How to Tell if Your Massage Crosses the Line–in Case You Weren’t Sure

I was dying for a massage and passed by a nice little Healing & Wellness studio near my house. I called the number, spoke with the guy who told me all about his practice and I made a massage appointment. I usually don’t get male massage therapists but for some reason I just didn’t particularly care that day. When I showed up the guy was young, healthy, clean-looking… nothing to alert me that I should have gotten back in my car and said ‘no thank you’. He took me back to a private room behind a sushi spot / high end asian art gallery and I got undressed and laid on the table, like usual. The first half of the massage was fine. Not great by any means, but fine. And then he started on my legs. He was spending a LOT of time on my butt and upper thighs. And then he was really getting into my inner thighs, breathing out heavily on occasion (the way therapists sometimes do when they’re empathizing with the amount of f%^ked-up your back is). But it just kept going. And going. Eventually I just had to say, “You know what, man? I’m good. You can stop.”  Then, as quickly as I could, I gathered my things, paid him and left.

How to Tell If Your Massage Has Gone Too Far - Modern Vintage Life

In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t paid. I wish I had severely scolded him and then posted a scathing Yelp review. But something happens when I’m in those vulnerable positions. I always give the other person the benefit of the doubt. I come up with excuses for why I shouldn’t assume someone is ripping me off, taking advantage of me, etc. I WANT to be a glass-half-full kinda girl. Yet, if I know someone is being an asshole, I will tell them. With no qualms. Hey! You’re being an asshole! Knock it off! The problem is that predators are often skilled in making the victim feel like they are the ones doing something wrong, whether overreacting, or inciting unwanted interaction.

To avoid uncertainty in this gray area, which like many scenarios women face seem on the surface like they shouldn’t be so gray but totally are, we did a little research into what proper massage etiquette (on both the therapist and the customer) is and what exactly is considered normal. Here’s what we found.

  • Elle Magazine wrote a post on what massage therapists expect from you. Basically, be sure to communicate beforehand. If you’re confused or uncomfortable about something, just ask.. It’ll save you the awkward conversation later. Plus, at least in some cases, if we talk to him a bit before and sense the BS–maybe we can get out before it goes too far. (If only we could always know.)
  • POPSUGAR basically answers all those awkward, ‘so do I wear anything?‘ questions for all you first timers
  • Next up, we looked into some of the top spas in Los Angeles to see what they had to say. Wilshire Massage gives an overview of each type of massage, so you don’t walk in blindly.
  • A massage therapist interviewed in Travel + Leisure puts it simply: If it gets weird, it’s gone too far. Basically, this service is for you. If YOU feel weird about it, it’s not okay.
  • No legitimate spa or therapist wants to be associated with all the stigma around the profession, so if you’re feeling uncomfortable, it’s a pretty big red flag. A few years back, for example, California passed a law that introduced a series of tighter regulations around certification, which was a good call for both the professional and the customer. However, in our state, the industry still isn’t as regulated as most others.

Do I think that kindly telling this particularly ‘therapist’ that I was uncomfortable would’ve really helped? I’ll never really know. But I sure hope that if you DO feel uncomfortable, you find a way to voice your concern: we all know that dudes like this don’t stop until they’re forced to, and it harms both us and the males that are actually just doing their job.

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  • Reply Zara

    Aww your massage experience doesn’t sound very relaxing, poor you. That would definitely make me feel uncomfortable as well.

    August 26, 2016 at 6:27 am
  • Reply Jocelyn

    Well, that is unfortunate. That sucks that you went through that. I’ve always been a little iffy about massages. I just personally have an issue letting a stranger touch me. Luckily for me my sister-in-law is a massage therapist and when I need a massage, she is the only person I can trust. Otherwise I’d never get one.

    August 26, 2016 at 7:17 am
  • Reply Deb English

    I hope that you can find someone you trust because massage is so important!

    August 26, 2016 at 9:49 am
  • Reply Vicki Burris

    Thanks for the reminder. So easy to think all are professional and trusting.

    August 28, 2016 at 5:38 pm
  • Reply Berengere

    I can relate to what you wrote so much ! even though it’s not because of a massage.. sometimes just a look, a sentence, a gesture… something you’re not 100% sure was wrong, but made you felt bad.
    You’re so right when you wrote: “The problem is that predators are often skilled in making the victim feel like they are the ones doing something wrong, whether overreacting, or inciting unwanted interaction.” When you are uncomfortable with a man and when you say it, either you’re not funny, or prude…. Even when you tell your friend about it, it’s often said that you’re overreacting… “you should have told him to stop, he would have, he was just joking, it’s not a big deal”.
    I think (and it’s easier to say than to do) than every time we felt uncomfortable we should say it and tell the man “those are my limits”. It will make ourself feel better, and maybe even help other women who do not dare speak up….
    And never mind if we are said to be not funny… we know who we are and what matters is how we feel, not what other people think of us!
    And we should follow our instinct!

    September 8, 2016 at 3:48 am
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