How to answer sensitive questions correctly
This article is meant to help Thai Massage therapists understand the difference between professional and unprofessional Thai Massage, and how to relate it to their clients.
How would you, as a massage therapist, respond if someone – let’s say your client – told you that they heard that Thai Massage is supposedly a sexy affair or related to prostitution?
You could of course respond no, that this is not true. But would you be sure that this is the only correct answer? After all, typically there is fire where there is smoke, so let’s investigate if there is any truth to this.
Knowing the whole truth and understanding the entire background of Thai Massage will give you the confidence and the knowledge to respond appropriately.
As someone who has spent 20 years in Thailand, I am well qualified to give you the whole picture and background of Thai Massage. So…
How is Thai Massage practiced nowadays?
Is there more than one category? Yes, there is. Thai Massage is used in several ways in Thailand:
How to deal with the most controversial category
Let’s first address the last category which no Western therapist wants to hear about, but which does exist.
I am a long-time professional Thai Massage therapist and instructor, and I have also been living in Thailand for two decades. There it is a well-known fact that there are quite a number of places that use Thai Massage as a front for sexual services.
How did it come to that?
Here is some history. During the Vietnam war tens of thousands of US soldiers came to Bangkok for a vacation and some R&R. As a result, Thai Massage in the gray zone, or should I say in the red zone, became a booming business and has been ever since.
That’s not the only reason. There are also countless men from Malaysia who are restricted by their Muslim religion. They cross the border into Thailand to avail themselves of a ‘Thai Massage’ without any religious or cultural restrictions and with ‘extra benefits’. It is thinly veiled prostitution.
And there are large numbers of Thai men who seek out such services as well. Not only that, the number of Thai men who avail themselves of Thai Massage with extra benefits is much larger than the foreigners who do that. So this is not primarily a foreigner’s issue.
It is also a fact that thousands of female Thai massage therapists migrated to lots of countries to practice Thai Massage – and mostly with ‘happy ends’. This has caused this seedy reputation of Thai Massage.
Don’t blame it all on just Thai Massage
However, we should set the record straight. It is not Thai Massage that lends itself as a front for sexual services, it is ANY massage!
I have traveled all over Asia, and I have yet to see a country where I was not offered a non-professional massage.
This is not an exclusive phenomenon of Thai Massage or Thailand. It is just that Thai massage is better known and more widespread than, let’s say Vietnamese or Burmese massage.
If you browse massage ads in any major city, you will find plenty of clearly non-professional offerings, if it’s San Francisco or Munich, or Tokyo. Massage in general has always been used as a lead-in by the sexual industry, and this is unlikely to ever change.
There are two sides to every story
This does not reduce the tremendous and well-established benefits of massage. A knife can be used to butter your bread or for criminal purposes. Massage can be used as a professional healing therapy, or as a sexual tool.
It is a fact that thousands of Thai women exported the seedy version of Thai Massage. But at the same time, lots of Thai women and Western therapists also exported the purely professional version of Thai Massage to many countries.
They opened Thai Massage establishments and schools and took their professional work very seriously. So both categories exist – the professional and the seedier version with happy ends and onramps to sexual services.
Before you judge Thai Massage, consider this…
However, there is no point in judging or condemning the latter since sexual desires will certainly never disappear, and neither will prostitution. We just have to live with the fact that massage can be used in more than one way. All we have to do is decide which way we are interested in.
So whoever insists that massage has to be an exclusively professional system, has to go live on another planet. On this one, it is certainly not going to happen.
My experience with professional Thai Massage
In my more than twenty years of practicing Thai Massage professionally, this has never been an issue for me. Hardly any client ever raised the issue, and I hardly ever had to talk about it. But if need be, I know how to present it and explain it, and so should you.
Professional Thai Massage therapy and Thai Massage or any massage as a sexual come-on are simply two different worlds. They are running on two separate tracks.
There is no need for the two to cross paths, and there is no need to moralize about the rights or wrongs of them. Fire can cook your meal or burn your house down. This does not make the fire good or bad, it is just how it is being used.
How to respond correctly
So the correct answer to the question if Thai Massage is a sexy business is to not flat-out deny it. It is better to explain that Thai Massage – and other massage types – can be and are used as sexual come-ons. This is the case in every major city in the world.
However, you offer a purely professional version. There is no reason that clients should concern themselves that it is being used in an unprofessional way by some.
You will convince clients better with honesty than with denial and fact-suppression. And you will feel more confident seeing the whole picture rather than trying to convince yourself and others that there is no such thing as a seedy Thai Massage.
Non-professional, yet ethical uses of massage
On another note, massage does feel wonderful and blissful – it is supposed to feel that way. It is appealing to the sense of touch. But sensual is not the same as sexual. The difference is in the intent. We instinctively stroke our babies, our children, and our lovers.
Who would not appreciate having a spouse or partner who is able to give you a wonderful sensual massage? Therefore massage also has a perfectly legitimate place in our bedrooms. It can improve or even save relationships and marriages,
There is nothing wrong or bad about massage being used as a sensual or sexual tool. It all depends on the context. Sensual massage can be a great relationship tool for couples.
Lovers massaging each other is a perfectly good use of massage. So massage is not always a purely professional affair, nor should it be.
Sexual massage as part of prostitution is something that will never disappear as long as there is demand. And there has never been any shortage of that. We just have to live with this fact.
Non-professional massage is not always ‘bad’
As you can see, there are two versions of non-professional massage: The loving couple in their bedroom, and the seedy massage shop where the therapist provides happy-end sessions.
Therefore we need to be cautious when saying that all non-professional massage is ‘bad’. That’s not true. Of course, professional massage obviously needs to be totally non-sexual.
Different strokes for different folks
The lines between professional and non-professional and ethical and non-ethical massage are not so clearly drawn in Asia. The reason is that there are different sets of values and different cultural backgrounds.
Sometimes professional massage and social encounters overlap. Here in Thailand, even totally professional Thai Massage is often more of a social event than in Western countries.
Thai-style social Thai Massage
The massage mats are all lined up in one room on the floor with no separation between them. The therapists chat with each other and with their clients. For many Westerners, this is a convenient setting to meet Thai women (their massage therapists), and vice versa.
It is simply a fact that many men who visit Thailand are looking for relationships. It is just as true that many female Thai Massage therapists in Thailand are on the lookout for a Western man, their knight on a white horse.
Dating between massage therapists and clients is considered unethical in most of the Western world. However, it is commonly done in Thailand and other Asian countries.
There are higher-end massage shops that prohibit this, but this is not necessarily for ethical reasons. It’s often because the massage establishment owner knows that once a therapist dates a Western client, chances are that she will stop working and they lose a valuable therapist.
The phenomenon of ‘Thai Massage marriages’
Many relationships and marriages started out in a professional massage shop. I am an authority on that subject. I met my Thai wife in a massage shop in Thailand. 22 years later we are still together and happily married.
I have met many Thai women all over the world who are married to Western men. Often their first acquaintance happened when the man received a massage session from this woman in a Thai Massage shop in Thailand.
While this is considered inappropriate and unethical in the Western world, it is a common way for a foreign man to meet his spouse in Thailand.
I should add that this is typically only happening between Thai women and Western men. It is generally not the case with Thai men since there are more traditional social paths of finding their spouses available to them.
There is professional and non-professional Thai Massage. It is pretty obvious what the professional version is. It is paid work by trained, qualified, and licensed therapists.
The non-professional version is split into two categories. One is called non-professional because it is non-commercial – there is no money involved. It happens between family, friends, or lovers.
The second non-professional version would better be called ‘unprofessional’. This is where Thai Massage is not the real goal of the session. Instead, it is a come-on for services that have nothing to do with massage, but rather with the ‘oldest profession’ in the world.
Let’s talk about learning Thai Massage
While this article focused on a rather sensitive topic and on the background of the various categories of Thai Massage, let’s conclude with Thai Massage training options.
My Thai wife and I founded Thai Healing Massage Academy in Thailand in 2001. Since then we have been providing live and online training to thousands of students.
Nowadays we exclusively provide high-quality online training. This allows anyone from anywhere in the world to learn the beautiful art of Thai Massage in a professional setting. Students benefit from teacher support, a student community, certification, and CEUs.
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 Thai Massage online training courses.