In the (Comfort) Zone

By Jarrod Denson / January 7, 2013

Illustration by Jim Janek

I love to get a massage. What’s not to like? A trained professional rubs your body until all the aches and pains go away. It’s one of the most indulgent forms of pampering, and in the hands of the right massage therapist, the experience can be healing if not fully transcendent. While most people relax during massage, I often find myself wracked with indecision about one very sensitive question: Am I supposed to be wearing underwear?

The gender politics of the spa are inescapable. Specific to massage, there are naked and mostly naked people being attended to by members of the opposite sex. It’s obvious that an act as sensuous as massage can take on an extra layer of intimacy as evidenced by the whole sub-industry that has cropped up to cater to the needs of the most nefarious among us. Professional spas, on the other hand, don’t even entertain the idea of impropriety. The operative word here is professional. In a reputable spa, the environment is completely asexual and it is designed that way for both the guest and the therapist. This fact makes the underwear question all the more confusing.

One would think that leaving undergarments on would eliminate any level of discomfort for both parties, but I have personally come to believe that it impedes the treatment. You want to feel completely free and unencumbered when you’re getting a massage. Wearing underwear is tangible evidence that you’re not entirely comfortable with the situation. Sure, some guys will say that wearing boxers during a massage makes them comfortable but that’s like refusing to use the term “girlfriend”  in a long-term relationship. You’re hedging your bets without making a full commitment. I say take off your shorts and get the full experience, but perhaps I’m in the minority on this issue.

I headed down to the gorgeous Ritz-Carlton Spa in downtown Los Angeles to get to the bottom (no pun intended) of my conundrum. Was I way off base with regard to my feelings on skivvies? The  Ritz is a beautiful property and the spa achieves that magical balance of being both tranquil and inviting, so it was the perfect place to conduct my research. After my massage with therapist Gina Solares, I spoke with her about her experience concerning guests and underwear. She was extremely candid and professional. “The majority of the guests do not wear underwear,” she told me, but “there are more men that tend to feel more comfortable keeping their shorts on.” As Solares mentioned several times during our interview, “It depends on the comfort level of the guest.”

That’s what it really comes down to: Wear whatever feels comfortable. There is no right or wrong in a spa (unless you’re implying something very wrong). If you’re a dude who likes to keep his shorts on, so be it. If you’re like me and prefer to go full monty, that’s cool, too. In the end, the answer to my question is quite simple. Are you supposed to wear underwear during a massage? That’s totally up to you, my friend.