By nature of its skin-to-skin contact, all massage is sensual. Relaxing the muscles, relieving pain, improving circulation and stimulating the nerves are part of any massage therapy and have a sensual component.
Swedish massage, the most commonly practised and closely regulated professional massage therapy form seen in the United States, functions primarily to relax muscles and reduce pain.
Other massage therapies derive from different approaches. Asian schools centre on body chakras or chi flow, while holistic massage views the recipient's sensual reaction and needs as part of the whole therapy.
Unscrupulous parties may use sensual massage as a front for prostitution. This fact should not deter the serious student from studying legitimate therapies as a way to improve life.
Swedish massage comprises five basic strokes, which when used in sequence on each part of the body will relax muscles, improve circulation and joint mobility and stimulate the skin.
Effleurage involves long relaxing strokes with the application of oil or lotion. In petrissage, the masseuse kneads muscles and breaks up muscle knots.
Friction strokes heat the skin and muscles to improve circulation. Tapotement involves light strikes with the flat or side of the hand. Nerve strokes lightly stimulate skin and nerves.
In Swedish massage, the therapist wears a lab smock or scrubs. A sheet covers the client except for the head and the body area being worked upon.
The therapy room is most often private and softly lit with calming music playing.
All therapies may include aromatherapy to enhance the massage effects.
Esalen starts with the basic Swedish strokes but has a focus on the sensual aspects and the interaction between the client and therapist. The therapy, much more free-form, should be tailored to the needs of and feedback from the client.
Unlike in Swedish massage, in Esalen the client remains largely or completely undraped. In many Esalen practices, the therapist wears minimal or no clothes as well.
As with Swedish massage, Esalen is most often performed in a quiet, private room with soft lighting and calming music. Aromatherapy will most likely be used as part of the therapy session.
This India-based massage technique has a focus on chakra centres in the body. Strokes and pressure are used to work with and stimulate specific chakras during the session. In many Tantric sessions, meditation is a feature of the complete package.
Unlike all Swedish and some Esalen, genital contact will be part of most Tantric massage. Despite this, the primary goals are sensual and spiritual rather than sexual.
Thai massage, similar to Tantric massage, involves energy flow manipulation within the body. In Thai massage, power meridians (similar to Chinese chi) are loosened or stimulated to improve overall health.
In Thai massage sessions, the client will lay on a futon while wearing loosely fitting clothes. The therapist does most of the work over these clothes or on limited exposed areas.
Romantic or Sensual-Touch Massage
This type of massage is mainly seen in the form of video instruction discs or music CDs. It does not try to direct untrained therapists to perform bodywork therapy as much as it helps couples set the mood for intimacy.
Deep compression strokes and joint manipulation are avoided in favour of setting the mood, achieving sensual contact and forming an intimate bond between the giver and the recipient. When followed with an eye on spontaneous adaptation and directed by feedback from the recipient, these aids provide valuable help to the couple.