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Does Therapist Gender Matter?

by Jason Kessler

Illustration by Julian Rowe / julianrowe.com

The last thing you ever want at a spa is a surprise. Spas are about rituals and relaxation. The jarring nature of a surprise can take your head completely out of the experience, so spa directors aim for their staff to be informative and calming. It works. Almost all of my spa adventures fall squarely in the categories of “tranquil” and “expected,” two qualities that I cherish in both my everyday life and on a massage table. Back in June, however, I was confronted with a surprise and while it took me a while to get past it, the overall experience taught me that expectations are like bad guys at the end of a video game level: Once you get past them, you can find the treasure. In this case, that treasure involved destroying my pre-conceived notions.

I had been invited in to try the absolutely gorgeous spa at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. I was told that I’d be enjoying the Punta Mita Tequila signature massage, but that was the only information I got. Based on the Four Season’s website, I knew I’d be in for a massage featuring a tequila-sage scrub and that was all I needed to know. I was ready to let the booze go to work and put my muscles into a state of euphoria.

This is probably a good time to point out that when I make a spa appointment for myself, I usually specify that I prefer a female therapist. It has nothing to do with my preferences in other parts of my life. I just enjoy the treatment more with female energy in the room. I failed to mention that when arranging this treatment. That led to my big surprise: the moment when Dmitri came to get me.

I was relaxing in one of the comfortable chairs in the waiting area when he approached. “Mr. Kessler?” he asked in a Russian accent that only sounded slightly like a Bond villain. When I confirmed my identity, he led me back to the treatment room. For some reason, I was still expecting to be handed over to a female therapist, but when he started washing his hands, I realized I was in for a full hour of Dmitri.

The first 20 minutes were a mess of me trying to chill out and decide if I should ask for a female therapist. My discomfort was compounded by the fact that Dmitri, like most men from Eastern Europe, had a healthy layer of arm hair that kept brushing me. It wasn’t my favorite part of the massage. That said, once I got out of my own stupid head, I realized that it didn’t matter that I was getting a treatment from a dude. I often don’t feel like I get enough pressure in massage treatments, but this one was perfect. I left refreshed and smelling only a little bit like a drunk (thanks to the tequila).

I don’t know if I’ll ever decide to switch to male therapists completely, but I also won’t shy away from them as I have in the past. With a massage, hands are hands and it doesn’t really matter who they belong to as long as they get the job done. Surprises may knock you off your spa game, but sometimes they’re the best way to open up your mind.

Jason Kessler is a lifestyle writer/columnist for Bon Appetit, Food Republic and a slew of other publications. Follow him on Twitter @TheHungryClown.

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