Should the Gender of My Practitioner Matter?

[Image courtesy of Ambro at]

[Image courtesy of Ambro at]

Last Friday, I stopped by a local massage school to donate some books for their library. In talking to the Campus Director I learned that they have 8 male therapists in their current class… more than half the class! In my years spent in massage schools, we had many classes with as few as 1 male therapist. I’d be very happy to see this force toward balance become a trend. But I’ve got this underlying worry… are these new male therapists going to be able to find jobs?

Years ago, when I was a newly appointed Education Director, I overheard our receptionist asking a caller if he would prefer a male or female therapist. After the call, I inquired why on earth we were asking that question of our clinic clients?!? She told me that, in the past, we have had clients become upset to find out that they were assigned a male therapist. So, to avoid confrontation at the clinic check-in desk, we were asking people ahead of time. And, what was the effect of that question? We had male therapists standing around without clients. Well, since the student clinic is an educational clinic, I took the opportunity to make it educational for the clients as well. We stopped asking that question. We educated our clients about the benefits of massage therapy. We supported our male students as well as our female students to receive appropriate practice time. We were okay with the fact that some clients were not happy and chose to go elsewhere for their treatments.

But this utopian fantasy of mine to have everything be equal was not helping my new male therapists get jobs back then, and it’s still difficult for new therapists today. Because, even though it is illegal for clinics to discriminate on the basis of sex in the hiring process, it’s happening folks. I still hear clinics say they aren’t looking for male therapists. I still hear clients ask for female therapists.

Touch: Sex vs. Intimacy

I believe it’s important for every massage therapy program out there to educate future therapists about the difference between sex and intimacy. People growing up in the United States DO NOT learn this. Our culture traditionally doesn’t recognize the importance of healthy touch. For a really great discussion on touch, read Deane Juhan’s piece on Touching Upon Touch. There is also a whole chapter on this subject in The Ethics of Touch by Ben Benjamin and Cherie Sohnen-Moe.

But it’s not all up to the schools. There are over 300,000 of us licensed massage therapists in the U.S. (wow!), and we can do a lot to educate our clients about healthy touch, whether we are male or female. The more we can help the public understand that massage is about the therapy not the sex or gender of the therapist, the farther we can remove ourselves from detrimental sex industry associations and the closer we get to wellness care.

Back to the Male Therapist

In the meantime, are there resources out there for the male therapist, specifically? We all need help building our practice, whether we are an employee or an independent practitioner, but there are additional obstacles that the male therapist faces:

  • Sexual Stereotyping
  • Gender Bias of Safe, Nurturing Touch
  • Homophobia
  • Employment Expectations
  • Trauma Survivor Issues

What’s happening out there? I’m sure many of you reading this are male therapists, and since I’m not one, I’m curious how these factors are affecting your practice (if at all)? How are you overcoming any or all of these obstacles… and can these obstacles become opportunities to reach your target markets?

I know there are resources out there that support the success of male therapists, like the website Male Massage Therapist. If you know of any additional resources, please share them with our readers in the comments section below…