10 Things Your Massage Therapist Wants You to Know

man first time massage, do men get massages, getting a massage, massage etiquette, what men ask about massage, massage therapist tips

If you’ve never had a massage before, you might be worried about how your body will respond and appear to the therapist. Kate Bartolotta’s advice is to relax.

 Massage therapy has become pretty mainstream in the U.S., but there are still many people who are nervous about it. Will I feel weird being naked? What will the therapist do? What if I fall asleep and drool? Will it hurt?

If fear of the unknown has kept you from getting a massage, here are a few things you should know:

  1. If you want to get the most out of your massage, plan on being completely naked. We are professionals; everything that needs to stay covered is going to stay covered. If your lower back or hips are stiff, do yourself a favor and skip the boxers so we can really address those areas. We will move the sheet around to access the areas that need work—we’re not going to move your underpants. Most good therapists will treat that as a boundary and leave areas that you choose to keep covered alone.

  2. On the flip side, you are welcome to keep as much on as is necessary for you to feel comfortable. Most people go through that scary inner dialogue at their first massage: Should I take everything off? Do I seem like a perv if I take everything off? Do I seem like a prude if I keep something on? The answer to both is “no.” The massage is about you and helping facilitate your healing and relaxation. If you are going to be a nervous wreck in the nude, keep your underwear on.

  3. Bodily functions happen. If things are going well in the massage and you are fully relaxing, guess what? It improves your digestion. Your stomach might get noisy and you might fart. It’s a good thing. Don’t worry about it. It’s a sign that the massage is doing what it’s supposed to do. Same goes for falling asleep. To me, that’s a pretty big compliment if someone feels relaxed and safe enough to doze off on my table.

  4. It’s pretty rare that you would get and sustain an erection during a massage, unless you are contributing to that situation. It happens, but it doesn’t happen often and if you aren’t trying to sexualize the massage, it’s not a deal breaker. When you are getting a professional massage, one of the goals is to help you relax—not get aroused–so it’s unlikely 99 percent of the time. If that one percent of the time happens to be you, don’t sweat it. Take a deep breath and relax.

  5. But on a related note, if you ask for a happy ending—even as a joke—we won’t be rebooking you. You don’t walk up to a pharmacist and ask for cocaine. We are professional health care providers. Act accordingly.

  6. A shower before your massage is a good idea. It’s going to warm up your muscles a bit, begin your relaxation process, and it’s much nicer to work on clean feet. Sports massage is an exception here, and we expect to work on sweaty or even muddy bodies at sporting events. But if you have the option, shower first.

  7. There is no right or wrong amount of body hair. We aren’t shocked by it. We aren’t grossed out by it. It really is all good, regardless of how you’ve decided to groom it (or not).

  8. This is YOUR massage. If you don’t like how something feels, speak up. If your therapist asks if you need more or less pressure—be honest. We won’t be insulted or offended. We want this to be the best experience possible for you, and honest communication will help ensure that.

  9. Be honest on your health history. We aren’t asking out of curiosity. A therapeutic massage is not like a back rub from a friend. There are some conditions where we’ll have to modify how we work—or possibly postpone treatment.

  10. Your body is amazing. No, really. We are so much in our heads and online and just busy being busy, that we forget to be connected to what’s going on in our bodies. We forget to listen to what our bodies are telling us. We keep all of our stresses, our hurts, our joy, our sadness with us in our bodies. Getting a massage is a way to stop and listen to what’s going on in your body, and your heart. It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of that time with you.


Read more on Health, Psych & Addiction.

Image credit: Noodles and Beef/Flickr

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About Kate Bartolotta

Kate Bartolotta is a wellness cheerleader yogini storyteller, and self-care maven.

She also writes for The Huffington Post, Be You Media Group, Yoga International, Thought Catalog, The Tattooed Buddha, a beauty full mind, elephant journal, The Green Divas, Beliefnet, The Body Department, Project Eve, and Soulseeds. Her book, Heart Medicine is available through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com.

She is passionate about helping others fall in love with their lives.


  1. This article made me sad because I think it is unnecessarily judgmental of men who get erections. my husband gets slight erections during massages, it is very embarrassing for him and he NEVER would have gone back for a second massage had a massage therapist friend told him “totally normal, don’t worry about it”. If he read this article telling him he is is the one percent and not normal he would never ever go back for a massage again. I mean he isn’t sitting there with a raging boner the whole time but even 5 minutes with a slight hard-on can be humiliating even without the heaps of judgment this article piled on. Especially after giving lip service to how massage therapists understand they are manipulating the body and things happen.

    • The article was not intended to be remotely judgmental of those who get erections, but actually the opposite. My point was that it can happen—and as long as the client isn’t trying to sexualize the massage, it’s a non issue.

  2. Errections are a function of the parasympathetic nervous system. As such they occur during relaxation. That is why men have them when they are asleep. Ejaculation is a function of the sympathetic nervous system. So it is entirely likely and normal for men to have an errection when they are deeply relaxed. It is not a matter of stimulation per say.

    • I agree, just because a man has an erection during a massage doesn’t mean he is looking for a happy ending, as a matter of fact he might become embarrassed or uneasy about it thinking that the therapist is judging him as a pervert. In point of fact it is often an involuntary response to total relaxation…he may fall asleep and be dreaming about a sexual encounter which translates into an erection. I am a professional and yes i have had some men get an erection, it’s not a big deal! best to downplay it and ignore it. If he apologizes (it has happened) I tell him not to worry, it happens at times. However, if he does expect a happy ending, that I cannot do.

      • As an LMT myself, I agree that a well trained professional LMT does not get freaked out or offended by an erection for the reasons articulated by Scott and Pat above. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, the appropriate thing to do (for both parties) is to ignore it. The LMT can shift the focus of the work slightly and often that is sufficient to settle things down. Only if it happens routinely with an established client does it become an issue to be addressed, as likely there is more going on than a simple parasympathetic response. But for those guys out there who have abstained from getting a massage out of concern for this happening on the table, a) it probably won’t, and b) if it does, no one will think you are a pervert, and c) we’re going to ignore it as long as you do. Massage is so good for body and soul. Don’t let this fear stop you from experiencing the stress relief and relaxation of a professional massage.

        • Go back to school Kate…as a fully trained Canadian pre med level in phys and anatomy…Scott is 100% correct…erection is a parasympathetic controlled event…it could happen every time and not mean what you might start implying…if a guy comes on to the therapist then you’ll know.. If you assume repeated erections mean more than maybe the therapist is the problem…and their lack of education

          • Kate Bartolotta says:

            Being disparaging is unhelpful—especially when we’re saying basically the same thing. An erection during a massage is not a big deal unless the client is actively contributing to that situation and trying to sexualize the massage. Thanks for reading!

    • Anonymous says:

      Youre 100% right Scott even though Kate kicked me out for disagreeing with her…its the therapist who may have a problem accepting the parasympathetic answer because she doesn’t have the proper training…good answer and knowledge on your part though…thanks!

    • Wow guys! I’m a little sad to see some of the trollish attitude in what could actually be a helpful discussion!

      Okay, yes: erections are part of the parasympathetic nervous system response.

      My point in the article didn’t address the intricacies of the nervous system, because it is written for the lay person who isn’t necessarily knowledgeable about that. The large point here, which sadly, seems like we’re on the very same page though you’ve decided to argue with me, is that erections during a massage aren’t something to be worried about.

      Feedback is always welcome and helpful (to me anyway!). It’s even more helpful when it’s respectful rather than argumentative or disparaging.

  3. Thanks for writing this article Kate! It’s so nice to hear these things from a professional. When I went to my first massage, I was sooooo nervous. And this was even with a woman who was friend’s with my Mom who I felt very comfortable with. But it was such an amazing experience. I felt like jello afterwards.

  4. What I like about the picture is that it shows a man who might fit the bill of someone who wouldn’t typically get a massage and who most likely wouldn’t get one from a man. I think it’s a great fit for the article. Great article too. Very to the point!

    • I don’t think you carefully thought about your remark about the picture showing “someone who wouldn’t typically get a massage and who most likely wouldn’t get one from a man”. What else can you tell us about the man in the picture simply by looking at a picture of him? What’s his favourite ice cream flavour? What kind of work does he do? What kind of car does he drive, or—I can’t tell from this angle—maybe he doesn’t own a car? Is he married? Single? Bisexual, straight, gay…ooh, hey, maybe he’s transgender; take another look at the photo and tell us! What other books have you judged by their covers lately?

      From where I sit, yours looks like exactly the sort of thoughtless prejudice this site strives to reduce in the world.

      • Yes Daniel, because everyone’s opinions except yours are wrong. Tiffany gathered a feeling from the picture just as I gather a feeling from my nice beach background on my phone. She got a feeling of wow that’s refreshing to see for an article on a spa treatment. She’s not the only one. We all gather opinions in the first few seconds, maybe that picture made a guy a little more interested in getting a massage. Your pretty judgemental on someone who was posting a nice and I believe actually enlightening comment so just leave it to yourself

  5. “But on a related note, if you ask for a happy ending—even as a joke—we won’t be rebooking you. You don’t walk up to a pharmacist and ask for cocaine. We are professional health care providers. Act accordingly.”

    I will say that I have had a fair number of massages in my life. Probably 50-60% have been okay, 25% really bad–as in a waste of money given to a person who is licensed and has all the training in the world and just sucks. Maybe one in ten massages have been great–i.e. worth the bill and leaving me smiling and calm. However, the happy ending is a gift from the heavens. IME, the happy ending means the full treatment–table shower, foot massage, the works, and yes, the full release–and if you, like many non-Westerners consider that to be an aspect of a very good massage treatment, so long as you live in a decent sized city, you’ll have no trouble finding an ending that is happy AND and beginning and middle that smiling, as well.

    • Hi Ben,

      While it’s true that it probably wouldn’t be difficult to find this service, for most professional massage therapists in the U.S. it is a deal-breaker and totally unacceptable. I know that some states do have laws regarding sexual therapy/sexually-related body work, but for the type of massage I am discussing here, that would be completely out of bounds.

    • happy ending massage is the same as prostitution in my opinion

      • I agree, John. I’m aware that some people argue that it is acceptable, or there are acceptable frameworks for that type of bodywork, but to me it doesn’t have a place in therapeutic massage at all. It’s prostitution.

        • When I first had an erection being massaged I felt so awkward, then I realised the massage therapist didn’t really care and it didn’t affect my massage at all, in fact it help me relax more.

          They happen more frequently with me and in all my massages, probably because I’m very tactile. I generally don’t see female massage therapist, I’m heavy built and need a heavier hand or even sometimes being stood on.

          All my message therapists have been really professional so when it happens I don’t worry about it and it comes and goes lol.

    • I’ve been a massage therapist for about 6 years now, and throughout my career, I’ve always thought of giving a massage as a healing art, not a releasing art. In the U.S., giving a “happy ending” is very much illegal, and it’s just as illegal as prostitution, so for you to admit that you are getting “released” into the public makes me wonder if I should warn my clients who are looking for such things that they will not be getting what they are there for. I get nervous clients who hope to not run into a place that does it, so I consult with them, making them feel comfortable.. usually I can tell by the way they are looking and how they ask the question, “Can I leave my underwear on?” with a slight giggle. I love this article, Kate. Thank you.

    • Your mind is twisted by the evils of this world if you think its a normal part of massage. If you ever show up in my massage establishment you will be persecuted to the full extent of the law

      • That word “persecuted” doesn’t mean what you appear to think it means — go look it up and see for yourself — and I doubt anyone’s particularly impressed by your threats (or your opinions regarding the “evils of this world”, whatever you think that’s supposed to mean).

  6. Pretty bizarre photo of a massage for first-time people to see whilst telling them to relax

    • What’s weird about it? That it’s a man giving a man massage? The man receiving the massage is draped appropriately, and the LMT is working on what I would wager is his right forearm and/or hand.

      Good article, Kate! Great stuff to keep in mind, even for experienced massage aficionado/as. 🙂

    • Hmm, not sure what’s bizarre about it! I thought it was nice that it wasn’t the typical spa girly stock massage photo…I think that type of thing is what makes many men nervous about what to expect. Thanks for reading!

    • I don’t think the picture is bizarre either. I also like that it’s not typical to what we might usually see.

    • I actually agree (Board Certified LMT in the U.S.) that it is an odd choice of cover pic for a professional massage intro piece, & not because it lacks the “spa girly stock massage photo.” For one, the Therapist is in a casual a t-shirt (not very professional).

      And if the Therapist is working on what is wagered to be the “right forearm and/or hand,” then why is the client w/open chest & no sheet drape? (It appears to me that the client is just wearing shorts.) As stated in the article, “We will move the sheet around to access the areas that need work.” I dont need to uncover my client’s chest & abs, if I’m working on their hand/arm.

      As others have already stated, erections can & will occur, even when relaxed (not just aroused). An erection deals with an increase in blood flow, & what is the massage doing?

      The only other thing on the list I’d disagree with is the body hair. I’ve had some clients whose back hairs were so long/thick that I couldn’t see my hands! Even long leg hair can make it difficult for some strokes, without using half a bottle of oil. True, we as Therapists accept all & whether the female client has stubley legs (free exfoliation for my hands & arms), or the male is as stated above, we don’t judge. But after giving my first massage to a hairy classmate, I began trimming my own leg/arm hair to benefit my own Therapists. There IS some quality in some of the strokes that can/will be lost if the hair is too thick. I never thought about that or realized it when I was receiving massages, until after I decided to become a Therapist myself. My Therapist thanked me.

      • I think showing a man receiving a massage from a male therapist goes a long way toward breaking down stereotypes of gender roles in the industry.

        As far as body hair goes, I’ve never had it be an issue to the point that it affected the quality of the massage, but interesting to note!

    • Amy Glass says:

      Why is it a weird picture? Are you homophobic?


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