Are “Happy” Massages Legal?

Man getting massage
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A "happy massage" is a massage that ends with erotic contact between the client and massage therapist. Usually, there are tip-offs that erotic contact is on the spa menu—for example, an innuendo in the name of the spa. The spa menu also might be worded in such a way that seems off, such as treatments using terms such as "all-body massage," "tantric massage," "thigh massage," or "body-to-body massage." Although Asian massages have a long medical and cultural history, the term “Asian massage” can sometimes be code that a spa performs happy massages.

Are Happy Massages Legal?

In the United States, a happy massage is illegal and is not performed at legitimate spas. Under the law, happy massages are considered prostitution.

Many spas that perform erotic massages are prostitution fronts and are frequently in the news for being raided by the police and shut down—which is something to keep in mind should you consider becoming a customer. Customers who are present during a raid are at risk of being arrested. Another risk of seeking out a happy massage is being sent to a spa that intends to scam customers. Sometimes spas will advertise themselves using the tip-offs of erotic contact at spas and then charge customers a fee to get in, a drink fee, and a services fee—without ever performing the implied sexual actions.

Many massage therapists who are caught performing or offering happy massages face the risk of losing their license. It’s also a breach of a massage therapist’s professional ethics to touch a customer in an erotic manner, even if the touching is consensual. If you’re wondering whether your massage therapist is touching you inappropriately, trust your instincts. It’s the intention of the touching, not the location of the touching, that counts. Although a deep-tissue massage therapist might place his or her hands on your pelvic floor or another intimate area of your body during treatment, this can be strictly therapeutic. Usually, however, this is only done after many sessions in which trust is built with a massage therapist. Regardless, if you feel uncomfortable during a massage, let the therapist know immediately.

Is It Ever Appropriate to Ask for a Happy Massage?

No, it is never appropriate to ask for a happy massage at any legitimate spas or during an in-room massage at a hotel. Yes, massage can seem like a suggestive or sensual situation—after all, you’re naked under the sheets—but it’s a breach of trust with your massage therapist to ask for something beyond the scope of your treatment. Requesting a happy massage can open you up to embarrassment and an abrupt ending of the session. Most likely, you’ll face an uncomfortable massage therapist who will tell you about the boundaries of the profession.

What About Happy Massages in Foreign Countries?

Happy massages are easier to find in overseas, especially in Thailand (Bangkok) and Indonesia (Bali). However, just because they're easy to find, it doesn't mean that they're legal. Cebu City in the Philippines is known for its lingam massages—which end with a massage of the "lingam"—but even that type of massage was made illegal in 2010. Violators of the ban could receive a year in jail and a fine of approximately $100.

In Bali it is easy to find inexpensive, legitimate massages, but it is also fairly common to be offered a happy massage even if you weren't searching for one. Prostitution is illegal, though generally tolerated in Indonesia, however for the past few years Indonesian authorities have been shutting down parlors offering erotic massages and parlors operating without the proper licenses.

Thailand is well known for their happy massages, sometimes called special massages, and they are widespread. While prostitution is illegal in Thailand, erotic massage parlors can be registered as legitimate business. There are some Thai massage parlors that also offer happy massages, though the Federation of Thai Spa Associations has urged the government to clamp down those kinds of offerings. Regardless of where you are in the world, do not assume that you can get erotic contact at a spa and be aware of the potential consequences should you receive or request erotic contact.. 

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