No happy endings...
October 19, 2006 7:43 AM   Subscribe

I've never been to a spa or had a 'real' massage...but I want to now. What can I expect?

So, I'm dying to get a professional massage in a spa. But having never been to one, I have no idea what to expect.

I need to know all the basics.. What does a typical full-body massage entail? What are the disrobing procedures? How is tipping handled (and what amount is appropriate)? I am male, and would much prefer a massage from a female -- is that appropriate to ask for, or will I seem like a pervert? How would I ask for that? Anything else I should know?

Thank you!
posted by eas98 to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Feel free to ask for either a male or female, just as long as you are perfectly clear this is an asexual experience. They will lead you in the room, the table will have some nice sheets and a blanket on. They will probably ask you whether you've had a massage before, and whether you have any particular sore spots, and whether you prefer a certain type of massage. You could say you are looking for a relaxing or reinvigorating massage, that is pretty neutral. If you like a lot of pressure or not so much pressure, say that. Also be sure to speak up during the massage if you are not getting what you want. So once you have a little chat with the therapist, they'll ask you to undress and get on the table and usually they'll tell you start face down or on your back. Then they'll leave the room and give you some privacy to get undressed and get on the table. I would suggest going fully nude, but if you are uncomfortable with that, leave on underwear. Pull the covers up over you. They'll knock and come back in and get started. At some point you'll be asked to turn over, the therapist will hold up the covers and you'll flip, she or he won't be able to see anything. Tipping is a good idea, I usually go for 15-20%.
posted by sulaine at 7:50 AM on October 19, 2006

Just to tag onto this question, can people post the girl-related equivalent info as well? And what's the difference between all the different types of massages you can get? What's the best for a first time?
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:00 AM on October 19, 2006

sulaine hit on all the important stuff. The only thing I would add for the ticklish and, uhh, shy: If you don't want to turn over, you can ask just to lay on your belly the whole time.

Also, some spas will send you for a couple minutes in a sauna before your massage.

I usually just tip a $20 bill (for a typical 1 hour, $80 massage).
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:05 AM on October 19, 2006

Same goes for males or females. I think the first time it is good to go for a swedish or general full body massage 50-65 minutes. I would ask around for recommendations for therapists as that is the most important. I can recommend people in Madison or Chicago, though that might not be much help.
posted by sulaine at 8:06 AM on October 19, 2006

I would also add let them know if you have any injuries before hand or if there is a spot you would like them to work more on.

Expect pain too. I don't know about the lot of you, but my first massage was quite painful. I was expecting tender touching (or something like that) but what I got was deep muscle massage that left me sore on the day of the massage. The day after I felt wonderful!
posted by bleucube at 8:22 AM on October 19, 2006

Definitely tip 15-20%. It's hard work! You can hand it to them afterwards, or usually you can include it on your tab, or put it in a small envelope that the front desk will have and they'll pass it on to him/her.

Be clean when you go, but expect to be oily/creamy when you're done. Your face my have oils/creams on it. But you could ask the masseuse not to massage your face (that would be a mistake though, since it feels great).

Some places let you use their spa for the day, if they have one (e.g. mostly resort spas).

Ladies, I try not to have stubble on my legs when I go. Just seems gross for the massage therapist. (Oh, I've heard they prefer to be called massage therapist rather than masseuse.) May not be true, but I try for that.

Don't be worried about your body. They see all types.

Men tend to give harder, deeper massages. This can be nice.

Some massage therapists will ask you about iffy body areas - e.g. stomach, breasts (overseas, I've found this, anyway), butt - and whether you want them done at all. I don't much like the first two, but a butt massage feels fantastic.

Yes, swedish is a good start.
posted by Amizu at 8:30 AM on October 19, 2006

I'm sure the experience varies from one location (spa, city) to another, but here goes....

You'll be greeted at the reception area and shown around. There may be a seperate change/locker room, or you may just disrobe in the massage room. Spas will usually always provide you with a robe, and possibly disposable underwear and footwear. You may be offered various facilites such as a steam room, cups of tea, etc. Spas are all about pampering and not just the massage, it's a whole experience (this is usually reflected in the price of a spa massage as compared to a non-spa).

If you want a female therapist, ask for one. The person you talk to may or may think you are a pervert, that's their hang up. Most likely they won't blink an eye. The truth is, female therapists are more in demand than male. A lot of women feel more comfortable with a female therapist, and a lot of men feel more comfortable with a female therapist. Yes, this is a bit unfair, but people have issues and that's life. What matters is that it's YOUR massage, and they are being paid to make you feel as relaxed and comfortable as reasonably possible. As long as you don't ask for a blonde DD cup that provides happy endings, there is no reason for them to think you are a pervert.

After you arrive, you should be asked to fill out an intake form, listing any medical issues and also giving you informed consent over which areas will/won't be massaged. Areas covered by informed consent are glutes, abdomen, face, head, chest...I even include feet. Any area that someone may not like being touched. If you don't want them touching a particular area, let them know and they will skip it. If there is something you particularly do enjoy, feel free to mention it (it may or may not make a difference, some therapists will just do a routine, others will take your preferences & needs more into account and make each session individual.) If someone tells me they particularly enjoy a certain aspect, I'll pay a bit more attention to that area.

PLEASE speak up at any time during the massage if you want to..harder, lighter, that hurts, I'm cold, I'm hot, the music sucks, I need to go to the toilet....whatever. So often people put up with a massage they don't enjoy without saying anything! If you have questions, ask. I've heard lots of stories about people getting massages they haven't liked, and usually no one ever complains to the therapist, during or after. If anything at all isn't satisfactory, speak up! Your therapist should appreciate it and do whatever they can to make you feel as blissful as possible.

I won't say anything about tipping, as I am in Austalia and the tipping culture is different over here.

Feel free to email me if you wish, I can direct you to some great mail lists if you don't get all your answers here.
posted by goshling at 8:31 AM on October 19, 2006

It might be painful but it doesn't have to be. So again, speak up.

You might have a therapist who wants to be chatty or one who isn't. It's a personal choice about whether you want to talk during your massage. Personally I like to be quiet and just enjoy it. Don't be afraid to talk if you want to OR to say something like "I've had such a long day, I hope you don't mind if I'm not very conversational."
posted by clairezulkey at 8:37 AM on October 19, 2006

I just got my first massage not too long ago. I planned to order something off the "menu" of options, but in the end I just talked to the masseuse about why I was there and what areas I'd like particular attention paid to.

After our initial conversation, I was escorted to the room where the massage was actually going to take place -- it was somewhat dimly lit, there were scented oils filling the room with pleasant smells, and an Enya-like CD was playing. I was asked to disrobe to my level of comfort and lie down on the massage table under a sheet while she left the room. Not knowing how much skin would be exposed, I left my underpants on but took everything else off.

She came back in and asked me if I had any allergies that might show up in cosmetics. She let me smell several oil/lotions, and together we selected a scented lotion that she'd use on my body.

I started out lying face down, and the massage therapist started with my shoulders and worked her way down through my calves and feet. There was nothing sexual about it -- including the butt part -- it was just very relaxing. She gave different parts of my body different amounts of attention based on what I asked for and what she could feel in my muscles.

My eyes were closed and I breathed deep and relaxed for a lot of this, and even though I could feel hands and pressure it was a surreal experience. I didn't always know what side of the table she was on, and I'd be surprised she could reach from here to there or exert so much pressure considering how small she was.

After she was done with that side of my body, she asked me to flip over. She lifted the sheet that was on top of me and looked away. I rolled over so I was face up, and she resumed the massage.

She started by having me release the weight of my head completely into her hands, and she massaged my scalp and neck. She then moved on to my shoulders, my arms, my legs, my feet.

I'm a woman, and she didn't go near my breasts or any part of the front of my torso. There was nothing in the genital area either. There was nothing sexual about it at all, it was just relaxing.

My husband was getting his first massage in the next room, and his experience was similar, but he asked for different things. He has a lot of back pain, and he was interested in more deep tissue work. I think he laid face down for the entire length of the massage, and his masseuse just focused on his neck, back and shoulders. His experience was much more painful than mine, but that was what he wanted. And he felt great for days afterwards.

I have a tendancy to interview people about their lives when I'm making conversation, so I asked my massage therapist about how it all works. At respectable places -- such as those associated with day spas -- there are very few creeps or sexual weirdos. I guess at smaller shops massage therapists have to deal with that, and most really, really, are bothered by it. She's seen every kind of body you can imagine, from anorexic to obese, and as long as people are clean and respectful she's not really bothered by how people look. Seeing the range of other bodies that exist made her more comfortable with her own, she said. She also told me that she only gets paid when she's working, and she only gets a cut of the total bill -- a lot of it goes toward the shop's expenses. She'll be on call for maybe 60 hours a week -- which means she has to be able to get to the spa within 10 minutes -- but even during the peak season she rarely works 40 hours a week. During slow periods, the work is even sparser. That really drove home the importance of tipping.

I think we ended up tipping 15 or 20 percent for our two massages.

This was two months ago, and I definitely would like to do it again.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:47 AM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you could use a full-body workup, go for a Thai massage. I had one at an upscale spa earlier this year that I still feel.

So. Good.
posted by o2b at 8:59 AM on October 19, 2006

I should have added -- the Thai massage differes in that it's on the floor, with clothing (t-shirt and shorts).

It's like having Yoga done *to* you.
posted by o2b at 9:01 AM on October 19, 2006

I'm just going to blether a bit more on items others have raised:

Most of the info given should work for both genders. Your therapist wants you be at ease, so feel free to ask any questions or say anything you need to.

Massage shold not be unduly painful. Some techniques on some areas will be uncomfortable, if you don't want that, or if it's too much, tell the therapist.
If you're new to massage, it may feel somewhat weird....painful or ticklish. Ticklishness can be overcome with firmer pressure, but not to the point of pain.

Spas will have shower facilites to wash off any oils afterwards of you wish. If you go to a place that doesn't have shower facilites and you dont want to get oil in your hair or on your face, tell them.

Watch how you use the words masseuse and masseur. I've worked with people in the industry for years before I realised they had no idea what the terms actually meant.
Masseuse == female, masseur == male.
Generally, the more qualified the person, the more they tend to distance themselves from masseuse/masseur.
I prefer massage therapist, myself.

Remember that your therapist has probably seen and heard it all, so don't feel self concious about your weight, freckles, body hair, scars, or anything at all.

I often have people apologising for things "oh I haven't waxed my legs, I'm so sorry!" which is just silly, when I massage people much hairer all the time, and since I'm paying attention to the muscles, fascia, etc. the amount of hair or lack thereof just doesnt even register.

I've had men apolgise to me for getting an erection, but as long as that's all it is, again no need for an apology. If you do get one during your massage, don't panic, think about something else if you need to and just let it pass. It's a common occurance and most therapists (if they even notice) will just think of it as a physiological response as opposed to a sexual one.
posted by goshling at 9:08 AM on October 19, 2006

For shiatsu you stay clothed, something loose and comfy – sweatpants and t-shirt is typical – and there aren't usually lotions and oils involved. It can hurt a bit while being done but you'd feel great afterwards.
posted by zadcat at 9:09 AM on October 19, 2006

A few other tips to add:

If you usually wear contacts, you might want to wear your glasses to the massage--your eyes will probably be closed due to the crazy-good relaxed feeling, and that can make contacts feel funny after a while.

They'll probably tell you to drink a lot of water for the rest of the day; this is good advice.

Finally, if you fall in love with massage and want it more regularly than you can afford in a spa setting, see whether there's a local massage school. Way cheaper, if less luxurious.
posted by paleography at 9:23 AM on October 19, 2006

And some more (sorry)

Don't let the gender or the size of the therapist trick you. The tiniest little petite female can give the deepest massage if she knows how to use her body.

Crouton's description was so good I actually felt like *I* was getting a massage reading it. And right on for mentioning the all important will probably be asked to undress to your level of comfort, underwear on or off. Regardless of your choice, you will be covered by sheets or towels at all times, other than the body part currently being massaged.

You might find yourself trying to analyse the sensations happening to you. People ask me what I'm doing - a couple of weeks ago, someone asked me "what part of your hand are you using to do that?". I answered "My elbow". Very rarely, I have noticed some people lift their head and look around to see exactly where I am. Don't try to work out what the therapist is up to, just zone out and focus on what your body is feeling. (this is one of the reasons the therapist will always maintain some contact with you, if you're having a massage & the therapist breaks all contact, it can be a bit odd. Ther therapist should maintain touch with you throught the entire massage, except for probably when you are turning over.
posted by goshling at 9:26 AM on October 19, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great responses! I am really looking forward to a massage, and armed with this knowledge, I can relax more during the process.
posted by eas98 at 11:43 AM on October 19, 2006

Thanks for the tip (heh) on erections, Goshling, I've wondered.

My massage therapist (ok, so I've only been to her once, but I'm going again soon) says I can bring my own CD. I'm making one that suits me better than some generic newage thing that they're bound to be playing. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Everything above seems correct. Mine have been extremely relaxing, and the therapists have been really easy going and accommodating.

They've even asked if I want them to talk much or just be quiet. This has struck me as an uncommonly thoughtful question.

I've asked several times how they were producing a certain sensation, and they've always been extremely willing to show me how they do it.

My experiences have been overwhelmingly positive, and I tip accordingly.
posted by SlyBevel at 12:10 PM on October 19, 2006

Finally, if you fall in love with massage and want it more regularly than you can afford in a spa setting, see whether there's a local massage school. Way cheaper, if less luxurious.

Great advice paleography. I was just about to ask a followup along those same lines.
posted by mmascolino at 12:10 PM on October 19, 2006

I managed a therapeutic massage office for 3 years. I started out as the receptionist, and believe me, it is DEFINITELY preferable for you to just request a female therapist(and not strange at all - lots of people do this). Just don't ask if she's attractive (you would be surprised how many people actually ask!). It's much better to just request a female than to show up and find out it's a guy, then have to be really uncomfortable while you fill out the form (which yes, the therapist will know and so will the receptionist) and then pretend you left your wallet in the car, go out to get it, and never return (yes, also happened at least once a month when I was working there).

But seriously, aside from all of this, you should really be sure that you get what you want, because this experience is about YOU. It's not about whether the person on the phone is offended that you won't see a male therapist (which believe me, they aren't - they are way too busy and have heard every question that you can imagine).

Tell the massage therapist that it is your first time and that you aren't sure what to expect. He or she should be more than happy to answer all of your questions and to make youo feel completely comfortable and at ease. Or ask when you make the appointment. Like I said before, you are not the first person to get a first massage. In fact, about 10% of our clients were first timers. Most people are a little nervous, and you probably won't stop being nervous until you get your first massage and realize how completely amazing it is (but really, you have nothing at all to be nervous about).

In my opinion, and I'm sure this depends on where you're going, tipping is really about the quality of your experience, just like in any other service industry. 20% is fairly standard. At the office I worked at, clients who came in weekly or who purchased packages of 6 or 12 massages tended to not tip as much, because they were there so much (and the massage therapists were totally not bothered by this at all).

In terms of what to expect during the massage itself. . .just talk to your massage therapist. You can just say that you want general relaxation (full body) or that you have neck and back pain, etc etc. Most therapists won't need you to request a specific type of massage (deep tissue, swedish, myofascial, etc., etc.) - they will tailor their style to meet what you are looking for. Most of the best therapists I know do a blend of various types of massage. One note - there are certain types, such as Thai massage, shiatsu or watsu that you do need to specify, if that is what you are interested in. If at any point during the massage, you are not happy with what the therapist is doing - too much pressure or too little, you're ticklish, whatever - just communicate that with her. She WANTS you to come back - regular clients are the largest source of income - so she will want to make sure you like your massage so that you WILL come back!

Just relax and I hope you enjoy your massage!
posted by jengineer at 10:20 PM on October 19, 2006

man i miss that job!
posted by jengineer at 10:20 PM on October 19, 2006

I've had some massages that released so much pent up emotions, which caused me to cry like a baby thru-out. They were wonderful.
Your main job during the massage is just to relex.
posted by growabrain at 9:09 PM on October 20, 2006

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