Monday, September 28, 2020

Are massage parlours a devil’s den?

Batswana are known to wallow in luxurious lifestyles. We compete to own big flashy cars, which we ornament with personalised registration plates. We scamper for the latest mobile phones, wear some of the flashiest designer clothes. And, within every little free time, we hang out and party, spending exorbitantly like Hollywood superstars.
The latest luxurious fad emerging is the visit to massage parlours. Every evening and weekends, men and women are seen lining up for massage sessions.

Massage is basically the soothing of muscles and joints with slight gentle finger strokes using special remedial oils. The person being massaged has to lie naked on a table with only a towel covering his/her waist area. It is an intimate process requiring the masseur to explore the client’s body anatomy.
To cater for the growing demand, massage parlours are sprouting in every entertainment nook and hotels within the city centre and suburbs. The parlours are packaged with gym, aromatherapy, sauna, spa and steam bath services.

But recent surveys carried out in massage parlours around town revealed lurid sex tales and unstrained advances from men seeking sexual pleasure in the guise of having a massage. As a rule in massage parlours, girls massage male clients, while men massage female clients.

It was discomforting to ask a straightforward question: “Do men you massage ask for sex favours? Or more bravely, “Do you offer massage-sex to men who come for massage?”

I decided not to initiate my interview with less discomforting questions about the healthy benefits of a massage. But as soon as I tried asking about their experiences in the parlour, some masseurs refused to talk.

The first masseur I talked to was an attractive lady, probably in her mid 20s, in one of *Nwege’s massage parlours. She was taught how to massage by a friend in 2005. She took me through the basics-explained the importance of having a massage at least twice every week.

“Most people come for massage because they want to relax. Others come because they have joint and muscle ache. Some are stressed and a good massage helps them to rediscover themselves,” she explained.

Throughout the interview, she was relaxed and seemed to enjoy talking. Considering the intimate nature of her job, I asked if men ever get aroused and how she handles such situations.

She became hesitant at first. But eventually vowed to only talk under one condition for fear of loosing her job. I had to promise not to mention the massage parlour in which she works or her real name. Deal.

It turned out that every massage parlour I visited, the masseurs (mostly attractive young girls between the age of 18 and 28 years) either made similar demands or refused to talk to me.

So, Tsholofelo Mosimane (not her real name), the lady in Nwege parlour, said the parlour is her second work station but many things caught her by surprise the very first time she walked into a massage parlour.

“On my very first day of work, all the guys were very excited to see a new face.

I thought they really liked me so much. But I soon started facing problems,” she says.
While some men genuinely went to her for massage, the majority “wanted something else”.

“Men began promising me marriage, a lot of money or expensive gifts if I performed certain sexual acts with or on them,” she says. “Some wanted me to perform oral sex or help them to masturbate. It was disgusting.”

When she moved to Nwege’s parlour, she only managed to change work environment but not the problems. Men continue asking her for sexual pleasures. Actually, about five months ago, something happened that she will live to remember.

“A regular client in his 40s, one of the many men who are consistently seducing me, wanted to rape me. I had said “no” to him for the hundredth time I think. He persisted until I threatened to scream if he tried something stupid.”

Mosimane said she immediately stopped the session and the client begged her not to tell anybody what had happened. He has since disappeared.

She thinks massage rooms are seized by the devil. “You have to be resolute, professional and principled to be able to resist advances and offers from men.”
Men offer tips between P500 and P1000, depending on the type of the parlour and person being massaged. Such an offer is too tempting considering the fact that most masseurs are paid on commission basis with only a few enjoying a monthly salary ranging from P 600.

In most massage parlours, the price for full-body massage lasting between 30 minutes to an hour, costs between P250 and P500. In such a case, a masseur is paid P50 to P100.
The girls said some regular clients pay to simply get into a room for a romantic chat with them.

In a Vision 2016* massage parlour for instance, a 20-year-old masseur said, after paying, some men enter into a room and say they simply want to talk with her. She remembers an experience with a client in his 40s who entered the parlour with a condom and asked her to have sex with him.

“I was shocked because he always looked like a respectable person.”
Joyce, a masseur in *Heritage, said Pakistanis taught her how to massage four years ago. Since then she has worked in five different parlours. In each of them, she has experienced similar sexual harassment with male clients who get excited during massage sessions. She, however, declines to say how she handles such situations.

“I handle them my own way. I am at liberty to discuss that with you,” Joyce said. “But most times I tell them that I cannot do more than massage because I love my job. So I move out of the room and let them cool off.”
In a new massage parlour in the city centre, a 21-year-old masseur only called Kate, chatted with me freely until I popped the question about handling advances from men. She became tense and shy but soon came round.

‘When they get aroused, they disturb and beg me to have sex with them. One man told me, “If you fear having it here, we can do it elsewhere”. When I insisted that I cannot offer what they are asking, some men get angry and never return.”

Kate, who was taught by Chinese, has worked as a masseur for ten months. Like most girls, she was naïve about what to expect. Midway through the interview, she was called aside by three of her workmates; young girls, also in their 20s, I presumed to also be masseurs. When she returned, she refused to carry on with the interview!

“If I continue with this interview, I will be fired. Please leave,” she pleaded.

The parlours, according to the masseurs, have strict work ethics. Sex is prohibited and any kind of sexual indulgence between a client and staff is tantamount to a sack. But then why does talking about the experiences in a parlour warrant similar punishment? Is there any sexual mystery in Botswana parlours?
Unlike Botswana, in more liberal western societies, massage parlours are synonymous with prostitution.

Across the United Kingdom, notably in South Wales, Southwest and Northwest England and across London, victims of sex trafficking were found in saunas and massage parlours among other places. In some cases, brothels advertise their services under the guise of being massage parlours.

Perhaps not to the level of western countries, but Mosimane and Kate agree that massage parlours in Botswana are being misused by men and that is changing the society’s perception of people who work in massage parlours and the men who genuinely go for massage.
“We are considered prostitutes and the men who come for massages are looked at as infidels. I am embarrassed to say what I do because people will look down on me,” said Kate.

Despite widespread confessions about numerous sexual advances from men, all female masseurs deny giving in to the men’s demands because “we are not allowed”. But do all the girls, working in massage parlours, remain faithful to their ethics?

On one of the H.I.V. prevention and safe sex forum hosted on www.mehelp.org by Hunther Handsfield, a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the centre of AIDS and STD, University of Washington, a lot of people in Africa confessed having exposed themselves to HIV in many massage parlours. Many confessed after visiting the parlours for massage and after the sessions, “the lady doing the massage managed to arouse me. We ended up in a steamy oral sex session.”
Some also confessed having more than one similar sexual engagement with different girls.

Some of the men who go for massages confessed that it is hard not to get sexually excited during a massage because the whole process is very intimate.

“Even if you have gone for a genuine massage, it is not hard to get aroused,” said George Dlamini. It is a refreshing and relaxing experience but very intimate. You have to try and keep your mind off the sexual fantasies, which is even harder to do if the girl working on you is very pretty.”

Another regular fan of massage parlours, who only preferred to be called James, said he almost hinted a word to a girl who was working on him.

“She had her hands warmly caressing my body. She even accidentally touched my third leg (between my legs). She was killing me inside but I didn’t tell her anything. I was not sure if sex was an additional services or not.” he said.

“I have gone to the massage once. During the session the masseur started flirting with me. She was an attractive girl so I played along. We exchanged telephone numbers. She invited me for two more sessions and flirting intensified. It was getting very tempting so I decided to pull out of it and out of massage parlours,” said another massage parlour frequenter.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.