Erections during a professional massage happen there is no doubt about it. The way the massage therapist responds to it will depend on their level of professionalism and of course the situation. How the massage therapist responds can influence the therapeutic relationship which is the basis of interaction in a massage room. Getting an erection on the massage table can be as embarrassing to the client as is is to the massage therapist.
What should you do if you notice your client has an erection?
- Run out of the room screaming for help?
- Close your eyes and hope you are seeing things
- Say something?
- Work deeper on another area of the body that is less sensual
- Throw a towel over it
- Say something general like “Oh, That happens”
Erections are a natural occurrence that can not be controlled. Each situation will have to be evaluated. First if there is obvious threat to your safety and well being with the male client asking you to do something about it or he is sexually stimulating himself- get out of there right away without saying or doing anything else. Be ready to call the police if the person does not exit immediately.
That being said most cases are innocent and do not mean anything. If you respond with disapproval or further embarrass the person it can be damaging to their emotional well being. Some men will not seek out massage because they worry so much about getting an erection during massages.
For women massage therapists in particular, erections are often associated with thinking that the client is coming on to them and thinking of the massage as something sexual rather than therapeutic. They can also begin to think that they are giving the wrong message to the client.
Cherie Sohnen Moe in her book “Ethics of Touch” says:
Several realities shape female perceptions of erections. Many were raised with pervasive myths about erections: If you are with a man and he has an erection a) you have caused it and b) you are responsible for taking care of it. Additionally, erections are often associated with rape and sexual violence.
So dealing with an erection on the massage table is a matter of evaluating the circumstances and using compassion.
There is more information in these books on Ethics for massage therapists:
The Ethics of Touch: The Hands-on Practitioner’s Guide to Creating a Professional, Safe and Enduring Practice
And don’t forget that women also can be stimulated during a professional massage but of course it isn’t as obvious or as much of a threat although I have heard stories of male massage therapists getting special requests from women clients.
Since erections do happen we need to be able to deal with them in the manner that supports us both professionally and personally. Nina McIntosh in her book “Educated Heart” says this:
Some people wrongly believe that if a man is having an erection the practitioner must immediately end the session. There is the misconception that for a man to have an erection, he must be deliberately sexualizing the situation and either mentally or physically stimulating himself. The truth is that having an erection can be an innocent accident and just as embarrassing to the client as it may be anxiety producing for the practitioner.”
Women often react in fear to a male erection on their massage table because of the many cases of men looking for something more than just a massage. They think that if they don’t stop the massage, it may escalate to something more like an unsafe situation for themselves. Since erections on the massage table are not talked about much dealing from a place of fear can add to the embarrassment and shaming of both parties. You don’t want to add to the situation, yet you want to protect yourself.
If a male is obviously doing things to bring on an erection or relieve an erection it has no place in the massage room.
Each case has to be looked at individually. If the client has a past relationship with you and hasn’t had this issue come up before, it is most likely ok to continue working or talk about it.
If it is a new client and they are making sexual comments or acting inappropriately, a massage therapist has the right to end the massage at any time.
Terrie Yardly-Nohr in her book “Ethics for Massage Therapists” says it this way:
A therapist has the right to refuse to treat a client if the therapist determines that the therapeutic relationship cannot be maintained in an ethical manner.
If a massage therapist finds themselves constantly getting clients who are seeking more than just a massage it is often a good idea to have the massage therapist take a deeper look at their intentions and professional image. ( I actually worked with a massage therapist who was having this problem and she couldn’t figure out why. When I looked at her website I saw pictures of her in sexy tank tops showing more than was needed. Another always worked without proper draping and wondered why erections were more common.)
The more we can talk seriously about issues like this, the stronger we can become as a profession setting boundaries that can protect the massage therapist and educate clients. Healing on both sides of the issue can happen.