A massage parlor (American English), or massage parlour (Canadian/British English), is a place where massage services are provided. Some massage parlors are front organizations for prostitution and the term "massage parlor" has also become a euphemism for a brothel.[citation needed]

Massage parlour in London's Soho.
Massage parlors in Cambodia



The term "massage parlour" (British English) or "massage parlor" (American English) sometimes refers to a front for prostitution, an association popularized by the "Massage Scandals" of 1894. In 1894 the British Medical Association (BMA) inquired into the education and practice of massage practitioners in London, and found that prostitution was commonly associated with unskilled workers and debt, often working with forged qualifications. In response, legitimate massage workers formed the Society of Trained Masseuses (now known as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy), with an emphasis on high academic standards and a medical model for massage training.[1]

Particularly where prostitution is illegal, massage parlors (as well as saunas, spas or similar establishments) may be fronts for places of prostitution. Illegal brothels disguised as massage parlors are common in many countries.

Alternatively, the massages at certain massage parlors may have a "happy ending", meaning that the massage ends with the client receiving a sexual release. In addition to a "happy ending" service, given the restrictions imposed upon most striptease venues, some erotic massage venues now also offer a service where the client can masturbate while watching an artist perform a striptease.

There is a grey area and ambiguity as to when an ordinary massage becomes sexual when it comes to individuals with sexual interests such as tripsophilia, tripsolagnophilia, partialism, autofetishism or organofact, who may feel that the massage of the entire body or any ordinary bodyparts unrelated to typical erogenous zones are associated with eroticism and sensuality.[2]


Massage parlor china

Most types of massage, with the exception of some traditional Chinese medicine, are not regulated in China. Although illegal in China, some of the smaller massage parlors are sometimes linked to the sex industry and the government has taken a number of measures in recent times to curb this. In a nationwide crackdown known as the yellow sweep ("Yellow" in Mandarin Chinese refers to sexual activities or pornographic content), limitations on the design and operation of massage parlors have been placed, going so far as requiring identification from customers who visit massage establishments late at night and logging their visits with the local police.[3][4]



Prostitution in Germany is legal. In 2004 the German city of Cologne introduced a tax on the city's sex industry including its massage parlors. It was the only city to do so.[5]



In Italy, massage parlours can be fronts for prostitution. Advertisements for massage parlours are listed in newspapers, in some cases offering "Japanese" or "Oriental" massage. Viva Lain, one of Italy's largest chains of massage parlours, was raided by the police in 2003.[6]



Since the end of the 20th century an expansion in prostitution in Malaysia has resulted in massage parlors being established across the country. Malaysian massage parlors often call themselves spas, salons, or health centres, and many offer erotic massages and "happy endings".[7]



In Kathmandu's tourist district of Thamel, massage parlours typically advertise Thai massage, Ayurvedic massage or Nepalese "special massage". Some offer legitimate massage, while others are sex establishments. Prostitution in Nepal is illegal so the owners of such massage parlours do not explicitly solicit sex and the paying of police bribes is a customary part of the operation.[8]


A massage parlor and soapland in Chiang Mai, Thailand

There are many businesses in Thailand that provide traditional Thai massage which is therapeutic and non-sexual. However, the country also has a large number of massage parlors which are part of the country's sex industry. These premises typically contain a large glass window behind which clothed women sit wearing identification numbers. Once one of them is chosen by a customer, she takes him into a private room for a bath and sexual services (oral sex or penetrative sex). Instead of a salary, the women receive a proportion of the fee paid by the customer, and they are also given tips.[9]

In 1996, foreign women made up the majority of prostitutes from forty sex establishments in eighteen border provinces that were actually brothels masquerading as karaoke bars, restaurants and traditional massage parlours. In some venues though, there were no Thai women at all.[10] In mid-1997, an increasing number of young girls, more than 60% of which were under 18 years old, were entering Thailand through the Mae Sai checkpoint into massage parlors, brothels, etc.[11]

The legal difference between a "spa" and a "massage parlour" is unclear. The Federation of Thai Spa Associations (FTSPA) in 2016 urged authorities to clamp down on sexual services being offered at some massage parlours. The FTSPA maintains that influential figures have used legal loopholes to open "pretty spas" or massage parlours where tourists can buy sexual services.[12]

United Kingdom


In the United Kingdom, prostitution itself is legal but activities such as pimping and owning or managing a brothel are not. However, the laws are not always strictly enforced.[13] Many brothels in cities such as Manchester and London and Cardiff operate through legitimate businesses which are licensed as "Massage Parlours" and operate under that name. Police forces often turn a blind eye to such establishments.[14][15][16] Massage parlours are sometimes advertised in newspapers, but a newspaper which carries advertising for a brothel under the guise of a massage parlour may be liable to prosecution for money laundering offences under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The Newspaper Society's guidelines suggest that their members (the majority of local newspapers) refuse to carry advertisements for sexual services.[17] The advice also warns publishers that massage parlours can disguise illegal offers of sexual services and it suggests checking qualifications to ensure the advertised service is legitimate. Newspaper companies often adopt a policy of refusing all advertisements for massage parlours.[18]

In 2005, it was reported that, in Manchester, there were around eighty "massage parlours" which were fronts for prostitution and that the police ignored those establishments, focusing instead on reducing street prostitution. On 12 October 2005, the Manchester Evening News reported that "A self-confessed pimp walked free from court after a judge was told police had 'turned a blind eye' to organised prostitution in massage parlours in Manchester."[19]

In December 2007, the Manchester Evening News removed all advertisements for massage parlours from its personal columns. The move followed a meeting between ministers and newspaper and advertising industry representatives. It also followed comments by Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, in the House of Commons on 25 October that some local newspapers were promoting slavery by running sex adverts for foreign women.[20]

United States


Massage parlors in the United States have been linked to prostitution since the nineteenth century. In 2019 it was reported that the Polaris Project estimated there were around 9,000 massage parlors in the US providing sexual services. Most of the staff were Chinese women.[21][22] The larger cities of the US typically have hundreds of massage parlors, and they are often present in small towns.[23]

Between 1980 and 2009, massage parlors in Rhode Island (also known there as "spas") were known to be involved in prostitution. Prostitution in Rhode Island was legal at that time as long as it was "behind closed doors".[24] The 2009 documentary Happy Endings? follows women who worked in the Asian massage parlors of Rhode Island. The film focuses on "full service" massage parlors, although "rub and tug" massage parlors (where only handjobs are offered) are also covered.

As of 2010, there were an estimated 525 massage parlors in New Jersey acting as fronts for the prostitution industry.[25]

An ongoing study of the prostitution business in New York City by the Sociology Department of Columbia University found that, between 1991 and 2010, the rise of the Internet and mobile phones “have enabled some sex workers to professionalize their trade”, with a shift from street walking to "indoor" markets (including massage parlors and escort agencies), a geographical change in the concentration of sex work, and the growth of a more expensive luxury market.[26] In January 2011, an investigation by Time Out New York found New York City massage parlors charging a "house fee" (which is usually paid, up front to the parlor's mama-san) of $60 to $100 per visit, with an extra tip for the sex workers (usually around $40) for a massage and a basic “happy ending” (or manual stimulation of the penis until orgasm). Most of the massage parlors reviewed were very strict about the female masseuse not being touched by the male client, but, in some parlors, further contact could be negotiated.[27]

In many large US cities there are Asian massage parlours, some advertising traditional Thai massage. In some cases these establishments are fronts for prostitution.[28] As of 2005, more than forty Asian massage parlors (mostly Korean) operated as fronts for in-call brothels in Washington, D.C., and each earned an average of $1.2 million a year. More than 200 other massage parlors (that did not openly advertise and were operated largely out of private homes and apartments) serving mainly Latino clients made an average of at least $800,000 a year.[29][30]

Sex acts performed at massage parlors can range from a basic "happy ending" to oral sex or "full service". Some, mostly Asian, massage parlors offer a naked "table shower" or an "Asian body slide" as well as access to a sauna before a massage and/or any sexual activity takes place.[30][31][32]

During the 2000s publications in major metropolitan areas of the US were under pressure not to advertise massage parlor operations.[33] After the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act became law on 11 April 2018[34] the classified advertising website Craigslist removed all of their personal advertisements.[35] Another classified advertising website, Backpage, was shut down by federal officials during the same month.[36] The closure of Backpage substantially benefited the massage parlor review website RubMaps which covers Asian massage parlors in the US. The site was under investigation by US authorities in 2019, a process made more difficult by the site's corporate structures and domain name having moved to Europe.[37]

Law enforcement agencies in the US attempt to shut down or fine massage parlor establishments that break federal, state or local laws.[32][33] The penalty for breaking the law in these instances can be as high as life imprisonment in some cases, especially those that involve human trafficking.[38]

See also



  1. ^ Callaway and Burgess, S. 2009. History of massage. Chapter 2 In: Casanelia, L and Stelfox, D (editors). Foundations of massage, 3rd edition. Harcourt Publishers Group (Australia). ISBN 978-0729578691.
  2. ^ Coleman-Kennedy, Carol, and Amanda Pendley. "Assessment and diagnosis of sexual addiction." Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association 8.5 (2002): 143-151.
  3. ^ Ramzy A (8 July 2014). "To Curb Prostitution, Guangdong Tries to Clean Up Massage Industry".
  4. ^ Wong, Edward (17 February 2014). "Chinese Officials Widen Campaign Against Vices". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "Sex Tax Filling Cologne's Coffers". Der Spiegel. 15 December 2006.
  6. ^ Kara, Siddharth (2010). Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. Columbia University Press. p. 96. ISBN 9780231139618.
  7. ^ Hunter, Murray (28 July 2015). "Why Kuala Lumpur could be on its way to becoming the sex capital of Asia". Asian Correspondent. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  8. ^ Kara 2010, p. 72–74.
  9. ^ Sorajjakool, Siroj (2013). Human Trafficking in Thailand: Current Issues, Trends, and the Role of the Thai Government. Silkworm Books. p. 44. ISBN 9781631021947.
  10. ^ Kritaya Archavanitkul, Institute for Population and Social Research, Mahidol University, the Passage of Women in Neighbouring Countries into the Sex Trade in Thailand, "Academic urges action in war against flesh trade," Yindee Lertcharoenchok, Mukdawan Sakboon, The Nation, 28 May 1997
  11. ^ (World Vision¹s Bansit Thathorn, the coordinator of the NGO Burmese women, Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, "Influx of Burmese sex workers via Mae Sai," Bangkok Post, 2 June 1997)
  12. ^ Chinmaneevong, Chadamas (2016-05-25). "Spas cry foul over sale of sex services". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  13. ^ "Prostitution: Third Report of Session 2016–17" (PDF). House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. 1 July 2016. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  14. ^ James, David (31 January 2008). "Police turn blind eye to brothels". walesonline. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  15. ^ Bennetto, Jason (1996-07-28). "Police turn blind eye to 'brothels' as prostitutes come in from cold". The Independent. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  16. ^ "Brothel industry is 'spreading'". BBC News. 4 September 2008.
  17. ^ "Shun sex ads, local papers urged". BBC News. 11 February 2008. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
  18. ^ "Prostitution and Exploitation of Prostitution". The Crown Prosecution Service. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  19. ^ [unattributed] (2005-10-12). "Police turn a blind eye to brothels". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 2007-01-22.
  20. ^ "Newspapers promise action on sex slavery". Press Gazette. 25 November 2007. Archived from the original on 8 January 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  21. ^ Chen, Teng (2020-01-30). "Chinese moms in America's illicit massage parlors". SupChina. Archived from the original on 8 April 2020. Retrieved 2021-11-17.
  22. ^ "Human Trafficking in Illicit Massage Businesses". Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Polaris.
  23. ^ Hallie Lieberman (28 October 2019). "Massage Parlours with 'Happy Endings' Give These Sex Workers a Decent Living". Vice.
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  26. ^ Sudhir Venkatesh (31 January 2011). "How tech tools have changed today's prostitution business". Wired. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  27. ^ "Best happy-ending parlors", Time Out New York, 25 January 2011, archived from the original on 5 July 2011, retrieved 1 December 2016
  28. ^ Kara 2010, pp. 179–180.
  29. ^ "Earnings of an Asian Massage Parlor in Washington DC". Havocscope Black Market. 2005-11-05. Retrieved 2011-06-11.
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  31. ^ "West Bridgewater spa advertised 'table showers' on Craigslist". 22 February 2013. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  32. ^ a b "Police barely decent in massage parlor sting". Washington Times. 6 February 2011. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  33. ^ a b "Time to Drop the Massage Parlor Ads". Washington Post. 27 August 2006. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  34. ^ Elizabeth Dias (11 April 2018). "Trump Signs Bill Amid Momentum to Crack Down on Trafficking". New York Times. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  35. ^ Kennedy, Merrit (23 March 2018). "Craigslist Shuts Down Personals Section After Congress Passes Bill On Trafficking". Washington, DC, USA: National Public Radio.
  36. ^ Grimm, Andy (22 April 2018). "Some sex workers worry about their business after feds shut down Backpage.com". Chicago, Illinois, USA: The Chicago Sun-Times.
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