the term “sensual”. Just like to think as giving a massage “with passion” whether is deep tissue, relaxation, thai or whatever technique is being used.
    After all , as a receiver, when the massage is good, I enter in a different state of mind that goes beyond sexuality/sensuality…and as a giver , once I get into “my massage universe” , there is no way I ‘d even think about those terms.
    Being a Thai-Yoga massage therapist, the “philosophy of metta” ,loving compassion, is always present in my practice so there is no room for “light or out-of-place- feelings”.
    But , again , your words are very clear to understand the difference and for newcomers to the massage world not to be confused.
    Best Regards

    • I don’t use the actual term “sensual” either when I am working with clients. I just used it to make a major distinction in this article. But I would not tell a client that I am about to give a sensual massage now, and have them read this article first 🙂

      I wrote this article to clarify an issue which some therapists have in their minds. In real life application we can definitely use different words to describe the sensual aspect, like you mentioned with “metta” or “loving compassion”.

  7. I would love to be able to advertise sensual massage services but expect that the repercussions would be swift and egregious. We live in a paranoid and litigious society. I do, however, shift into sensual mode when a client asks for a relaxation massage and I sense that they are comfortable with me and can tell by my touch what my intentions are. Often this is during a repeat session.

    It is my firm belief that most of us are touch deprived from early childhood, especially men. Boys are told not to touch girls because it is not polite/wrong and we are told not to touch boys because it is weird/wrong. Girls are taught that it is fine to touch other girls but touching boys can be dangerous. Those instructions are rarely voided.

    When we are finally with someone that we feel comfortable with and they touch us lovingly and sensuously, the feelings aroused are undefinable. All is bliss. But, should we stop allowing ourselves to ‘feel good’ and let our earlier training surface, the warm feelings can change to fear and distrust.

    When I can find the rare therapist who is skilled in and can simultaneously deliver both the sensual and technical aspects of massage, I feel blessed. Unfortunately, those are few and far between and they either: 1) are extremely difficult to get an appointment with, 2) are for me prohibitively expensive, or 3) move on to a different area or career. I am now, again, looking for another that is both highly talented and sensual. Wish me luck.


    • I know, it is not easy to find such therapists. And it is not easy to strike a balance between professional training in a “paranoid and litigious society” and our natural sensual feelings. Like you said, those therapists who can deliver the technical and the sensual aspects skillfully will never have a lack of clients.

  8. Hi Shama, what would you ask for if you really want a sensual massage, having that good feeling all over your body, one step away from sexual, is the correct way to say it sensual or is there a name for a massage that the women does the complete body of the men but no happy ending. I think it would be important to have clear names for each treatment so everyone knows what they are in for.

    • Here in Thailand that’s easy. We have a word for that – “sabai sabai”. It means a non stressful relaxing pleasant massage. There are no strict definitions here. It all depends on the context and the situation. If you go to a massage shop where no sexual services are offered, then it’s very clear. Personally I never go to massage shops where sexual services are offered, at least to the best of my knowledge. So the sexual element doesn’t even enter the picture for me.

  9. To me, there is a beautiful intimacy to be shared between Thai Massage bodyworker and recipient. I don’t find this intimacy to be sexual in nature but it is certainly sensual! As I perform a massage, I am thinking about how the particular technique feels, how good it feels (because I always make sure that I experience a new technique personally, both giving it to someone as a practice, and teaching the practice recipient to do at least part of the technique on me), and I am certain the pleasurable sensation I am remembering is transferred to my recipient. The energy exchange between bodyworker and recipient when this kind of sensual sharing connection is made actually offers me a lovely “high” that lasts sometimes for several hours after the massage is completed.

  10. Shama, THANK YOU! This is a very important topic and often Elephant in the room. I have enjoyed reading all the comments above and feel this is a safe forum to be honest. I would imagine anyone that pursues this field understands how sensuality plays a role in Thai Massage and is either inclined toward that direction or not. I feel a natural tendency in that direction in most cases whether the client is male or female. However there is a very different energy when I am with a male client. The exchange is often palpable. The line of sexuality is never crossed, but the beauty of slow, rythemic, touch that is the essence of Thai Massage can be a blissful experience within the boundary of professionalism.

    • This is an interesting perspective which you outlined. There is a beauty in sensuality which remains separate from sexuality. However this is only possible if we don’t have fear around this subject and if we are crystal clear on our boundaries.

      If the distinction between sensuality and sexuality is not clear in our minds, then fear comes up and we gravitate to a totally non-sensual touch which feels more mechanical and does not allow us to express ourselves fully in massage therapy.

      However semantics will always play an important role here. If even the dictionaries can’t agree on the meaning of the word “sensual”, how can we expect people to agree on one meaning.

      In my mind sensual runs on a different track from sexual. For me sensuality means to perceive the beauty of life through the senses. There is no sexual undertone for me. But I know that not everyone sees it in the same way.

  11. I believe they can be very professional it’s all about setting boundaries and expectations before the client even arrives for their massage.

    In many cases the client will already have their own sense of expectations from their massage experience which as they often do differ vastly from the masseuses expectations.

    So i think it’s important that both parties are clear what is to be expected and where the boundaries lie.

  12. I totally resonate with your views on this subject Shama. I always feel that there is something about massage, and Oriental massage in particular, which is subversive to the dominant paradigm – and that’s what I like about it. We are stepping over the usual boundaries that we keep between each other, with a condition of mutual trust. I always feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I am able to enter such a quiet and intimate space with another being, to communicate with their soul through touch. And I feel that their true healing comes from having someone listen and be present with them, and their suffering, for the entire length of the session: an acknowledgement of their being which can be so rare in our mechanised, medicalised lives. The power of this work isn’t something that can be grasped or objectified by a culture of isolation and compartmentalism. The sensual power of touch is primal.


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