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?
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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.
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.