I have blogged repeatedly about society’s unconscious shame about emotions and sexuality, a shame that—as well as erupting in violently destructive ways—largely hides in plain sight. Our unconscious sense of ‘sex is dirty’ and ‘I’m not good enough because I have sexual feelings’ not only forms the basis of society’s sexual etiquette but also manifests in common phobias such as a fear of public speaking, a dislike of being photographed, and even in social media avatars that display our children, partners or pets—pretty much anyone or anything—rather than ourselves.

Martina

Another example of unconscious shame hiding in plain sight is the so-called ‘full body massage’. Once upon a time I used to get a regular full body massage from a lady called Martina. Martina was German. Martina was serious. Martina was only available 9 months a year because she spent the other 3 at an ashram in India perfecting her yoga (which I expect was already pretty good).

After a massage from Martina you didn’t walk, you staggered. The next morning you didn’t stagger, you crawled. Then came release. Months of tension unwound and tired muscles quivered with healthy excitement. Martina was great and still greatly missed.

Advertising standards

Yet these full body massages were never full body. There was a certain area of the body that was never massaged—the genitals, of course. The full body massage that doesn’t massage the full body is an industry standard. Yet the lie in the advertising—it doesn’t do what it says on the label—passes unnoticed.

The full body massage that doesn’t massage the full body is an industry standard. Yet the lie in the advertising—it doesn’t do what it says on the label—passes unnoticed.

What is it about the genitals that places them beyond the pale—and out of reach of the masseur or masseuse’s magic fingers? They are our ‘private parts’, which is to say, the parts of the body whose public behaviour is, conversely, dictated by social rules and not by personal choice. We can only do what we like with them alone or in consensual privacy.

That’s all very well and, superficially, looks like healthy boundary setting. But our inability to be open and up-front about these things reveals there is shame lurking in the background. Why aren’t these called a ‘full body (non-genital) massage’? The term is explicitly clear and unashamed of itself. It also implies there is such a thing as a ‘full body massage’ which is both genuinely full body and socially acceptable—which it isn’t. Society’s endemic sexual shame prevents it from addressing such issues openly.

Tantra, yoni and lingan

Instead everything descends into a fog where nothing is quite what it seems and the advertising standards even looser. It is possible to obtain genuine full body massages. They are generally advertised as ‘Tantric massages’ or ‘yoni and lingan massages’, yoni and lingan being Indian terms for the female and male sexual parts, given a spiritual gloss through association with Eastern mysticism.

But you need to be clear and do your research. Some of these are genuine health practitioners who understand that holistic wellbeing is not possible without sexual wellbeing, a concept long understood in the East but still sadly lacking in the West. Others are fronts for selling sexual services, which may be what you’re after (I make no judgment on this, assuming it’s legal and consensual) but the massage, such as it is, probably won’t be very good.

As long as society prefers to sweep such things under the carpet we shall be bedevilled by disempowerment, confusion and shame in all matters sexual—to the detriment of our wellbeing. Perhaps I’ll just get on a plane to India.