Reimagining Touch for Men

by Carl Johns, LMT, Mountain Medicine Integrative Wellness Center

We can’t talk about massage without considering our relationship to touch. Touch can be so many things and can be interpreted in so many ways. It can be nurturing, stimulating, calming, threatening or violent.

It can be the impersonal touch of a doctor, the playful touch of a friend or the intimate touch of a partner.

When we go to receive a massage, we bring our entire history of touch — good, bad or indifferent — to the session. A massage therapy session brings in a different category of touch: therapeutic touch. While bringing many of the good qualities of touch, most importantly, therapeutic touch must be nonsexual, and it must feel positive and safe to the receiver.

Historically, massage has been dominated by women because women typically have an easier relationship with nurturing touch that comes with mothering. In our culture this is not a quality that is typically cultivated in men.

For men, touch falls more in the categories of rough play and sport, fighting and sex. Since none of these have a place in the realm of massage therapy, men have historically not been the major consumers of massage.

On a very positive note, in my 25 years as a massage therapist and educator, I have seen many more men coming to the profession as therapists and clients. This is certainly an indicator of a more open and positive attitude developing in our culture around touch.

Now to Dr. Sutherland’s quote. William Sutherland was one of the most famous and innovative osteopathic physicians of the 20th century, and one of his major revelations over a lifetime of dedicated work was that a gentle, listening touch produced better results, and that lasting therapeutic change comes from within.

Guys — and you know who you are — often come to massage with a no pain, no gain attitude, preferring to be pummeled over and over, and may be missing the benefits of the gentler forms of bodywork.

So I want you to give yourself permission to leave your preconceptions aside, allow yourself the experience of the more subtle forms of bodywork and reap the benefits of the more long-term therapeutic change you are seeking.