Sex for Tips at Suburban Massage Parlors

The words “masseuse” and “sex” in the same sentence make for a classic porn fantasy — and with good reason, it seems. At Terry Mussari’s Aria Day Spa in Brockton — along with two other spas — the therapists have allegedly been offering sexual extras for “tips.” When an undercover police officer offered Mussari $1,720 to hire 12 women for a private party, the police arrested Mussari, and she later was charged with running a prostitution ring. Meanwhile, the spas have been closed.

Of course, sex and massage are natural bed partners; in fact, I often refer to massage when challenging sex-negative beliefs. What’s really the difference between a back rub and a hand job, I’ll ask. Both can bring pleasure and sensation; both are therapeutic; both involve giving and receiving; both are body-centered. But folks often reply that hand jobs are “dirty” or that orgasms are “private.” Such value judgments seem to rely on prejudice rather than logic. In truth, the only reason back massage and sexual massage are seen as so different is because we’re told — by politics, religion, and the media — that we don’t deserve sexual pleasure. And once we’re ground down like that, we’re easy to control.

But there’s another issue here: I’ll bet that many who have heard of Mussari’s alleged activities are stereotyping these women, as well as using the case to make anti-prostitution arguments. “Obviously, these women were being treated appallingly,” they’ll say. And such generalizations bother me. Is sex work “bad” for an escort who can earn thousands a night, just for a dinner date, after which the choice about sex is hers? And is sex work bad for someone who has regular clients they care for? You just can’t compare these scenarios with a person who needs money, desperately, by tomorrow morning.

Frankly, the judgments we’ve been seeing about sex workers remind me of a time in Britain when folks were saying that all priests are abusive. This was in response to what was hitting the headlines, but it simply wasn’t true.

I won’t be listening to rumors about the women who worked at the Aria Day Spa. Instead, I wish them well in their search for a new job during a difficult time.