Being nude is a big issue with first-time spa-goers. In fact, the most common questions about spa etiquette revolve around being nude. "Do I have to take my clothes off to get a massage?" "Will the massage therapist see me nude?" Some people are reluctant to even get a massage because they don't feel comfortable being nude in front of strangers.
So, what's the real story with being nude at the spa?
In general, a massage or body treatment is done nude—but modesty is always respected with draping techniques. You can wear underwear if you want to, and that's a good first step if you feel at all uneasy. And because of draping techniques used at North American spas, the only part of the body that is exposed is the part the therapist is working.
There are a couple of exceptions: European spas, especially the spas in Germany, are more relaxed about being nude. They don't use elaborate draping techniques, and men and women typically take steam and sauna baths together, nude.
Even at American spas, you might see people nude in saunas and steam baths, but you are with people of the same gender. Some mineral springs spas, including Ten Thousand Waves, have co-ed bathing pools as well as same-sex pools. And in some places, like Esalen, bathing nude coed is the norm.
Being Nude During Swedish Massage
For a Swedish massage, you will usually be nude.
If you have any qualms about that, rest assured. It's easier than you think. You enter a private, dimly lit treatment room, take your robe off, and hang it on the back of the door.
You slip your slippers off and climb in between the sheets on the massage table while the therapist is out of the room.
There might be candles and dreamy spa music playing. The therapist will knock before entering so you won't be caught in an embarrassing position.
Occasionally a therapist stays in the room while you remove your robe. Usually, she will hold up a sheet so that she can't see, then cover you as you lay down on the table. If you don't like that, you can always ask them to leave the room.
During the massage, the therapist uses a technique called "draping." Only the part of the body being massaged—your back, or one arm, or one leg—is exposed. Your privates are never exposed. Women's breasts are not exposed or massaged. Your buttocks sometimes are, but in a therapeutic manner, and it can be done through a sheet if you prefer.
That said, you can wear your underwear if you want to. Your comfort level is the most important factor. And there are styles of massage, like reflexology or Thai massage, where you can stay fully clothed.
Men sometimes think that being nude means they can get a sensual massage. This is not the case, and it's a breach of spa etiquette to ask for one.
Being Nude During a Body Treatment
If you're uneasy about being nude, think twice about getting a body treatment. Body treatments generally require more exposure.
You usually start out under a regular towel instead of climbing between the sheets on a treatment table. If you're getting rinsed off with a Vichy shower, a six-headed shower that drenches your body while you lay on a table, you're going to be exposed. If that makes you uneasy, talk to the receptionist about the level of nudity involved in any body treatment. There are likely somewhere you stayed fully draped the entire time. (Even then wet towels sometimes move around.)
You might be offered disposable panties for the body treatment, which you can wear or not, depending on what you prefer. Their purpose is to keep little bits of scrub from wandering into nooks and crannies, not to protect the therapist's sensibilities.