“Outrage” Over Redbook Massage Article – Relax Folks!

A response to the response to the Redbook Massage article

Even Massage Therapists Need to Loosen Up Sometimes!

By Daniel Melmed
Owner & Founder, Body Well Therapy

Recently a Redbook Magazine article caused quite a stir when they published an article in which a married woman confessed to arranging for “happy ending” massages with an unlicensed male “massage therapist” in New York.

In the Redbook massage article, among other things, the woman explained that it actually helped her sex life with her husband. She detailed how she went onto the craigslist personals website to screen and locate this individual and pretty much went through the whole experience from beginning to end.

The part of this story that interests me the most is actually the response from the massage therapy community. Unsurprisingly, all across social media there was outrage expressed by male and female professional massage therapists alike. The larger massage therapy associations including ABMP, AMTA and FSMTA sprang into action writing letters and demanding an apology from Redbook. Nothing seems to get massage therapist’s blood boiling like a story that relates them to elicit and sexual “massage” services.

I realize that I am in the minority in my view, but there are many other issues affecting massage therapists that get me much more outraged and vocal than something like this. I happen to believe that massage therapists in general are often much too uptight about this issue. I fully understand that as a profession we have made great strides through a lot of concerted effort to earn respect as a profession, and distance ourselves from the notion that we provide anything other than professional services that fall within our code of ethics. Indeed this has been a great challenge for us, and the reality is we have come a long way, even in just the past 10 years or so.

In my opinion, those who are the most outraged by this type of article are ones who are stuck a bit in the past, clinging to old battles that have largely already been won! It’s 2014 and massage is now mainstream. Most people these days are well aware of the differences between a professional service and one that isn’t, and have a decent idea of where to go for one or the other.

That said, there are certainly things that legitimate massage therapists still have to deal with frequently that border, or cross into impropriety. It’s unfortunately but it comes with the territory. Let’s be honest – it doesn’t matter how much we whine about it – occasional flirtation or suggestiveness, while discouraged, is inevitable. You had to know when you signed up for a job that involves rubbing oil on naked people that things might come “up” once in a while! To see it otherwise is, I feel, just being naïve, if not simply prude. To be clear I’m not condoning any of this – if anything it makes my job more difficult and I wish this were not an issue in any way, shape or form. And like every massage therapist, I’ve heard the tired jokes about “do you do happen endings”? Yes, that’s really old and unoriginal at this point, but why get uptight about it? I just shrug it off and hope the person realizes it wasn’t really funny, and they may pass on the weak joke next time. The point is that how you look at the issue, or even obsess over it, matters.

There are many other much more relevant and tangible issues that we face as a profession as we move forward that deserve our attention and energy. Among them are fighting against unfair and prejudicial local regulations which continue to exist in many municipalities, getting more acceptance within the medical community so that we can provide services to those under their insurance plans, reciprocal and cross-border licensing issues, and more. These are the fights for which we should be harnessing our energy and mobilizing our resources… not getting into a tizzy because of a silly article in a women’s magazine that is largely written for purposes of titillation and attention grabbing.

I actually think that giving attention to this kind of article is completely counterproductive. If anything it exposes massive insecurities that persist within our profession. We should have more confidence in what we do than to get upset about something which, if we are the professionals that we claim to be, has absolutely nothing to do with us or our practice. In other words, the sooner massage therapists can get over this issue, the sooner everybody else will also move on and leave these associations in the past where they belong.

There are a few larger issues at play here which I’d also like to mention. One thing that concerns me is the fact that we do have free speech in this nation, as guaranteed by the first amendment of the United States Constitution. I think it is fine to express distaste to Redbook for this article and for the massage associations to send letters supporting their members, but unless the story is a complete fabrication, the magazine has every right to publish it and should not apologize or, as it appears they have done, remove the article from their website. I think doing that was quite cowardly on their part. Journalists should not be pressured to remove content that is genuine, even if some people are offended. That is not the kind of society we live in or should want to live in.

The other larger issue I’d like to address briefly is that of prostitution. The primary reason massage therapists have to deal with this issue to begin with is because of the prohibition on the world’s oldest profession in the United States. Ironically, if prostitution were decriminalized and regulated, the divide between what that is, and what professional licensed massage therapy is, would become even more abundantly clear. This would all but eliminate misunderstandings and other perceived gray areas when individuals are seeking various kinds of services. The legal prohibition on prostitution creates the situation where massage therapy is often misused as a front for that kind of activity. This would no longer be necessary if those providing sexual services could do so openly.

The massage therapy profession has evolved immensely over the years. It’s time that attitudes catch up with the times, including those of massage therapists themselves.

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  • There are some issues I have with this article being published because I’m not going to lie that it does bother me that people often make fun of my profession as a massage therapist and ask if I do happy endings. I do gear myself and put more energy into making my massage therapy business more medically based than anything else, and am working on getting some coverage with insurances, although still very hard which also kills me. On the other hand, the main reason that it bothers me so much that our profession gets scrutinized so much is because of the nature of our jobs dealing with naked or nearly naked people on a table under sheets. In reality, this happens in every profession. I’m talking about sexual harassment, solicitations and inappropriate conduct however our job seems to get more centrally focused because people have to disrobe. That is what frustrates me the most because it happens everywhere yet our jobs seem to be made fun of the most.

  • Very well said. I’m new to the industry, still in school. I also live in an area that promotes wellness and massage. I honestly didn’t realize these issues existed until recently. I guess I’ve just always realized the difference and assumed others did too. The happy ending jokes are old but you have to take it with a grain of salt and don’t feed into it. I respect with and agree with your opinion on this specific incident and appreciate you speaking out.

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