In-Room Massage

It's Not a Code Word For Sex

Couple receiving massage by two masseurs
••• Nothing funny can happen when there's four of you. Right?. Andrea Chu /Photodisc/Getty Images

All the lawsuits that kept popping up against John Travolta a few years ago highlighted an issue about in-room massage that massage therapists have long known -- that lots of people who order an in-room massage are hoping to have sex.

These days most people know that it's not a reasonable expectation.  Massage therapists are highly trained professionals who offer a therapeutic treatment.  But they think if they offer a big enough tip, they might get lucky because they are in the privacy of their hotel room, without the spa setting to remind them of the boundaries.

An in-room massage is NOT a sensual massage and doesn't involve any sexual contact, "extras" or "happy endings". You follow the same rules of etiquette that you would in any spa -- you don't get dressed or undressed in front of the therapist, you don't expect or ask for sexual contact, and you don't cross the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship in any way.

What Happens During An In-Room Massage?

While a few luxury hotels have spa suites that are set up for in-room treatments, generally a licensed massage therapist arrives for an in-room massage with a portable massage table, sheets, and oils. They ask about areas that need work or health problems and give you time to disrobe and get on the table while waiting in another room. After giving you the massage, using proper draping techniques, they give you privacy again to get off the table and put your robe or clothes back on.

Why Get An In-Room Massage?

Sometimes the hotel has its own spa but the guest would rather get a massage in their room.

Often it's business travelers who are short on time or can't get it during regular spa hours. (In-room massage is sometimes available outside regular spa hours). Sometimes it's a famous person or celebrity who doesn't want to mingle.

When the hotel has its own spa, it's usually more clear that it is a therapeutic spa experience.

Westin Hotels & Resorts clearly signals this with its Heavenly In-Room Massage. Forty minutes before an in-room massage, a spa basket arrives with a fresh flower, a spa music CD, a bottle of water, a treat like dark chocolate, a selection of plant-based aromatherapy oils and room sprays for the treatment, and a letter explaining what to expect.

Establishing Expectations For The In-Room Massage

Problems more commonly arise, as they did in the Al Gore massage scandal, when the hotel doesn't have its own spa, but relies on on-call massage therapists who come to the room. There is no spa, the guest is going through the concierge, and the massage therapist can't assess the guest's language and behavior on the phone.

"I always articulate that this is a therapeutic massage, that it is not sensual, that it doesn't have anything in the realm of sexual contact, and if they have any expectation of anything else, they should call someone else," says Natasha Althouse, a New York state licensed massage therapist. "I ask them, 'Do you understand that?' You have to be that explicit." For her, red flags are long silences, and not saying who referred them. 

What You Should Know About In-Room Massage

  • The words therapeutic massage are always an indicator that the massage is for health purposes, with no "extras."​
  • Massage therapists are more vulnerable in someone's hotel room than they are in a spa, so don't be surprised if they spell out that it's a therapeutic massage. Be considerate of their need for safety.​
  • If the concierge set it up for you, it's a therapeutic massage.​
  • Asking for or initiating sexual contact during a therapeutic massage is not only rude, it is illegal sexual harassment.​
  • If you ask for sexual contact or behave in a sexual way, the therapist has the right to -- and should -- stop the massage right there.