“Happy ending” massages that include being stimulated to orgasm are not usually associated with female clientele. But there are indeed women seeking out this type of service from male masseurs, and their rules of engagement might surprise you.
It was 2003, and Vance Black, a masseur in his early 20s, was working on a 40-something client’s hip while she lay face down on the table. It was his first day on the job at a posh resort in Palm Beach, Florida, and he was anxious, having only recently graduated from massage school. Then it happened. The 5'10", blond-haired, blue-eyed model grabbed his hand and placed it on the side of her breast. “I was beyond shocked,” he says. “I really thought I was being punked. I was waiting for someone to pop up in the massage room, like, ‘Surprise! I got you!’”
Black hadn’t expected his job to involve sex, nor did he expect the resort where he worked to have customers seeking it. The spa attracted wealthy clients from around the world, some of them famous, including the model. “In massage school they always said, ‘Be careful with the men, they’re going to come on to you,’” Black recalls, “so I assumed women just would never do such a thing.”
He contemplated massaging his client’s breasts. “I was extremely turned on, but I was just very nervous and unwilling to go there at that time,” Black says. She gave him a big tip on top of the $150 massage fee, and a CD with a super sexy song on it.
Black was unsure if the model’s behavior was unusual, until two weeks later, when he was massaging another client’s thigh in an outdoor tent, and she began moaning and grinding her hips into the table. “She just got super wet, like, [it] spilled out,” Black says. This time, he gave in. “I, um, couldn’t help myself. I slipped a finger across the front of her pussy and licked it off of my finger, and she just got the biggest smile on her face and sat up and started making out with me.”
Black threw off his sweatpants and tank top, and they started having sex in the diaphanous tent.
This may not have been what massage school had taught him, but it was a lot more fun than kneading a lower hamstring. So, he put an ad on Craigslist offering massage with a picture of himself: buff and beautiful.
Black isn’t an anomaly. He’s one of many male masseurs giving happy endings to women, plying their trade across the world, from the U.S. to Australia. Based on anecdotal evidence, most range in age from their early 20s to early 60s, and they offer a variety of services from hand jobs to penetrative intercourse. While some masseurs, like Black, work out of ritzy spas, others get women off in tiny rooms in seedy strip malls; in massage parlors in Atlanta office buildings; or in British studios. Some men who offer happy endings are licensed massage therapists while others claim to be “sexological bodyworkers” or just admit to having no credentials. A few Atlanta-based masseurs told me their business had increased remarkably during the pandemic—one said it “tripled”—despite the fact that sex work remains illegal in the United States (aside from in 10 counties in Nevada).
Some women want casual sex and feel safer with a negotiated service. Others want a sexpert who might better understand their needs.
“Massage is socially encouraged as a safe way for women to receive skin contact,” says Dr. Hilary Caldwell, an Australian sexual health researcher who studies how women buy sex. “It makes perfect sense that the benefits of sexual relief and skin contact would be combined in erotic massage services, and that these businesses would increase during times of stress.”
So why would a woman pay for sex? Despite the stereotype that ladies can get laid whenever they want, the truth is more complicated. “Women buy sex because they want sex that they can control,” explains Caldwell. “Some women want casual sex and feel safer with a negotiated service. Others want a sexpert who might better understand their needs. Sex workers are unlikely to reject, belittle, or harass their clients, and many women who previously tried online dating prefer the convenience and consistency that commercial sex offers.”
Tanya, a white, 34-year-old mom, is one of the many women across the U.S. risking arrest for a happy ending.
In December of last year, Tanya entered a strip-mall massage parlor in a ritzy Houston suburb—the same parlor she’d been going to for 11 years for traditional massage services, sometimes with her ex-husband. As she stood at the counter, the receptionist assigned her a male massage therapist. A 30-something woman waiting behind her piped up and said, “Oh, you’re getting him! He’s wonderful!” Tanya didn’t think much of it.
Her masseur emerged from the back of the parlor. He was Asian, in his late 30s, with a fade haircut, wearing the newest Nike Airs. He took her past 10 massage chairs to one of the four rooms partitioned with thin wood that didn’t even reach to the ceiling.
Tanya removed her clothes and laid on the table. For about 30 minutes, the massage seemed normal: shoulders, back, arms, all vigorously rubbed. Then the masseur made his way down to her butt. He began kneading with his thumbs. “Alright, I like this,” she thought. He moved closer and closer to her vagina. She tensed up. “Did that guy try to give me a happy ending?” she wondered. After the massage was over, she sat in her car and called her boyfriend.
“I think something weird happened,” she said, then described the vigorous butt rub. “Do you think that he was trying to do more?”
“No—but are you OK?” he asked. He was worried, because when Tanya was 23, she had been sexually assaulted, and he thought the experience might have retraumatized her.
“I’m fine,” she said.
In fact, she was more than fine. She started to get really turned on by the idea of going back. She’d fantasized about getting a happy ending for years. She’d searched for massage porn online (one of the most popular porn categories for women). But she didn’t think that women got happy endings in real life. She went on Reddit and found that other women were searching for them, too, all unsuccessfully. Then she looked on Rubmaps, a website where male customers review happy ending massage parlors. “What am I doing? I have a boyfriend, I can get off for free,” she thought. “But [my boyfriend] was encouraging it, saying, ‘I want you to do whatever makes you happy.’”
She’d fantasized about getting a happy ending for years.
A few weeks later, she went back to the same parlor, hoping to get the same masseur, but she got a woman. Then in January 2021, she went again, and asked for a male therapist. This time, she got a different guy who gave her a standard massage. In February, her quest for the same masseur continued. And it was then that she saw him, wearing the same cool Nikes. “I was really nervous because I didn’t know if I was making this up in my head,” says Tanya. “I was just full of tons of crazy emotions, not knowing how to proceed.”
She’d learned from Reddit that when men are at a parlor, they don’t really have to ask for a happy ending. The masseuse would ask them, make a gesture toward their penis, or sometimes, “the men would have an erection and that was the indicator for the masseuse to offer it,” says Tanya. “It seemed so simple. But as a female, I was like, ‘How do I indicate? And do I even want that?’ And then part of me worried, ‘What if I get one and then I get arrested?’”
She went into the massage room, took off her clothes, and tried to relax. The masseur put on the same CD as before: a muzak version of Radiohead’s greatest hits, played on xylophone. As the instrumental version of “Creep” played, the massage began like the other one had before. But this time, when he got to her butt and inner thighs, she didn’t clench. He started rubbing her butt vigorously with his thumbs. “And then he just started rubbing closer and closer [to my vagina],” Tanya recalls. “I was like, ‘I wonder if he’s gonna do it?’”
Unsure of how to indicate her desire, she began moaning, spread her legs wider, and raised her ass a bit in the air. “And next thing you know, he was like, full on fingering me while I was laying on my stomach,” she says. “[I had] a complete, like, full-body orgasm. It was crazy. I came pretty fast. He finished the massage and then he washed me off and cleaned me up. ” Tanya says she liked that “she didn’t have to acknowledge” what had happened. Both of them had been silent. Consent was via body language.
“I had not been able to actually come to orgasm from that type of fingering [since the assault] happened. And now, I feel like I regained that ability to come from fingering,” says Tanya. “I felt really relieved and fulfilled.”
She paid $45 for the massage and $25 for the tip. “But then when I walked out, I was like, ‘Should I have tipped $50? Because it was a happy ending?’” says Tanya. “I don’t know what you’re supposed to do because I’m a woman. Part of me felt like I was doing him a favor in a weird way. But then I told myself, ‘No, this guy performed a service for you.’”
Tanya walked to her car. She was the last client of the day. As she was sitting in her car, her masseur came out of the parlor. He looked at her for “half a second,” then “darted his eyes downward,” and continued walking to his car.
She didn’t tell her boyfriend about the happy ending “because I just kind of wanted it to be for me,” she says. “All I wanted was to go back and get another one. I was like, ‘I’m gonna do this every day.’ But I haven’t.”
What made it so erotic for her, she says, is that “it was somebody just making sure I got off. And that was all they wanted. They didn’t have any other expectations. And then I didn’t have to talk to them after.” Whereas, when she hooks up with her boyfriend she has to worry about his feelings, and the experience always ends in full penetration. In the massage parlor, “there was no penis causing any discomfort, and I didn’t have to deal with condoms or birth control.”
Yet, Tanya isn’t completely sanguine about the experience. She says she “kind of feels dirty about it…because, as a woman, I’m not supposed to pay for sex. As a mother, I shouldn’t be wanting this. I wish I didn’t feel that way.”
Over 2,400 miles from Tanya, near Victoria, Canada, Ron Stewart, a 50-something former modern dancer with ginger hair and a lithe, muscled body, offers massage with orgasm as part of his “sexological bodywork.” His website says his practice is “designed to invite people into gentle, relaxed body states, which then help them arrive at new levels of feeling, sensing, and arousal…[while helping clients] process any grief, shame, guilt, or other unwanted aspects of sexuality.”
Stewart is one of 116 licensed sexological bodyworkers worldwide. Their work straddles the lines between sex work, therapy, and massage. Dr. Caldwell says the sex-as-therapy trope helps “reduce stigma” for women because women are less likely to openly state they want sex. “A woman who told me she bought sex for therapy might tell her best friend that she bought sex because she was curious or horny,” says Caldwell, “and both of these motivations might be true.”
According to the Association of Certified Sexological Body Workers, this therapeutic method involves, “active receiving, anal touch, internal and external genital mapping, breathwork, scar tissue remediation, and orgasmic yoga coaching.” And yes, much of it involves bringing clients to orgasm. Stewart says that one of the keys to sexological bodywork is one-way touch: the therapist touches you and you don’t reciprocate.
Stewart is married to a man, something that his client Cookie tells me is appealing to her. “It just makes it feel so much safer for me,” she says.
After having a free, 30-minute Zoom call in which Stewart led her in breathwork and explained that his bodywork “can bring up a lot of hormonal responses that can confuse us into feelings,” but that there would be no romance, Cookie booked a three-day retreat. A month later, she was on a two-hour ferry ride to Victoria to meet Stewart.
Once she arrived, Cookie became a bit nervous, but Stewart brewed her a cup of tea, they chatted, and she began to relax. Then they moved to the floor, and Stewart began stretching and rolling like a cat and instructed Cookie to do the same. “Even that was hard, honestly,” she says, “just wiggling around on the floor with a stranger I had just met.”
Stewart told Cookie to stand in the center of the room and command him to move. “Sit down. Stand up. Face me,” she intoned. After each command, Stewart told Cookie to check in with her body. “Part of me didn’t feel like I could say ‘no,’” Cookie explains, “[so] he really wanted to instill in me a sense of being in control.”
After that exercise, Stewart led Cookie to the massage room and told her to take off as much of her clothing as she wanted. Then he told her to command him to touch her where she wanted to be touched. “I was such a scaredy cat,” she recalls. She was afraid to instruct him to do anything sexual.
It’s not unusual for the first day not to have any sexual touching, but the next day didn’t exactly start off with an erotic charge, either. “I want you to imagine you’re a T. Rex. And you’ve got this big old booty with a big ‘ol tail on it. And I want you swinging that tail all over this room, knocking books off the shelf,” Stewart instructed. He demonstrated, and Cookie joined in. This time, she felt less inhibited from the beginning. “We were just a couple of dinosaurs swinging our tails around,” she says.
After the dinosaur role play, he explained the massage that he’d be giving her that afternoon. “My goal is to try to use this vibrator on you for 45 minutes to an hour,” Stewart said.
“Like, on my genitals for an hour? I don’t know how that’s gonna go,” Cookie responded incredulously, glancing at the Hitachi Magic Wand. But her goal that day was to have an orgasm, so she was game.
Stewart told her that he was going to take her close to peak arousal, then bring her down, and bring her up again, until she finally climaxed (a technique also referred to as “edging”). Cookie laid on the table as he worked the Hitachi all over her body. After about 45 minutes, with his gloved fingers inside of her, she came.
“I just bawled my eyes out, like I had never cried before,” she says, recalling that he held her as she cried for 10 minutes. “I realized that the work that we were doing was actually much, much deeper [than sex]. This was attachment work, like having-an-emotionally-neglectful-father stuff.”
Though our patriarchal culture likes to pretend that women don’t buy sex and men don’t sell it to them, it wasn’t difficult to find sources for this story once I figured out where to look.
In Atlanta, there are a number of masseurs who sell their happy ending services online via sites like Instagram and the odd jobs site Thumbtack. Allie Raine, a bisexual, 40-something sex worker, tells me she has procured the services of three such gentlemen in the Atlanta area, whom she keeps in rotation and does not hide from her long-term girlfriend.
I met one of Raine’s masseurs, Simon, at a coffee shop. A former breakdancer with an engineering degree, Simon made his way into massage after getting laid off in 2008. “I’d tried massage parlors before, and I thought, ‘Why can’t women do what men do and take ownership?’” he tells me. “The next thing I did was print up business cards.”
Simon’s clients include single women and lesbian couples. He’s married, but his wife is unaware of his side job as a happy-ending masseur. (He also works full-time as a contractor.) He’s able to keep his job a secret because he usually schedules appointments with women during the day. Simon sees between 3 and 10 clients a month. They include Black, white, and Latinx women, and they range in age from 25 to 45.
Most of his clients find him through word of mouth (it’s safer that way, he says, because it’s less likely that they’re police), but he also hands out those business cards and he markets himself on the sex-work-friendly social media platform Switter, where he often connects with other sex workers who want to hire him for themselves. His services include everything from non-sexual massages to hand jobs to anal sex, for which he charges around $175 a session. Based on anecdotal research, this rate is a little bit pricier than what men pay for a happy ending—the average price is around $100—but male happy-ending providers find they can charge more because there are fewer men out there doing it. And during the pandemic especially, Simon says, business was booming.
"You’ve been objectified your whole life, so it’s like taking a little bit of your power back.”
Raine has a massage table in her condo, so Simon comes to her. They smoke weed, he takes a shower, and then he gives Raine a lap dance. Recently, she says, Simon fed her strawberries and grapes before playfully ordering her to “Stand up and put your hands on the wall.” He ran his hands up and down her body, and Raine says with another guy, she might have felt fear, but Simon’s different. “I feel so safe with him,” she says.
Then she laid on the table, he massaged her back and butt, then had her flip over so he could massage her nipples. The massage continued for about 45 minutes, until he made her come with his hands. Raine says part of the allure of hiring a man for sex is, “They shut the fuck up. You don’t have to listen to any of their bullshit.”
Ultimately, Raine says she considers receiving a happy-ending massage to be a feminist act. “You don’t have to please anyone,” she says. “You get to lay there, and [masseurs] are there to serve and honor you. Women don’t get that experience very much in their lives. There’s something really invigorating in paying a man to please you. I think more women should do that. It’s a great self-confidence booster. You’ve been objectified your whole life, so it’s like taking a little bit of your power back. How many women have had a sexual experience where nothing was taken from them, except for money?”
Story by Hallie Lieberman
Illustration by Lan Truong
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!