Good evening everyone and welcome to our TED Talk where we’ll be discussing the preferred terminology when discussing a person whose profession is providing the service of massage. This isn’t meant to be read as antagonistic, but educational! It can sometimes be an awkward conversation to have when correcting someone on their language, but we’re gonna make the most of it. Here we go!
The word “masseuse” or the male version, “masseur” used to be innocent enough in describing exactly what the word originally intended. Then came the 1950s when the terms started to be used in reference to prostitution. Now let us be clear: there is nothing wrong with sex work. Folks who make a living in sex work should be respected as individual as well as within their profession, but you can imagine it became a really tough time for both massage therapists and their clients who may have been expecting more than they were given (if ya know what I mean). For over thirty years lawmakers and massage professionals have worked together to set legal and qualification standards and protect therapists and their places of employment.
Still, if you run a Google search for the word “masseuse”, what comes up? Articles suggesting why you shouldn’t use the term, followed by news articles about masseuse-related sexual scandals. Oh, dear.
A person who has the necessary qualifications to be deemed a professional massage therapist - this means they’ve gone to school, passed the licensing exam, paid the licensing fee, and cut through the rest of the red tape - should be referred to as such. A massage therapist, or “MT” for short.
Rarely does a person call their MT a “masseuse” and mean it in a derogatory way. It’s the word most familiar to people who aren’t actively involved in the professional massage community. Language evolutions don’t just happen overnight. They happen slowly, with intention, and are often preceded by countless conversations like this one where education is the goal. Outside of separating “professional massage therapists” and “sex workers” in phrasing, there are also a couple of other reasons to make the change. One is that the term “massage therapist” is gender neutral! Other profession titles like “waitress” and “stewardess” are making the language shift to “server” and “flight attendant” so that everyone in those fields are referred to in the same fashion. Also, it gives MTs the title validation that they are, in fact, professionals. The path to gaining licensure is not an easy one, and MTs wear their title like a badge of honor.
Every massage therapist at Massage Mechanics still thinks you’re cool. Let ‘em know you think they’re cool too by not using outdated titles, okay?