You’ve had a bad car accident and you’re in the hospital for physical therapy. Does it matter to you whether your physical therapists are male or female? Of course not! What matters is whether they are skilled and knowledgeable. What if you’re lying in an operating room, about to get surgery; do you care whether the doctor is female or male? Again, no; all you want is to be sure the surgeon is the best available, regardless their sex.
Now how about if you’ve run a marathon and you need a massage to help you recover. Does it matter whether your RMT (Registered Massage Therapist) is male or female? Chances are that in this case, your answer is yes. But why? Why do so many people get flustered when asked the question of whether they want a male or female massage therapist, and when pushed, why do 80% of clients specifically request a female RMT?
One would expect plausible considerations in choosing a therapist to be whether they are skilled in a specific technique, their experience in the industry, their strength, and perhaps even their return client ratio. After all, we’re talking about highly trained professionals. So why then is there a stigma surrounding male RMTs?
Above board, people often seek out female RMTs for their “caring” touch, a misconception based in the also incorrect belief that male RMTs are rougher and stronger. A female RMT advertising deep tissue massage will likely perform as well as any other man – it comes down to technique and experience, and the same goes for any man skilled in the light touch of reflexology and other therapies where strength isn’t an asset.
Unsurprisingly, there’s much more going on below the surface. To some degree, the male RMT stigma revolves around sex, or at least, the psychology of sex. Given that most massage techniques are performed on bare skin, clients are in a state of disrobe, an uncomfortable position for most of us. Moreover, massage in general is extremely relaxing, and in some cases, borders on sensual, which can put many people in a state of unease. Indeed, there is a general concern about arousal – what if I become aroused during the therapy?
According to George Powell-Lopez, the GM at Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door Spa in New York, “arousal during a massage is common, and has little to do with sexual attraction. We’re moving blood around very quickly, and this happens sometimes.” When it does, therapists rely on their training to ignore it and to try to keep the patient at ease.
Another factor is that in North American society, we aren’t used to having another person’s eyes or hands on their bodies, and for many women, body image issues surface. They can more easily relax in the presence of a woman.
There is also a strong perception amongst women that men are more likely to be inappropriate, and that a male RMT could become aroused or attracted to them, leading to sexual misconduct.
Men, on the whole, also don’t like to be touched by another man, let alone while semi-naked – it sets up uncomfortable issues of vulnerability, and in some cases, thoughts of perceived homosexuality.
The point of a therapeutic massage is to address weakness and enhance healing. It’s about making your body feel better by managing aches and pains, tension, and knots. Clients who regularly ask for female RMTs may be robbing themselves of the opportunity to experience masterful hands. At the end of the day, a sports therapy clinic is a professional establishment, focused on health, and an RMT is a professional with many hours of training and experience, who see hundreds of patients each year.
Any worries you may have about their ulterior intentions are in your head. The next time the receptionist asks your RMT gender preference, simply say, “Give me the best one you have.”