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  • 4 Massage-Related Words to Banish From Your Vocabulary

    Don't say thisWhile marketing my new massage office, I’ve run into a lot of people who unknowingly use antiquated, confusing, misleading, and/or offensive terms when referring to massage. I try not to let it bother me, because it’s usually a case of people just not knowing better. So, I thought I’d use this week’s blog post to set the record straight on the 4 words and phrases most likely to set a massage therapist’s teeth on edge.

    • Massage Parlor – A quick Google search for “massage parlor” provided over 11 million results (I only looked at the first 3 pages) for establishments that offered “erotic massage” & “prostate massage” as well as online dictionary and wiki entries that defined it in much the same way. Oxford Dictionary online defines massage parlor as “an establishment providing massages. Such an establishment that is actually a front for prostitution.” While the term may have had a more innocent meaning in the past (I honestly don’t know), that’s not the case today. Please call our places of business a Massage Therapy Office, Wellness Center (if there are multiple practitioners of various complementary health professions) or Spa (if it’s more of a luxury or full service business that also offers skin care and nail services).
    • Masseuse/masseur – While most sources give the strict definition of masseuse/masseur as a female/male who provides massage as an occupation or profession, it currently is most often used by those in the US (I can’t speak for other countries) who are looking for erotic massage, prostate massage, or a “happy ending.” Since we are trying very hard to distance ourselves from the unsavory crowd who uses our profession as a cover for prostitution, please call us a Massage Therapist, Bodywork Therapist, or Bodyworker.
    • Bed Although the equipment that we massage you on looks an awful lot like a bed, that term has all sorts of obvious connections to and connotations of the illegal practices that we’re trying to distance ourselves from. Please call it a Massage Table.
    • Rub Down – Here’s another term that started out legit but didn’t stay that way. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a brisk rubbing of the body.” However, the Urban Dictionary (website of current slang with user-generated content ) has 3 definitions, 2 of which are sexual. When we get calls from pervs who want more than massage, “rub down” is one of the code words that they use. Please call it a Massage, Therapeutic Massage, or Bodywork.

    If you can strike the red words from your vocabulary and start using the green ones, you will make every massage therapist you ever come into contact with very happy. And by the way, we give waaaayyyy better massages when we’re happy than when we’re wondering what you meant when you called us a masseuse.

8 Responsesso far.

  1. thank you…sometimes you feel like head is meeting brick wall when trying to explain these…

  2. Thank you for this article. I agree totally with the dismissal of these words placed in the work we take seriously. I refer myself as a “bodyworker”, not someone who works and repairs dents on vehicles! Thanks again!

  3. I agree, wholeheartedly (especially about the word “masseuse”!!! I try to explain to friends, family, etc. why that word is considered derogatory when referring to me or any other massage therapist but they just don’t get it, as I’m sure many people out there don’t. Yes, it does send chills up my spine and a feeling of annoyance/frustration. I know they don’t mean it to be derogatory but I can’t help but feel degraded, in a sense. Don’t take this the wrong way but I’m glad I’m not the only one that’s really “irked” by that terminology!!!

  4. The only description I have a problem with is indeed the “Massage Parlor”. That, in my opinion really has a negative connotation. However, there is nothing wrong with using Masseuse or Masseur, as these terms are indeed the right terms for the profession. Educated people do know the difference…so I am not alarmed here. If you don’t want to use foreign terms, you can’t use Massage either, because that is foreign (French) too.

    I rather educate the people I come across than sidestep the truth. I am European and, clearly, prostitution went under cover using the massage profession because it is illegal in the US. The general public must know that Massage has absolutely nothing to do with sex or prostitution and in Europe it has been part of Healthcare for hundreds of years.

    So, keep up the good work!

  5. I disagree with this article because most of these terms are perfectly acceptable words to use that have nothing to do with the sex industry. While I do disagree with the article, I do believe that we should act in a manner of ‘professionalism’ for how we want the world to view us. Unfortunately, our profession includes a variety of people: those that do whatever they can get away with, those who just want to perform general massage/spa services, and those who consider themselves more serious (physio)therapists. For us ‘therapists’ who are uptight about these terms, that is what we get for NOT pursuing a therapeutic/medical career that requires a college degree to gain us credibility.

    The only way ‘professionalism’ exists for us is at an individual practitioner level and words used are only a part of it. We enhance our individual ‘professionalism’ to through how we treat our clients, (how we maintain) the atmosphere of our sessions, if we constantly try to better ourselves, are we generating the results that clients expect, and do we show appreciation for our clients’ business. Professional credentials such as national certification, licensure, and/or professional memberships help to show our level of ‘professionalism’ but, remember, all of the above types of people have access to them. The ‘non-professionals’ only loose them after they are caught. Or, they figure out a legal loop-hole that allows them to do whatever they want.

    I agree with the other poster regarding how it is an acceptable for of healthcare in other countries. My wife is a traditional massage therapist from Thailand (now here with me in Chicago). I was trying to explain the licensure laws here in Illinois and the profession’s paranoia of being associated with sex. She was shocked. Even though she comes from a country known for its sex industry, she could not understand how the two are related.

    Regarding the words:

    Parlor: Is a room/store used for entertaining people, as well as a space for a special function or business. It is mostly a British term but goes further back to France. So, it should be perfectly acceptable to call a place of business a parlor. (Not saying that I would.)

    Masseuse/masseur: Anyone who has had to study the history of massage should know that these are French terms for female and male massage therapists. I assume that people really fluent in French would know this too.

    BED = Furniture, or a level surface, to rest or sleep. (aka parasympathetic activities that massage hopefully helps to enhance and may be experienced during a session) TABLE = A furnishing, that consists of a flat surface with legs, where you can place food or set other items.

    If ‘bed’ is an inappropriate term to use in our profession, why the heck do we allow the sale of chocolate, cherry, and other flavored/scented massage oils? Hypocrisy, think about it!
    Then, again, we are ‘serving’ our clients on a ‘table’ so why not have food scented oils?

    Rub Down = I have clients of many types and have worked in a variety of settings. This term is occasionally thrown around in a light-hearted manner because they, and their referrals, know my level of ‘professionalism’.

    Okay, that is my many-cents worth.

    Be well!

  6. I disagree with just about everything you said. The point of this brief article is to give simple ways to avoid the stereotypes, stigma and discomfort which arises with terminology often used in the sex industry / those looking for something beyond legitimate, licensed therapy. The few points I will address;

    No, it isn’t a bed, it is a table — it is a tool used in conjunction with the massage. In your own definition, it is a furnishing to both the room and the therapy. Clients will (hopefully) relax and enter cycles of the parasympathetic, and or possibly sleep, but it is not a place to rest your head for 6-10+ hours. Your argument beyond that is invalid and not a universal application; not all of us use such scents in our job / office / applications. Otherwise aromatherapy is a whole different concept and study that has nothing to do with the name of the tool we use in the massage — a table. It isn’t sold as a “massage bed,” so why call it one? Enough said.

    I otherwise don’t appreciate the bashing of our profession as saying, “this is what we get for not going to get a college degree.” Speak for yourself, please — I received my AAS through my massage school, will wrap up a BS psych this year and move on to grad school in cognitive science / research. My education is otherwise irrelevant and I find it wrong of you to put your own profession / colleagues down, suggesting we can’t ask to be taken seriously or as professionals since we didn’t follow a stereotype of American “success.”

  7. A very well-written article; numerous things I correct and explain in an almost daily basis.

    The other thing I would add is the word, “knot.”

    It is not scientific or credible; explain whether you are working with adhesions, scar tissue, muscle tension or accessing trigger points.

    Every time I hear a colleague use the word “knot” in a session I am likely to end the session early. Call me arrogant, but I want competence and professionalism about myself and demand the same as those who work on my body.

  8. Good day! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading your blog posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics? Thanks for your time!