Choosing a Male or Female Massage Therapist

Luxury vacation with massage on ocean front terrace
••• Westend61 / Getty Images

When you call a spa to book a massage, the first question you're almost always asked if you prefer a male or female massage therapist, and it turns out that female therapists are in much higher demand regardless of which gender the client is.

According to the American Massage Therapy Association, roughly 85 percent of massage therapists are female, and some spas won't hire men because too few clients ask to book them.

The reasons for these objections ultimately boil down to customer comfort, but misconceptions about male massage therapists further complicate the matter.

For the most part, women looking to book a massage—whether they're traveling or at home—would prefer to work with someone of the same gender while males overwhelmingly would prefer to work with females due to the intimate amount of touching required in the process. However, men don't fear being naked around either gender as much as women do, but both genders typically choose a therapist they're most likely able to relax around.

Benefits and Issues With Male Therapists

While not high in demand, male massage therapists have some advantages over their female coworkers. They often have more strength, which can be helpful with deep tissue massage, and the men who have survived in the female-dominated industry are often supremely talented.

One of the core issues with male therapists is inappropriate behavior, though it's a misconception to say it's a common occurrence.

Occasionally a male massage therapist behaves inappropriately, for instance by telling a woman that she has a great body during a massage or the therapist's hands might go uncomfortably high on a woman's inner thighs, both of which violate the therapist's professional protocol and will result in immediate termination if discovered.

If you feel something is off, trust your instincts. Get up, end the massage, and let the front desk know about your experience. These are male massage therapists who shouldn't be in the business, so don't be afraid to report behavior before it progresses to something more severe.

Whether you prefer male or female massage therapists, feel free to state it up front so you are able to have the most comfortable experience. Just also consider that the great majority of working male massage therapists are talented, dedicated professionals who have trained hard to develop the right skills to treat your massage with respect and precision.

Why People Prefer Women Massage Therapists

People feel vulnerable when they are nude, so while some might not care about facial massages or mani-pedi treatments in terms of the gender of their therapist, many do get anxious about who will see them exposed during a full-body massage.

Often female clients feel more comfortable and assured they are not being judged for their physical appearance by another woman and fear being alone with a male therapist, oftentimes despite his years of experience. Heterosexual men, on the other hand, are afraid requesting another male will make them appear gay, especially if they accidentally become aroused while being massaged—which happens regardless of sexual attraction.

Women massage therapists also have a few advantages over men, including having smaller hands and nimbler fingers, which are great at getting deep into knots. With a gentler yet firm touch, female massage therapists dominate the field around the world.

Skill Over Gender: Picking a Good Therapist

People who are experienced with going to the spa often don't care which gender their massage therapist is and are more concerned with the skill of the person. Since massage therapists are trained to respect boundaries and use proper draping techniques, issues like harassment and inappropriate comments shouldn't be a problem.

Ultimately, massage is a customer-driven profession, so therapists will treat each client with the same level of professionalism and respect, including discussing boundaries if the client is uncomfortable.

It's important to engage in open dialogue before, during, and after your appointment to make sure you and your massage therapist are both on the same page about what you want and are getting out of your massage.

When it comes to picking the best massage therapist for you, asking for a recommendation from a trusted friend or doctor or checking with spa staff to see who they prefer—regardless of gender—is a great way to discover the best a resort or spa has to offer.