Massage as foreplay is one of those sex tips that “everyone knows” — but few people know well. Be honest, how many times have you actually massaged your partner for longer than a few minutes of shoulder squeezing in front of the TV, or a half-hearted swish over their back with your palms? Anything more and your thumbs start to throb, or your own back starts to ache.
So we asked massage therapist Denis Merkas from Couples Massage Courses for some pointers on getting it right. And we promise to spare you that junior-high stat about what percentage of massages lead to sex. Because we’re talking about grownup massage here — the kind that was always intended to lead to sex, duh.
1. Don’t squirt oil onto your partner’s body. Squirting cold oil onto warm skin looks sexy in the movies, but feels terrible in real life. Squirt your oil into one hand and then rub your palms together to warm the oil up before applying to the body. Much sexier.
2. Speaking of oil: Don’t use body lotions — they absorb too quickly, which interrupts the flow of the massage. Sweet almond oil — or apricot oil if your partner has a nut allergy — is best. These oils provide a great consistency for massage — they’re light, easily absorbed by the skin, and won’t ruin towels, sheets, or clothes (they wash out quite easily). If you over-oil your partner, use something lush and soft to use to wipe off the excess — and make the wiping part of the massage, following your massage strokes with towel in hand.
3. Do slow it down. So many couples tend to rush through their massage. There are no points for finishing first, and you don’t need to go in deep and firm at the start (unless your partner has just come off the football field and needs a leg rub stat). Get your partner in the mood — and give the muscles time to warm up — with relaxed, gentle strokes. Slowing down will also help you gain their trust, which means they’ll be putty in your hands by the end. And that’s when you go in deep.
4. Don’t use your thumbs! At least, not at first. Using thumbs is the quickest way to tire out your hands, so avoid using them at all until the very end of the massage. Start by using an open hand technique with relaxation strokes and save your thumbs as your secret weapon: after a good 10 minutes of the open-hand technique, bust out your thumbs for short bursts on specific knots.
5. Do ask for feedback. Any good massage therapist will ask their client for feedback, and you should do the same. “Is that deep enough?”; “How does this spot feel?”; “Where are you tight?” are all great questions. Also look out for moans and groans and oohs and aahs while you massage; these all signify that whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it right. And if you’re lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a massage, do give encouraging feedback, too. Your partner will lose motivation if you’re critical of their performance, so positive reinforcement is the key: tell them what you love about the massage and how great it feels — and definitely let out a few strategic oohs and aahs.
6. Speaking of being on the receiving end: Don’t expect a massage in return. Expectations cause most arguments, right? And expecting a massage in return is bad form. You should want to massage your partner for the sake of doing something nice for them — and you should announce this intention before you start the rub-down. If they’re a decent human being, they’ll have your back — as it were — another night.
7. Don’t massage without being prepared. You don’t want to be stopping halfway through a massage to turn off lights, answer the phone, or grab a towel. Have everything you need organized and close by before you begin. (And turn off your phone!)
8. Do contour your hands to your partner’s body. The more surface area you can touch, the better your massage will feel. When massaging, keep your fingertips and palms down and relaxed. If your hands are stiff or tense they won’t contour properly and your massage won’t feel natural.
9. Don’t underestimate the ambiance. Tidy up the massage space so there’s no mess and clutter, and make it seductive by triggering all the different senses — light candles, play soft music, burn incense (if that’s your partner’s thing), and serve wine and chocolate.
10. Do massage on the floor — and don’t lie down. The bed seems like a sexy idea, but the soft and uneven surface of the mattress is going to hurt your back, and your partner’s neck, which means neither of you can relax. The best position is for you to kneel on the floor with your partner sitting cross-legged between your knees. Use cushions under your butt to help keep your weight off your knees. In this position, you’ll have great access to your partner’s neck, shoulders, arms, and upper back. (Though you should still massage for no more than 20 minutes in this position as it will eventually start to tire out your knees and lower back.) Contrary to popular belief, lying down for a massage is definitely NOT sexier or more comfortable — for either of you. Think Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in Ghost, when she’s at the potter’s wheel. It was sexy because he had more body contact and better access to her body — he could kiss her neck and shoulders, for example. (Okay, it was sexy for a number of other reasons, too, but we’re focusing on the massage-specific reasons here!) And she had access to his body, too. She could lean back, touch his thighs, press the small of her back into his pelvis, etc. Lying down, your partner is pressed up against the floor or the bed instead, creating distance between you — you can’t get sexy at arm’s length.
Denis Merkas is a qualified Acupuncturist and Remedial Massage Therapist, whose expertise is in training and developing professional massage therapists. He uses those same techniques to teach couples how to massage each other in weekend seminars and has a series of sophisticated instructional videos, available at CouplesMassageCourses.com.