As a matter of professional courtesy, all spas ask clients whether they prefer a male or female massage therapist. Surprise, surprise… The most common response is to ask for a female.
In fact, it’s so prevalent in the industry that, according to The American Massage Therapy Association, 86% of massage therapists are women. As unfair and discriminatory as it is, there are even some spas that won’t hire male massage therapists because they’re too hard to book.
So what are the perceptions that make succeeding as a male massage therapist so challenging? How do you overcome these difficulties?
Society’s Perception of Men
The first, and perhaps most obvious, challenge that faces male massage therapists is society’s perception of men in general. You know the popular myth that men think about sex every eight seconds? How about the common misconception that men only care about looks, or at the very least more so than women do?
As a man, you’ve probably been accused of not being able to empathize or connect. Men aren’t considered nurturers, just providers and protectors at the best of times. If you are nurturing, then people immediately assume you’re gay. In fact, if you touch another man at all, or let another man touch you, even in a completely non-sexual manner, you’re both automatically considered gay.
The only common perception against males that has a spark of validity to it (as it applies to the masses) is that males tend toward violence more than women do. Even this is a generalization, to be fair. But the majority of reported physical abuse cases are in fact men, so there is some cause for this belief.
You’ve probably already picked up on some of the problems a male massage therapist is bound to face, right? Fear, sexuality, and masculinity.
If having any kind of physical contact with another man is considered homosexual, then it’s no wonder most male clients consider it unthinkable to be massaged by a male therapist. It isn’t just a question of “will I be considered gay?” unfortunately.
Male clients tend to worry obsessively over the fact you, as a male massage therapist, might be gay. Whether you are or aren’t doesn’t matter: some parts of society believe you must be gay if you work in this industry.
While there certainly are gay male therapists, it does not matter. Your sexual orientation should not be an issue. Unfortunately, it’s part of a much larger problem in society’s perceptions: homophobia.
In fact, the very thought of having a male massage therapist makes many male clients cringe. They seem to be overwhelmed with fear and disgust.
Even male clients who are willing to work with a man might have some discomfort, because even though their private areas are covered, they’re still naked beneath the sheet. This, in the average heterosexual man’s thinking, is a state reserved for when there is a woman in the room. While they’re likely to still agree to have a male massage therapist work on them, they might ask to keep their clothes on.
Female clients have somewhat similar concerns when it comes to male therapists. Rather than being afraid that their masseur is gay, they fear that he isn’t. Women are afraid of being raped or fondled by a male therapist.
Is this a justifiable fear? Unfortunately, there certainly are cases where a male massage therapist has behaved inappropriately. His hands may have wandered uncomfortably high on a client’s inner thighs. Or a female client has been complimented on her body during a massage.
On almost every occasion, she stayed on the table because she wasn’t 100% sure that something really was amiss. But she’s certainly not going to agree to have another male massage therapist next time she goes for a massage.
Overcoming People’s Perceptions
Considering the difficulties facing honest male massage therapists, it’s understandably hard to overcome society’s perceptions. Luckily for you, it’s not impossible.
Preparation is key. It may seem like a basic concept, but preparation is fundamental to succeeding as a massage therapist, whether male or female.
As a man, you should be prepared to encounter the stigma attached (often unfairly) to male massage therapists. Understanding why they exist is the first step to overcoming them.
Most hotel spas have a standard uniform, as do athletic massage therapy centers. For those that don’t, there’s no reason not to look professional regardless. Many male massage therapists, in particular, tend to think they can get away with wearing casuals or work-out gear.
If you work at a venue that doesn’t have a standard uniform requirement, then a pair of neat khaki pants and a button-up or polo shirt is a good rule of thumb to follow.
If you’re starting a massage business of your own, or have already done so and need to get your name out there, then advertising is your first step. But you need to be careful how you advertise yourself.
You want a website, that’s for sure, but you also need to spread awareness on advertising platforms. There are a lot of sites where you can do so for free, but not all of them are a professional choice.
Sites like craigslist.com, for example, are awash with adverts for massage therapy services. But many of these have sexual undertones (or are even brazenly sexual), or inappropriate in other ways. Wording can be very misleading, so avoid using phrases like “full body”, “release”, and “draping optional”. Photographs are another major issue. Be very careful regarding your facial expressions!
No matter how professional your own wording, both on your site and your online adverts, sharing your services on sites like craigslist.com is a bad idea. Because the majority of massage service adverts on the site are sleazy, having yours up there associated your name with such activity. And if you want to be successful, you don’t want to propagate the negative perceptions.
Focus on Your Skills
Our last piece of advice is to be aware of the stigmas involving male massage therapists, but don’t focus on them. Don’t let fear of failure or discrimination turn you away from your passion—instead, focus on developing your skills.
All successful massage therapists, male and female, have one thing in common. They built up their professionalism and their skill set continuously. If business is slow, practice on your partner. Join another short course.
Focusing on the negatives won’t get you anywhere. Building lasting client relationships by focusing on your skills will.