Was this a legit massage?
November 6, 2014 10:06 AM   Subscribe

A few years ago, I bought a Groupon for a 45 minute massage at a day spa in the West Village in NYC. I've had professional massages before, so I knew what to expect, and for the majority of the massage nothing out of the ordinary happened. Toward the end, however, the massage therapist asked me if I wanted to extend the session longer (for an additional fee) and get a "front massage". I was enjoying the session and really liked the therapist, so I agreed. He had me flip over, and then massaged my stomach and chest, grazing the tops of my breasts (but never touching them beyond that). It felt quite intimate and almost erotic and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I'd never had a massage like that before or since. Is "front massage" a legit technique for a professional massage, or was this out of the ordinary?
posted by Neely O'Hara to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've had "stomach work" and "chest work" from my completely legit and professional massage therapist. It does feel slightly more "intimate" than when he does my back or arms or legs, but it's only because there's something about facing up and being able to see him that makes it much easier to attach the actual person to the touching, but I definitely wouldn't have described it as erotic, but that sounds like more how it felt for you rather than how the massage therapist behaved? He always covered everywhere except where he was actively working, and there was never anything untoward about it.

But there's muscles there too and there's no real reason they shouldn't be massaged.
posted by brainmouse at 10:18 AM on November 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I get massages all the time at cheap-o places in NYC. If I do a 1 hour massage, they do my back and my feet. If I do a 2-hour massage, they have me flip over and do my front -- usually a scalp massage, the neck, shoulders, and arms; some add the chest and stomach.

So, yes, it can be normal. I have no idea if yours was normal.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:19 AM on November 6, 2014

This happened to me at a hotel spa in Germany. (I'm American.) The therapist was a lady and she did my arms, legs, and feet from the front as well. I was a little surprised at the time, mostly because as I was left undraped above the waist. The hotel spa also had a clothing-optional pool so I just figured that was the norm.
posted by mochapickle at 10:20 AM on November 6, 2014

I've never heard it called front work...every massage I've ever had has had me lie on both my front for a while, and then my back (covered in both cases). In my case, no one's ever touched my breasts when I'm lying on my back, just arms, shoulders, sides, face, neck, etc.
posted by three_red_balloons at 10:29 AM on November 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've never heard the phrase "front work" before, but I've had massage therapists I know are legit ask me "back or front?" before a session. I've never had a front massage myself, but it definitely seems to be a thing.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:36 AM on November 6, 2014

I believe in massages and I've had involve front and back but front is primarily arms and shoulders. In an old school Turkish bath house in Istanbul I did have a more involved front massage. The massage was given by a stout and firm Turkish woman and a segregated bath house and was not remotely inappoprtiate but was odd. Was a great massage despite mild initial awkwardness. More involved did include the touching of breasts but treated them like regular old body everyday body parts.

Which is to say that I suppose it could be normal even in a different cultural context.
posted by countrymod at 10:38 AM on November 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've only ever had my stomach massaged once, but it was by a legit therapist. I didn't like it. Flipping to my back with my usual therapist involves, as others have said, face, scalp, neck, arms, shoulders, quads, and he usually does my feet when I'm lying on my back. If he decided he wanted to massage my abdomen, I would stop him.
posted by janey47 at 10:47 AM on November 6, 2014

I have had my pectoral muscles done, and it included the area at the tops of my breasts (and even the sides, to some extent). I've had psoas massaged, which is the closest I can think of to a stomach massage. I also had my buttocks unexpectedly massaged at a place in Chinatown. I would describe none of those experiences as "erotic". Ranging from "pleasant" to "somewhat painful" and "effective" perhaps, but not "erotic". (In all cases, however, the therapist was another woman and I wasn't having any other feelings of attraction.)

So....I don't think this is necessarily unusual, but his description of it as "front massage" instead of a more professional term makes me a little wary of his intent.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:10 AM on November 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had those little muscles under the arm pits alongside the boobs massaged --- and OMG, do I need to have that done again. It felt intimate because they were so close to my breasts, but I am a bustier kinda lady and there was substantial good pain involved that there was no way to mistake it for sexual.

I've also had the muscles and tendons in my clavicle area and chest area above my breasts massaged before as well. So needed what with nursing babies and knitting and desk work.

So this sounds within the realm of normal, but always ask questions if something is off to you, or express to your therapist that particular kind of touch is making you uncomfortable or that it's too much for you. A good massage therapist will quietly accept the statement and readjust technique/areas to your comfort.
posted by zizzle at 11:38 AM on November 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Professional masseuse are very responsive to your personal boundaries. I've had some massages that involved the masseuse getting up on the table and pushing and pulling various limbs using all sorts of parts of my body to stabilize themselves or provide proper leverage. At every stage, they told me what they were going to do, why they were going to do it, and made sure I was comfortable with it. I suspect if I'd said "well, no, don't do that," it would have been cool because, after all, I'm the client in this transaction.

To put it another way, the odds are fairly good that the 'front massage' was intended in a professional way. However, I encourage you to feel comfortable saying "whoa, hey not there" any time you feel your boundaries are being eroded. If you're not comfortable saying that, perhaps asking them periodically "what muscle are you working now" would give him or her the opportunity to reassure you that what they're doing is legit. YMMV, but my experience is that masseuse are pretty eager to talk about what they know about the human body and the conversation that ensues is invariably fascinating.

Yeah, but if you're not comfortable, say something or don't go back.

While she was in China, my wife got a massage from an older lady who went to town so aggressively on her breasts that she (and I quote here) "felt like [she] was being milked." I've had a mall masseuse in the mall concourse work my glutes so thoroughly that I felt like he owed me dinner or at least a phone call. Regular massages can lead to some situations that really redefine your boundaries if you're comfortable with that.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:13 PM on November 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

In the US, erotic massage is not considered part of what a licensed massage therapist does as part of their professional practice.

Simply being on your back does not mean it was an erotic massage though, there are muscles on that side of your body too. I usually get massages at a clinic attached to my doctor's office, certainly not catering to the spa relaxation market, and the massage therapist usually has me turn over partway through while they carefully hold the drape and look away. I certainly could say I don't want to turn over, but then I wouldn't get the muscles worked on that I'm there fore.

grazing the tops of my breasts (but never touching them beyond that)

It's not clear what occurred here, if the pectorals were being massaged, the breasts were bumped by accident, or if this was meant in an erotic way by the massage therapist.

It's quite possible for you to find something erotic even if that was not the intent. If you don't want a certain area touched, just say so.

If you are wanting to find out more about less legit unlicenced massage services for women, you might find this article on Nerve (NSFW) helpful.
posted by yohko at 1:41 PM on November 6, 2014

I have had massages many times where they massage both my back and my front, and even though the massage therapist has always been a "member of the appropriate sex," I have never, ever felt it to be anything other than a purely professional massage.

There was one instance where I had a massage in a different hotel spa than I usually do, and the massage therapist massaged my butt, reaching into my underwear to do so. She made me feel a little uncomfortable doing that; I was embarrassed -- it was a bit too intimate for my tastes -- but I had no idea (until I read comments here) that I could have told her I felt uncomfortable. (Instead, I told my wife, who had booked the massage for me.)
posted by tckma at 4:03 PM on November 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had my chest massaged before and they do indeed need to massage the top and sides of your breast area to get at those muscles. I didn't find it erotic but my breasts aren't a very strong erogenous zone for me so YMMV.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:16 PM on November 6, 2014

One of my best friends is a licensed massage therapist, and she has mentioned that it can be difficult to access and work the muscles of the upper chest on some women due to breast size/placement. This is the same friend who has no qualms about going straight to town on my glutes and inner thighs to correct tightness from rock climbing, so she's not shy.

Another (very busty) friend's "front massage" in a Middle Eastern, women-only spa turned into a breast, nipple, and lady bits massage worthy of a Penthouse letter.

I don't think what you got was a cheeky erotic massage, but in future if you're uncomfortable about your breasts being touched even accidentally, just say so before the session. That way you don't have to feel awkward about interrupting the therapist.

I've also received a surprise handy in a Thai massage parlor but that is a story for another time thankyouverymuch
posted by a halcyon day at 6:03 PM on November 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Massage therapist here. Your therapist could have explained better what he was doing, but the actual work he did sounds like it was legit. I work on people's pectoral (chest) muscles all the time, and do occasional abdominal work. But I explain what I am doing and why. A therapist shouldn't work on these areas without permission, because they are considered more intimate and personal than, say, the back.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 11:42 PM on November 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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