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Self-care for the 21st Century Male

Published by Gemma Depolo headshotGemma Depolo on

As a professional massage therapist for over seventeen years, I feel it’s my responsibility to debunk the false representation that massage, as a therapeutic form of self-care, is limited to an elite niche of women who apparently have the money to spend their time blissfully lying on a bed of flower petals. During my years working in spas, chiropractic offices, yoga and wellness centers, and within my private practice, I have provided massage to just about every demographic. I am beyond grateful that my client base reflects the reality of diversity, with individuals that range from infants to elders of every type of body. To put it simply, healthy touch is a biological imperative for EVERYBODY.

Rather than preach to the choir about the benefits of self-care, I think it’s important to speak to the skeptics… specifically the men.

Science has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that stress kills. It trashes your gut, taxes your nervous system, and can outright break your heart. There is no denying that life is stressful. How we manage everything thrown our way makes a huge difference in the quality of our lives and longevity. Men are notoriously conditioned to think or believe that they have to be stoic, self-reliant, and get by largely on their own. I’d like to invite them to resource support for not only themselves, but by proxy for the ones they love.

Here are the facts. Self-care practices, including, but not limited to massage therapy, are vital for your health and wellness. According to the Mayo Clinic, massage can help with:

  • Anxiety
  • Digestive disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia related to stress
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Soft tissue strains or injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Temporo-mandibular joint pain

Additionally, massage therapy can:

  • Reduce pain
  • Eliminate toxins
  • Improve sleep
  • Enhance immunity
  • Support productivity
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Facilitate range of motion
  • Reduce post surgery and post-injury swelling
  • Increase circulation
Wood tray with bottles of oil and bowl of sea salt next to a lit candle

In a social climate where terms like toxic masculinity and misogyny pigeonhole otherwise lovely, caring, and aware males, I would argue that our menfolk would greatly benefit from some healthy, therapeutic touch. So what keeps some men from scheduling a session? I’ll be frank. Many men associate touch with sex, and intimate contact, even if it’s non-sexual and therapeutic, can be confusing.

The first thing that comes to far too many people’s minds when they think about massage is “happy endings.” So who can blame men for not wanting to put their bodies into a potentially uncomfortable situation where they may not know exactly what services are being offered, or how their body will respond? Even when a therapist creates a strong therapeutic container; communicating healthy boundaries, a strictly non-sexual disclaimer and contract, some men experience “increased circulation and blood-flow.” I’ve heard from a number of men that they don’t get massages because they want to avoid possible awkwardness around tumescence. From where I stand, it comes with the territory.

Man receiving facial massage

Working with bodies for as long as I have has systematically dismantled a junior-high response to bodily functions. Massage should be a relaxing experience, available to everyone. As a professional massage therapist, I am confident that my colleagues are similarly inclined to provide massage within their legal scope of practice, and have the skills, protocol, and discretion should any naturally benign response to massage occur. A candid conversation with a potential massage therapist is a great place to start, requesting to start the massage face up, and finish face down is an easy work-around. Wearing briefs and sourcing a fully clothed Shiatsu massage are also a functional ways to receive bodywork.

We live in a culture where there is too much shame around our bodies and a lot of painful trauma around touch. I aim to create an environment where people can nurture a healthy relationship with their bodies. We saturate ourselves with our sense of taste, and sight, and scent, and sound. I believe if we challenge ourselves to acknowledge our innate need for physical contact, and evolve a healthy relationship with touch, our overall health and expression will transform for the better.

So even if you happen to be an icon for the current self-care industry, or more than likely one of the other ninety-nine percent of the population, I encourage you to seek out massage as part of your self-care routine. Everybody deserves self-care and massage, and if more people received a massage at least once a month, the world would be a drastically better place, with happier and healthier earthlings everywhere.

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