As a massage therapist, your goal is to help people overcome their problems and achieve wellness, regardless of their gender, age, or any other factor. However, there’s a stereotype in the therapy industry that needs to be addressed: some female therapists refuse to treat male clients, citing reasons such as discomfort, safety concerns, or personal bias.
While these reasons are valid, the truth is that refusing treat to someone based on their gender is not only unethical but also illegal in many cases. While there are some exemptions to anti-discrimination laws in certain situations, massage therapy is not generally considered one of them.
The Equality Act of 2010 in the UK makes it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender or sexual orientation in the provision of goods and services. And in the US, Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination based on gender in various professions, including massage therapy. In layman’s terms, this means that a female massage therapist cannot legally refuse to provide massage therapy services to a male client solely based on their gender. Doing so would be considered discriminatory and could result in legal action being taken against the therapist.
You might be thinking, hold on a minute, Britt…. what about Women-Only Gyms? Or Women Only Spas? And while we are at it, what about Ladies’ Night offered in nightclubs?!
There are indeed some exemptions to anti-discrimination laws in certain situations. For example, women-only gyms and spas are generally allowed because they are considered to be personal care services that are specifically designed for women. However, there are legal limits to the discrimination that women-only gyms can practice. For example, they cannot exclude men from all services and facilities if there is no legitimate reason for doing so. Also, if a man feels that he has been discriminated against by a women-only gym, he may be able to file a complaint with the relevant authorities or pursue legal action.
Overall, women-only gyms can legally operate as long as they have a legitimate reason for providing services only to women and do not unfairly discriminate against men.
Similarly, ladies’ nights at nightclubs are also typically allowed because they are considered to be promotional events that are designed to attract female customers. While some people have argued that ladies’ night promotions are discriminatory against men, courts have generally held that they are legal because they do not result in any substantial harm to men. In fact, many courts have ruled that these promotions are actually beneficial to men, as they help to create a more diverse and enjoyable social atmosphere.
Massage therapy, on the other hand, is not considered to be a personal care service that is exempt from sex-based discrimination laws. While massage therapy can involve physical contact and may be considered intimate, it is not necessarily exclusive to one gender. Both male and female clients can benefit from massage therapy, and most massage therapists are trained to work with clients of all genders. Which results in a service that is not inherently sex-specific, and is subject to sex-based discrimination laws.
While there may be some situations where it is appropriate for a therapist to refuse service to a male client, these situations would need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they are discriminatory or not. This is why it is so important for massage therapists to fully understand the laws around sex-based discrimination in the provision of goods and services.
Nevertheless, it is very common for female massage therapists to refuse to work on male clients; usually out of fear due to working alone or from their home, and other times assuming that their request for treatment is inappropriate. The most common request that women get offended by is the request for treatment of alleged groin strain. This request is immediately presumed to be a sexual request by proxy due to the intimate location. However, it is essential to acknowledge that groin pain due to various medical conditions, including inguinal hernias, is quite common in men.
According to the American College of Surgeons, inguinal hernias affect up to 25% of men at some point in their lives. This means that a male client’s request for treatment for groin pain should at minimum be taken seriously and evaluated objectively, without presumptions.
As a remedial massage therapist with over 20 years of experience, I have treated numerous male clients with debilitating groin strains and inguinal hernias. Many of these men had previously been refused treatment by other female therapists and were even embarrassed for being accused of inappropriate behaviour. I had one gentleman actually thank me with tears in his eyes for taking his booking seriously and with respect! His wife had even attempted to call therapists to book appointments on his behalf and was still perpetually refused despite being referred by a GP.
This discrimination of men is a damaging practice that not only perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes that men are inherently dangerous or sexual predators, but this kind of discrimination can also be damaging to both the individual being denied treatment and the broader community, contributing to a culture of fear and distrust.
While some working situations, such as working alone from home, could understandably make a female therapist feel uncomfortable with treating male clients, it is important to note that the law still applies in these circumstances. It is the responsibility of the therapist to find alternative solutions that are not discriminatory.
If a female massage therapist simply feels uncomfortable working with male clients, regardless of the working situation, there are legal ways to refuse service without violating anti-discrimination laws. The best way to achieve this is by branding your services for women exclusively. This can be done by creating a business that would not make sense for a man to book.
Here are some examples of female-only specialities that a massage therapist could offer:
Prenatal Massage: Prenatal massage is specifically designed for pregnant women and can help alleviate the physical and emotional stress that comes with pregnancy. It can also help reduce swelling, relieve back pain, and promote better sleep.
Menopause Massage: Menopause can be a challenging time for women, with physical symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. Menopause massage can help relieve these symptoms and promote relaxation and wellbeing.
Fertility Massage: Fertility massage is a gentle and non-invasive therapy that can help improve fertility by promoting relaxation, reducing stress, and increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs.
It is essential to note that while creating such services is legal, it is important to do so ethically and without spreading any kind of prejudice. A professional massage therapist should strive to create an inclusive and welcoming environment that caters to all clients, regardless of their gender or any other characteristic.
If you don’t have the desire to brand or specialise in this way, and your main fear of working with men is being alone and feeling vulnerable, then another solution is to work in a more professional and public environment where you have support from other professionals, such as a wellness clinic. There are many other benefits to this sort of working environment, which you can read about here. But keeping yourself safe, and attracting higher quality clients who value your work more is one of the main benefits.
Are you committed to promoting inclusivity and overcoming bias in massage therapy? Join the conversation by sharing your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. Let’s work together to create a more inclusive and supportive massage therapy community!