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28 m a s s a g e & b o d y wo r k j a n u a r y/ fe b r u a r y 2 0 2 3 TECHNIQUE By Til Luchau KEY POINTS • The intimacy and personal connection of massage and bodywork can play a large part in the ability to nourish, comfort, and heal. • As practitioners, if we aren't on the receiving end of physical intimacy often enough, we're vulnerable to seeking nourishment solely through giving, or, inadvertently, looking to our clients to meet our own intimacy needs. Pleasure as an Ethical Act A Conversation with Dr. Betty Martin THE SOMATIC EDGE Dr. Betty Martin, author of the book The Art of Receiving and Giving, is well known in sex education, sex therapy, and related fields for her inf luential Wheel of Consent model. As a former chiropractor who now teaches and writes about intimacy, consent, and touch, she has a helpful perspective on these well-traveled topics. This excerpt from a longer conversation (which you can listen to in Episode 80 of The Thinking Practitioner podcast) has been lightly edited for clarity. Til Luchau: As bodyworkers, what vulnerabilities do you see us having by virtue of our role, or the position we're in? How does our role set up for confusion? Betty Martin: I think a couple of ways. One is that for most people, touch and sex are conf lated. So, any time touch is anywhere in the room, as a client, my mind goes to, "OK, sex is also in the room." It's really important to deconf late those because they're not the same. But for many people, as soon as touch is about to happen, they get a little aroused, which is fine because they get over it. I think there's that confusion for people—clients mostly. They have a wonderful experience on your table and then they think they're in love with you. That happens. I'm guilty of that. I think another part of it is the natural power imbalance. Anytime you're seeing a practitioner, whether it's a physician, teacher, professor, or bodyworker, you're going to hold them up to a certain . . . TL: Pedestal-like stature? BM: . . . pedestal or something. It's also the fact that if I'm on the table, you do have certain power over me—just in the very tangible, physical way. TL: The physical modeling of the situation. BM: Yes. There's the power imbalance that is inherent. There's also the power imbalance that is all in my head as the client. They make a potent combination. So, if you as a practitioner have any degree of questioning of your boundaries, or you think, "I'm cute," or have any little chink in the armor, I'm going to jump right in. That is a risk of this work. I imagine all your practitioners are well aware of that. I imagine they've all been schooled in not going there. We all know that sexuality is firmly outside the ethical boundaries of therapeutic massage. Yet, because massage or bodywork can be intimate, physical, personal, and pleasurable, it can bring up feelings of closeness, longing, or attraction. This can happen to our clients or, even with the best of intentions, ourselves. It's natural to feel all the emotions of closeness when we're close. Most of the time, clear boundaries and intentions keep these very human feelings from being problematic. But in our (appropriate) clarity and carefulness as practitioners, intimacy itself is not a baby we want to throw out with the boundaries- bathwater; the intimacy and personal connection of massage can be a large part of its power to nourish, comfort, and heal. And, as practitioners, we need intimacy as well. Could we get even better at acknowledging the power of closeness while staying crystal clear about the boundaries between our work and other kinds of intimacy? And, as we get better at giving comfort, can the pleasure that gives us leave room for us to be the recipient of such care as well? Dr. Betty Martin

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