We've all been there. You get a free massage session as a gift. Excited to see what it's all about, you get to the spa room and take off all your clothes to the smell of incense and the tinkling melody of what sounds like the MTV-Unplugged version of "Tubular Bells." Finally, a tiny woman enters the room, asks if you're relaxed, and voila! You're done, feeling like a greasy, smelly mess and knowing the therapist could have jumped up and down on you without so much as causing a tickle in your ribs. It's at this point you realize that massage is just another expensive guilty pleasure, like seaweed body wraps or champagne enemas.
Right? Not exactly. While spa massages have boomed over the years, and with them the inevitable onslaught of bigger and better treatments all guaranteed to purge icky toxins from you body, basic massages are an important, if not vital, part of your exercise program. Massages not only prevent injuries, they also help your body to recover from physical mismanagement.
"Massage puts you in touch with specific areas of stress that you might not even be aware of," says Christopher Kornreish, a massage therapist at New York Sports Clubs in Manhattan. "For instance, a client may complain of sore biceps, but not realize it's his core body muscles that are causing the pain. By manipulating the correct muscle tissue, you reduce the risk of injury as well as the recovery time in between injuries."
The same technique applies to injury recovery. "While a runner could have terrible shin splints," says Kornreish, "to properly heal the area, you have to free all the muscles. Because of his ankle, his left leg might be screwed up, which makes his back tense, all resulting in the client walking like Quasimodo."
Put another way, your body is like an automobile. Whether it's a Humvee or a Mini-Cooper, the parts are all connected and the basic structure is the same. And like a top-quality car, tune-ups are a necessary part of maintenance. Anyone who works out on a regular basis should get a massage every couple of weeks. If you're in training for, say, a marathon, make it once a week.
Don't Just Hop on Any Table
Finding a massage therapist that's right for you is the next step (figuring out how to afford the treatments is the first, as you should expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $150 an hour for a session; less if you book a package deal). The most common massages in the United States are Swedish and Shiatsu (there are numerous variations and combinations, but knowing the basics is a good starting-off point when researching). The most distinguishable difference between the two is that Swedish involves the hands, while Shiatsu, the fingers ("Shiatsu" translates to "fingertips"). Also, while you tend to be naked for a Swedish massage, it's not usually required for Shiatsu.
A tip to the modest: If you are uneasy about undressing in front of a stranger, tell the spa representative or massage therapist when you book. Virtually all therapists can provide a satisfactory massage in which you keep at least most of your clothes on. Also, if you are uncertain about the "undress" code, save yourself from embarrassment later and ask. (We know of one journalist who booked a Water Purification Treatment in Jamaica, only to find that he was forced to strip naked and stand in the middle of a cliff-top lean-to, and then blasted with a hoses by two giggling middle-aged women, all the while exposed to any passing tourists. All we can say is thank goodness that guy had a great sense of humor and, we might add, a killer bod!)
To find a massage therapist, start with your gym if it has a spa, or call other gyms' spas to see what the cost is for non-members. If you live in or near a big city, you may want to check out major hotels; you're going to pay more for the treatment at great hotels like the Four Seasons, but you'll have the benefit of knowing that their clients always expect the best.
If you'd prefer to go a more private route (which also might reduce the cost), either in the therapists' or your own home, the best referrals always come from friends. Thinking back to the car metaphor, wouldn't you rather use the mechanic that your best friend swears by, as opposed to just picking a name from the phonebook or Internet? When you book a therapist, you need to know that he's certified. If you have any doubt, ask to see his license. If your therapist doesn't have certification, it's a scam. You risk not only a bad massage, but serious injury from a non-professional.
Before your session, make sure to go over any concerns you have, as well as specific requests: If you're adamant on having a female or male therapist, insist on a gender. Once on the table, tell the therapist of any injuries, any specific areas of the body you'd like him to work on or to avoid, even the type of music that helps you relax. If your massage therapist is any good, he'll be asking you these questions himself. Remember, however, that a massage therapist is not a mind reader. If you're in too much pain, for example, let him know when he's working you too hard.
Speaking of Hard...
If you do get an erection during your massage, don't sweat it. Sexual arousal is not uncommon when your body is being touched, and therapists won't think twice about it; nor will they deem you a pervert, call security, and have your picture posted in the spa lobby.
On the other hand, or, rather, in the other hand, some men book massage specifically for release. For those readers pretending not to know what "release" means, it's a massage that ends with the therapist jerking you off till you climax. While this type of massage is advertised as, among other things "erotic," "sensual," and "discreet," it's a form of prostitution, plain and simple. Any legitimate spa or individual therapist won't include it as part of the service.
Sites to Get You Started
To help you warm up, below are links to two of the more popular gay-massage sites on the web. Take a look at what's offered, ask lots of questions, and go from there. And relax! You're in very good hands.
- MassageM4M.com: a highly trafficked site of mostly gay massage therapist that has listings in many U.S. cities
- Masseurfinder.com: Another gay masseur site
David Toussaint is the author of the book Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony. A professional playwright, short-story, and travel writer, he is currently at work on a novel. You can reach him at www.davidtoussaint.com.