A Costanza moment, if you will.
January 8, 2010 9:44 PM   Subscribe

Do massage therapists normally expose and then rub your butt?

I know nothing about massage therapy, but my back has been bothering me, so I went to get a massage today. My local mall has a massage "store" that is run by older Asian women who speak very little English. They have certificates on the wall, and seem very kind and (I guess) professional.

I was the only one in the store, and we were behind a screen. Things were going fine, and then she pulled my boxers about halfway down and started rubbing my butt.

It didn't seem sexual or anything, but it made me uncomfortable, especially since I'm married and thus believe only my wife should be seeing my rear end. Between how surprised I was and the language barrier, I just decided to ride it out (I'm from southeastern U.S. and we tend to respond to awkwardness by being quiet).

I know that in the future, I need to set up some ground rules up front, but I'm curious: is this how massages are normally done?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it's pretty normal; there are a lot of muscles in that area that affect your back. On the other hand, if anything in a massage is uncomfortable you should always politely tell them to stop.
posted by mail at 3:53 AM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

It didn't seem sexual or anything, but it made me uncomfortable, especially since I'm married and thus believe only my wife should be seeing my rear end.

Well, presumably you'd say something similar like "I believe only I should be seeing my wife's breasts" but you know that that is in fact not true. I assume, for example, that you'd be fine with your wife's breasts being seen by her gynaecologist, mammography provider, and the nice bra fitting ladies at Nordstrom's. In other words: with people for whom exposure to particular body parts is part of their professional service provision.

With massage, pretty much all parts are fair game outside of genitalia. If you are specifically having back issues, the musculature located just east, west and south of your coccyx is pretty key, especially if you're having lower back pain or fatigue.

By all means, you have the right to set your own personal comfort boundaries around your own body exactly where you want to. So if in the future, you want to hang on to the bum towel, that's your right and you should absolutely be comfortable with how and where people touch you. But you might also try re-framing the experience in terms of professional service provision along the lines of other body-centric providers.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:08 AM on January 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

It is absolutely normal. But, if you feel uncomfortable with someone rubbing your bare buttocks and you feel that massage helps your back pain, I would suggest going to a massage therapist who speaks english well enough to understand whatever boundaries you need in place. Generally, a massage therapist will ask a series of questions, beforehand and during, about your level of comfort with touch and nakedness.
posted by Hydrofiend at 4:13 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Normal. Sometimes they'll do your groin too. It sounds more sexual/fun than it is.(It's bloody painful) Those muscles stablise your back and need the attention. My rule of thumb (bum?) is that if they don't knead your bum and make it hurt, they weren't really working hard enough.
posted by taff at 4:18 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

To reiterate my prior, sadly wiped response - totally normal. Back goes down to butt, butt gets tight.
posted by smoke at 4:45 AM on January 9, 2010

Based on your description, it sounds like they pulled the boxers down far enough to work on the upper glutes and lower lumbar region. And if your back is an issue, that is an area that more times than not must be addressed. The key is to expose only as much skin as necessary. I work on my clients' glutes and hips all the time. When I get a client who leaves his boxers on under the towel, I feel bad for him because he's basically telling me to not do the best job I can.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:13 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

To reiterate my own sadly wiped response, yep, have had bits below the waist massaged, albeit with hands under my jeans waistline rather than them being pulled down. I was seeking lower back pain help specifically so it made sense to me.

Someone else commented (before comments were wiped) that you can request "no glutes" if you prefer non-butt-uncoverage. Just in case they don't come back to repeat that advice.
posted by springbound at 6:38 AM on January 9, 2010

Agreed with above posts--I've experienced this, but I'm pretty sure it was over the undies, and no one tried to pull on them. I think Hydrofiend brings up a great point! If there are certain boundaries you need to be able to communicate, going to a massage therapist who can understand and respond appropriately to your requests would be best.

When I get a client who leaves his boxers on under the towel, I feel bad for him because he's basically telling me to not do the best job I can.
It's a good thing if someone can confidently set a boundary when s/he needs to. Isn't that better than lying on your table, being tense and afraid that you might touch a specific (and unprotected, in his/her eyes) body part, and without permission? Wouldn't it be better to leave their undies on than to allow themselves to be vulnerable if you were to touch a part of them, not knowing that it might be a trigger for past trauma or something along those lines (especially if you didn't know to ask about it beforehand)? I would suggest that you not make that about you.
posted by so_gracefully at 6:47 AM on January 9, 2010

It is normal, but the woman I sometimes get massages from always asks if I'm comfortable with it before starting in that area.
posted by not that girl at 6:48 AM on January 9, 2010

The reason humans have large glutes (compared to other primates) is not to power the legs, but to hold up the spine, and the large leveraging weight on its top end, the head. Back pain arises because holding the spine erect is only barely within the capabilities of a body plan that originated and spent about 371 million years in tetrapods and quaprupeds, in which the spine, rather than bearing weight, hangs between two pairs of legs.

In contrast, load-bearing spines have been around only about 4 million years in bipeds, and only about a million years in large-brained, large-skulled humans.

Massaging the glutes, then, is essential if the massage is to provide any lasting relief for most back pain. Massage through clothing doesn't allow the masseuse enough precision and control to give an effective massage. Had she not massaged your glutes, you'd not have gotten a decent massage. Of course, she should have asked, but apparently assumed you were a more experienced customer.
posted by orthogonality at 7:42 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes - not only is it normal but it's essential to work on the lower-back support. I have sports and Shiatsu massage and this is a key part of those styles of massage for the backs of runners and desk-bound workers in particular. I agree that if it's not firm, intense and perhaps painful - then it might be suspect. It's muscle release and, while intimate, should not feel kinky.
posted by Hugobaron at 7:53 AM on January 9, 2010

IANALMT(licensed massage therapist) but I did go to massage school and my best friend is a LMT. Everyone above is correct that massaging the glutes helps immensely with lower back pain but getting under your boxers is not necessary. It is quite possible to massage on top of the sheet/towel/blanket/boxers and still relieve your pain.

I think you should find a therapist you can communicate with about your level of comfort. This should have all been covered (haha) before your massage started.
posted by shmurley at 8:15 AM on January 9, 2010

Indeed it is normal and non-sexual. Your lower back has muscles that do indeed go down into the top half of your butt.

However, you also should have felt comfortable enough to say "uh, can you leave the boxers up while you do that?" And if you'd done so, a respectable massage therapist would have complied.

I hope that doesn't sound like I'm chiding you or saying "this is all YOUR fault for not speaking up" -- hey, you didn't know. Also, I hope that you don't end up feeling like you're being chided for your discomfort in the first place -- this may indeed be nonsexual and proper and yadda yadda, but if you still feel weird about your butt being naked, that's perfectly valid.

But in future, absolutely feel free to speak up and ask your therapist not to expose you in any way that you don't feel comfortable being exposed. In fact, really good massage therapists will ask you about that beforehand, but if yours doesn't, by all means please feel free to mention it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:52 AM on January 9, 2010

I know nothing of massages, but if you were having lower back problems, that doesn't seem out of order. I mean, the leg bone is attached to the knee bone and all that. I guess next time just make a noise or movement or say no thank you and it won't go that low.
posted by sanka at 12:46 PM on January 8, 2010

I have never experienced it in the US, but they did do that in Iceland.
posted by matildaben at 12:51 PM on January 8, 2010

I've had massages where they never move the towel, and other massages where they ask if it's ok first. I've never had a massage therapist just go for it without asking. But I've not had that many massages in my life (maybe 10 total).
posted by cabingirl at 12:52 PM on January 8, 2010

I have actually never been to a massage from a LMT where I remained in my underwear! (And yes, I am seeing trained professionals. They leave the room, I strip completely, get under the sheet, they come back in after knocking.) I have frequent lower back problems and sometimes they spend as much as 30 minutes of the session with an elbow or two thumbs in my glutes. (Therefore allowing me to spring off the table and walk again after literally HOBBLING in.) Generally they pull the sheet down to expose my back and the top of my butt, and then later expose one leg at a time and a good section of my butt. Do not be alarmed and also please find LMTs that you trust and get rewarding work from.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:08 AM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes it is normal, even desirable. I've been to spas both here and in Japan and have had full body massages. I've always been asked to disrobe completely and the therapist drapes towels over the area he/she is not working on so you remain warm. I've had men and women rub me front and back and it never felt icky or sexual. I think that having your pants on probably made it feel weird-- that and the fact that it was a store front massage parlor in a mall rather than a dedicated spa or a therapist's office.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:44 PM on January 9, 2010

Also reiterating the normalcy of the situation, but I do think it's perfectly OK to leave your underwear on. I've moved quite a few times since I started getting massage and had a lot of different massage therapists. About half of my therapists stated very clearly that if I wanted to leave my underwear on, then I could do so. I assumed the rest were OK with it and just didn't say anything. Most therapists were able to work through the fabric or just inched them down a little. It's something you'll get used to, although now I mostly go without. I've never had a therapist say anything negative about leaving underwear on - I've always thought it was perfectly reasonable to do so. If there was a problem, I'd appreciate it if they talked to me about it.
posted by bristolcat at 1:25 PM on January 9, 2010

Dumb vagary here, no one gets to touch you where you don't want to be touched. "Massage" artists aren't doctors; it just feels good where they rub. If it made you uncomfortable, it's 100% in your court to limit them. They may be (unfortunately) very accustomed to clientele wanting as much rubbed as possible, if you know what I mean. Doesn't remotely mean you have to subject yourself to anything that makes you remotely uncomfortable, regardless of their English skills.
posted by carlh at 4:51 PM on January 9, 2010

My masseuse rubs my tushie through the blanket and thank god, because girlfriend is strong and man, it hurts. She does this after she's rubbed my back and then one tushie cheek at a time including hip bone before rubbing down a leg.

Next time you go for a massage, you should totally ask the masseuse about his/her method -- will you be face down or face up? Where do they start? Where to do they end? What do they typically rub on? Etc.
posted by gsh at 7:54 PM on January 9, 2010

Correcting a few notes here for the OP, and reiterating some things we've all said:

"Massage" artists aren't doctors; it just feels good where they rub.

However, massage therapists are called that because they are medically trained as therapists, for pain relief and muscle therapy. It is not a sexual encounter.

They may be (unfortunately) very accustomed to clientele wanting as much rubbed as possible, if you know what I mean.

The kinds of "massage" which turn sexual and the massage for pain relief are two very, very different things. The kinds of massage therapists and masseuses you'd be visiting for medical reasons are trained to stay within the bounds of the client's own personal comfort. Massage for theraputic purposes is strictly and ethically NON-sexual, and very strict codes are in place to keep it thus. The kind which is for pain relief is strictly regulated, and if you're visiting a massage therapist who is indeed "accustomed to clientele wanting 'as much rubbed as possible'," you're not at a massage therapist.

Proper massage therapists are strict about not getting sexual, and that includes putting the client at ease when it comes to exposing body parts.

Doesn't remotely mean you have to subject yourself to anything that makes you remotely uncomfortable, regardless of their English skills.

However, certified massage therapists undergo several years of training to get their certificates, so I would imagine the kinds of massage therapists you'd be visiting would be just fine in their "English skills", so I'm sure you need not fear speaking up about wanthing to stay covered.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:24 PM on January 9, 2010

Prior to receiving a massage from a legitimate practitioner, the client is asked to disrobe to their comfort level while the therapist waits outside the treatment room. That may mean leaving on the undies or not. That's entirely up to YOU. Sometimes doing a massage, yeah, if the muscles in that area are being worked, a therapist might need to lower the waistband a few inches as you described.. but he/she should ask you first. Sounds like she forgot to ask. :p It is entirely possible to work the glutes through clothing, but clothing does make it harder to feel the trigger points in the muscles that an MT may be looking for. Happens that I am a licensed massage therapist, and I worked hard to finish school (600 hours) then get my license and national certification. Any questions, feel free to ask.

What state are you in? A majority of them require licensing.
http://www.massagetherapy.com/careers/stateboards.php is one place you can look up the regs for your state.
posted by keptwench at 2:42 PM on January 10, 2010

EmpressCallipygos's addendums to my post are completely accurate.
posted by carlh at 4:41 PM on January 10, 2010

Am I the only one who's tickled by EmpressCallipygos's participation in this thread?
posted by dantekgeek at 9:51 PM on January 10, 2010

Adding to the chorus that this is perfectly normal, and A Good Thing for a proper back massage. No harm in leaving your underwear on, I do too, and my massage therapist just scoots it down a little when she's doing the upper half of my butt.
posted by desuetude at 8:49 PM on January 11, 2010

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