I'm kneeling on my massage table between the legs of an aroused man or woman. The scent of excitement fills my nostrils as I stroke labia, G-spot or penis. I'm watching the person's body with keen, focused attention. Is she breathing? How is he moving? Where is she tense? I might put a hand over the person's belly and say, "Let yourself drop into the table here as you exhale." Then the arousal level climbs higher.
Or I'll sense the need for a stroke up the body, from the pubic bone to the heart, as the fingers of my other hand continue to stimulate the clitoris. Suddenly, the excitement in the vulva is less tense, and relaxation and pleasure ripple through the body.
Obviously, I'm not a registered massage therapist - or any other kind of officially recognized therapist.
Instead, in my work as an erotic masseuse, I follow my own vision of assisting people to become empowered, a vision that falls outside the scope of "legitimate" bodywork.
People manage to find me by asking in certain circles. The men I work with are typically no longer satisfied by coming alone or want to know how to prolong and deepen their pleasure, how to acquire a more sensitive body than is generally allowed men in our society. They also often want anal touch that's not coming from a guy.
I work with more women than men, though, I guess because women are more likely to have been sexually abused, invaded or neglected. My women clients recognize that taking charge of their own sexuality - working through the fear, shame and disconnection from their bodies that's been induced by trauma - is needed to create a better future for themselves.
Some of these women keenly feel the need for a kind of erotic touch they may never have experienced before - touch that's fully consensual, with a loving intent behind it. They've learned that there are places in the mind and heart that can't be reached for repair unless the whole self is affirmed including their sexual self.
We tend to move slowly together, these women and I. Sometimes I take 20 minutes just to undress a client, to let her experience every part of her body being respectfully revealed and invited into the massage.
The slowness of my touch, the organization of the strokes I use, gives my clients a chance to figure out what they are really feeling. Does a hand moving up the thigh excite or frighten? When arousal arises, does it feel good or does it revive childhood shaming, causing distress and confusion? What neglected body parts - an ear, perhaps, or the inside of an arm - have unexplored pleasure potential?
Everyday lovemaking in a society where lovemaking is rarely respected as an art is so often fraught with urgent and chaotic movement, stressful sexual politics, unfinished emotional business and the pressures of performance. In the erotic massage room, an initial slowness and an energetically organized approach to the body encourage the flowering of a self-awareness that will eventually nourish happier sexual unions.
Often my clients forget to breathe deeply, and even when they start they may stop and clench their belly the instant they feel arousal, or when a sensitive body part is touched. Breathing deeply then can bring about revelation: tears, pain, visions of past abuse.
We are exploring the realities patiently held by the tissues until someone is willing to listen. I remind my clients again and again: "If you don't release the pain, you won't be able to access more pleasure. When you repress one, you repress the other."
And with time, on a schedule that's as individual as my clients, pleasure does take centre stage. Laughter punctuates the session. My body tingles in response to the flow of sexual/life energy I'm feeling from the person I'm touching. I'm honoured and nourished by the falling away of my client's masks. When the belly comes alive, so does the face, and I'm privileged to see the naked truth shining forth.
It's hard for me to understand at times how such satisfying work could be considered "improper," "immoral" or "illegal," yet that's the case. Don't we believe that we own our bodies? What gives outsiders the right to interfere with safe, consensual touch?
Some might argue that the money involved somehow "dirties" the transaction. Why, then, is it all right to massage an arm for money but not a penis? Both are critical parts of a healthy body, and both are filled with erotic potential. I've had a client who was perfectly comfortable having his genitals touched but forbade my hand in other areas.
I've learned that whether or not I touch a person's sex organs or arm pales in importance next to the question of whether I act in a context of consent and respect. Our current laws and thinking divide us, reduce our wholeness, by saying that certain body parts and feelings are not allowed in the massage room, that even as adults we cannot choose who touches us and why. I'd say it's time for change.
Sarah Innes is a pseudonym.