Are Sensual Massages Legal?

Things To Consider Before You Schedule

Are Sensual Massages Legal?

The short answer to this question is: It depends on where the service is being solicited or performed? There are many countries around the world where Sensual Massage is legal (see below). But if you live in the United States then it is most likely not legal (with the exception of a few states/cities which we discuss below). So, if you live in the United States then perhaps the better question to be asking is: What Is The Realistic Risk Involved With A Sensual Massage? (which we will also address below).

The unfortunate reality is that (in many countries and states) the mere act of touching another person (even between consenting adults) is regulated by the government. There are plenty of valid reasons why we should have laws in place to protect individuals who are being touched without their consent including (but not limited to): rape, child abuse and spousal abuse. But the act of touching another person between consenting adults is not something that the government should be regulating and our politicians should be legislating.

Historically, cultures around the world have tried to legislate and regulate the act of touching between consenting adults because they were trying to enforce a certain set of morals onto the people. In these cultures, any type of sexual contact between two individuals who were not married was considered immoral. Basically, it was all considered a form of lewd behavior and in some cases prostitution. This is why promiscuous women were assigned “scarlet letters” and even tortured, hung or burned alive while their male suitors received very little (if any) punishment.

Unfortunately, in the United States and particularly in the “bible belt” states like Texas, our politicians and our laws haven’t evolved much from this historical perspective. Today, these politicians will use “human trafficking” as their poster child for the legislation they are introducing and passing.

But if you are a person who owns a small business that operates in this sector (massage therapy, massage parlor, massage establishment, massage school, sexually oriented business and other massage services) then you are being impacted by these laws. These same laws are also impacting the rights of many upstanding individuals (including massage therapists, sex workers, male clients and female clients). Yes… most sex workers are also upstanding individuals who have the right to earn an income and enjoy the same freedoms as anyone else. They are people who live in your neighborhoods, take care of their children and send them to school, frequent the same businesses, support charitable organizations and are voting citizens. In other words, not all sex workers are drug addicts, thieves or prostitutes roaming the streets.

We will discuss all these issues further below. But there are certainly better ways to address these issues than what is being done today.

Countries Where Sensual Massage Is Legal

According to data gathered from DecriminalizeSex.Work and Blogmocracy, the following are countries where a Sensual Massage (and usually prostitution in general) is legal:

  • Denmark

    • Decriminalized prostitution in 1999. The authorities did so because policing an illegal trade is more difficult than a legal one. As a result, your masseur who works at the local spa can provide full body relaxation massages, can also make sure your feet are massaged, can honor requests for nuru massage and most likely will not feel the need to avoid sexual conduct which could include happy endings.

  • Finland

    • Prostitution exploded in the country in the 1990s during the recession.

  • Costa Rica

    • Prostitution is legal, but pimping and prostitution rings are illegal.

  • Argentina

    • It’s legal, but sex workers must be over 18 years. Pimping and owning a brothel isn’t permitted, though.

  • Canada

    • There’s no law prohibiting people from exchanging sex for money in this country. But you can’t own a brothel here. It’s forbidden.

  • Belgium

    • Belgium permits prostitution. What it prohibits is for an individual to own a brothel.

  • France

    • Prostitution is legal here. However, pimps, advertising, and owning a brothel aren’t allowed.

  • Germany

    • Prostitution is legal in this country. Sex workers bring in revenues equivalent to what big companies like Adidas and Porsche remit annually. Sex workers even have a union. They also get access to health insurance, pension, and other perks.

  • Greece

    • Where did high-class prostitution come from? It’s no other but Greece during the sixth century BCE. Pretty much everything is legal here including: Massage parlors, sexual services, erotic massages, happy endings, full body massages, nuru massage and even a blow job and/or orgasm. Pimping and brothel are permitted. The age for a sex worker is over 21.

  • Italy

    • Prostitution in Italy is legal. But some cities have devised means to punish clients soliciting for sex instead of the sex worker.

  • Switzerland

    • Prostitution is legal here, but sex workers must register with the government. Regular check-up is also compulsory. Brothels are legal, but street prostitution isn’t.

  • Netherlands

    • Since the year 2000, prostitution has been legal in the country, but sex workers must be 18 years or older. It’s legal to own a brothel, though you must register with the government and pay your taxes.

  • New Zealand

    • New Zealand decriminalized prostitution in 2003, and is the world’s best example of how society and government can humanely accept and manage sex work. Five years after implementing the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 (PRA), a 2008 government report concluded that, despite some community concerns, “the PRA has been effective in achieving its purpose, and the Committee is confident that the vast majority of people involved in the sex industry are better off under the PRA than they were previously.”

While these are countries where a Sensual Massage and/or prostitution is legal, you should still learn the local customs before seeking out or offering services in these countries.

Places In The United States Where Sensual Massage Is Legal

In the United States, Nevada is the only one state where Sensual Massage (i.e. prostitution) is legal. So, at least there is one place where a you can legally receive and/or provide a Sensual Massage. However, as published on the site DecriminalizeSex.Work, the legal approach and framework implemented by Nevada has introduced several issues and has not resulted in any real benefits for anyone other than the owners of the brothels (and perhaps a few clients).



In 1971, Nevada became the only state in the U.S. to legalize prostitution, permitting strictly licensed and regulated brothels in sparsely populated counties of the state. However, brothels remain illegal in the major cities of Las Vegas, Reno, and their suburbs. Legally licensing a limited number of brothels created a two-tiered system that benefits brothel owners (and most likely state politicians) at the expense of sex workers.

The overwhelming majority of sex workers are unable or unwilling to work under the conditions created by legalization, including applying for licenses, registering with local sheriffs, and working in one of the few brothels in rural Nevada, where workers are subject to their manager’s, county, and state rules. Strictly enforced policies prevent people from engaging in consensual adult prostitution outside of licensed brothels, and resulted in 2,859 arrests in 2018.

Even under the “legalization” model, Nevada has the highest prostitution arrest rate per capita, at 95.3 arrests per 100,000 residents. This model may work for clients who want to solicit these services, but it is not beneficial for all people engaged in the sex industry, nor does it carry broader public safety benefits that reach beyond the rural communities where these brothels are located.

Laws In Texas That Regulate Sensual Massage

The majority of the state laws that exist in Texas (governed by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation or TDLR) are not really targeted at the average provider of Sensual Massages nor the average purchaser of these services. They are supposed to be more targeted at human trafficking organizations. However, as we will discuss, these state laws are actually impacting regular providers of massages more than they are the human trafficking organizations.

The vast majority of providers of Sensual Massage in Texas are either:

  1. Independent providers (who work out of a private apartment) or

  2. An agency (who provides a private apartment for other their independent providers to work out of).

Furthermore, the vast majority of these providers have absolutely nothing to do with human trafficking nor would they even consider working for one of these IMBs that state lawmakers keep talking about.

These are simply individuals (mostly female but some males as well) who have figured out that doing Sensual Massages is a much better way of making a living than just about anything else they could possibly be doing. In what other profession can you make $150 – $300 per hour and only need to work a few hours each day to provide a nice living to you and your family.

In the Dallas metroplex alone, there are thousands of these types of providers. They don’t work out of massage parlors located in retail strip centers, they are not being forced or coerced by anyone to do this job and they don’t consider themselves to be prostitutes either. However, they do embrace the term “sex worker” to describe what they do (some embracing this title quite proudly). They believe they provide a valuable service to their clients and they deserve to be compensated for providing that service. In addition, they don’t need the government or anyone else to protect them. They simply need politicians, regulators and law enforcement to leave them alone and let them provide a service between two consenting adults that is not harming anyone.

However, because of the dramatic rise we have been seeing human trafficking, politicians are being pressured to do something to address this growing problem. Unfortunately, instead of going after the real root of the problem (the traffickers and recruiters) they are simply introducing new laws to make it more difficult for the providers (massage therapists and/or sex workers) and the clients (the purchasers).

This is really no different than what they tried back in the prohibition days to prevent the sell and consumption of alcohol. First they went after the people selling alcohol and even made it difficult for people to try and purchase alcohol. But eventually they figured out it was best to legalize (or better yet decriminalized) alcohol all together.

The same thing happened when Richard Nixon and eventually Ronald Reagan declared the “war on drugs”. They initially went after the people selling the drugs. Then they stiffened the penalties for people buying the drugs. Then they tried going after the distributors and transporters of the drugs. Then eventually tried to use the DEA to go after the manufacturers of the drugs. Now (at least for the case of Marijuana) they have finally figured out that the best strategy is to just decriminalize drugs all together.

Perhaps at some point our politicians will set aside their own ignorance and learn from what history has taught us. The best strategy for dealing with sex work is to decriminalize it. This will allow those who are providing and purchasing sex work (between two consenting adults) can be left alone while we focus our energy and resources on actually going after the people who are recruiting and trafficking these marginalized and vulnerable people.

But we shouldn’t be holding our breath while we wait for this all to happen. So, in the meantime, here is what the state of Texas has been doing in their failed attempts to address the issue of human trafficking (specifically within the sex trade).

According to Vanessa Bouché, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Political Science at TCU and a recognized expert on human trafficking globally), Texas has been making efforts to curb the growth of Illicit Massage Businesses (IMBs) in Texas.

These IMBs are basically centers for prostitution and human-trafficking that are fronting as massage establishments. They also engage in a wide variety of other organized criminal activity from sex and labor trafficking to money laundering, document fraud, and tax evasion. Yet, the State of Texas has been attempting to cut them off by regulating them as licit massage establishments. It has not been working.

Are Sensual Massages Legal?
Are Sensual Massages Legal?

Texas Laws Governing Sensual Massage

In 2005 the legislature passed HB 2696 which amended the Texas Occupations Code – OCC § 455.202. Practice by Massage Establishment. As a result of this bill, the following rules were put into effect to govern massage establishments:

(a) A massage establishment may employ only licensed massage therapists to perform massage therapy or other massage services.

(b) A massage establishment may not:

  1. employ an individual who is not a United States citizen or a legal permanent resident with a valid work permit;

  2. employ a minor unless the minor’s parent or legal guardian authorizes in writing the minor’s employment by the establishment;

  3. allow a nude or partially nude employee to provide massage therapy or other massage services to a customer;

  4. allow any individual, including a client, student, license holder, or employee, to engage in sexual contact in the massage establishment;  

  5. allow any individual, including a student, license holder, or employee, to practice massage therapy in the nude or in clothing designed to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any individual;  or

  6. allow any individual, including a student, license holder, or employee, to reside on the premises of the massage establishment.

(c) A massage establishment shall:

  1. properly maintain and secure for each client the initial consultation documents, all session notes, and related billing records;  and

  2. make available to the department on request the information kept as provided by Subdivision (1).

(d) For purposes of this section:

  1. “Nude” means a person who is:

    1. entirely unclothed;  or

    2. clothed in a manner that leaves uncovered or visible through less than fully opaque clothing any portion of the breasts below the top of the areola of the breasts or any portion of the genitals or buttocks.

  2. “Sexual contact” includes:

    1. any touching of any part of the genitalia or anus;

    2. any touching of the breasts of a female without the written consent of the female;

    3. any offer or agreement to engage in any activity described in Paragraph (A) or (B);

    4. kissing without the consent of both persons;

    5. deviate sexual intercourse, sexual contact, sexual intercourse, indecent exposure, sexual assault, prostitution, and promotions of prostitution as described in Chapters 21, 22, and 43, Penal Code, or any offer or agreement to engage in such activities;

    6. any behavior, gesture, or expression that may reasonably be interpreted as inappropriately seductive or sexual;  or

    7. inappropriate sexual comments about or to a client, including sexual comments about a person’s body.

(e) Subsection (b)(6) does not apply to:

  1. a place of business exempted under Section 455.155(c)(2) from the requirement to hold a license as a massage establishment;  or

  2. a licensed massage therapist who practices as a solo practitioner and who is exempted under Section 455.155(b) from the requirement to hold a license as a massage establishment.

Are Erotic Massages Legal
Are Erotic Massages Legal

By 2007, numbers of “unregulated spas and massage parlors” continued to climb. In another effort to stem the tide, the legislature passed HB 2644, which increased the education hours for massage therapy professionals from 300 to 500 – an onerous requirement for legitimate aspiring massage therapists – while simultaneously eliminating the practical “hands on” examination requirement where legitimate massage therapists presumably shine.

Numbers continued to steadily climb, and in 2019, the legislature passed HB 1865, which requires fingerprinting and criminal background checks for those seeking a massage therapy license in Texas.

The purpose of all of these bills was, in part, to curb the rise of illicit massage businesses in Texas. But this approach is clearly not working.

Although data on the total numbers of IMBs in Texas is not available prior to 2016, estimates reveal that in a four-year span from 2016 to 2020, there has been a 100% increase from 510 to 1,082 (see chart below).

Growth of Illicit Massage Businesses (IMBs) In Texas
Growth of Illicit Massage Businesses (IMBs) In Texas

Texas now ranks 4th in the nation for the concentration of Illicit Massage Businesses.

Not only is the current approach not curbing the rise in IMBs in the state. But, in addition, the number of licensed massage therapists with questionable backgrounds has skyrocketed.

According to most majority of women reported to have been trafficked in IMBs are from China. The next highest group are women from South Korea. Average age of victims in IMBs is 35 – 55 years old.

In the 23-year period from 1985 to 2008, there were approximately 12,300 licensed massage therapists in the State of Texas. Only 35 of these had California addresses and none appeared to be Chinese.

Contrast this with the 10-year period from 2009 to 2020 during which time the number of licensed massage therapists in Texas jumped to 29,000, a 136% increase. Of the roughly 16,000 new licensed massage therapists, 886 had California addresses, many of which have the same four addresses in California. More than 600 of these had Chinese surnames, which comports with the research suggesting that the majority of the workers are from China.

Despite the best efforts of the legislature to regulate illicit massage businesses, they thus far appear to have failed.

Instead, they have succeeded in making life significantly more difficult for professional massage therapists and the small businesses they operate. Practically all of the legislative changes that have been implemented have only served to impact legitimate massage businesses and therapists rather than curbing the tide on the increase in IMBs in Texas.

In a dramatic change in policy, Texas politicians have now decided to go after the actual customers or clients of these Illicit Massage Businesses. In June 2022, the Texas Legislature passed bill HB1540 which was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott to crack down on the so-called “johns” who pay for sex, in an attempt to shift punitive blame away from those who engage in prostitution, many of whom are often victims of trafficking. The law (which went into effect on Sept. 1, 2022) now makes it a felony to pay for sex in the state of Texas (with a maximum of two years jailtime for a first offense).

According to Sandra Guerra Thompson (director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law School), “This law is a rethinking of the traditional supply side in prosecutions that tended to target women who were involved in these activities rather than the buyers. It is also coming from a growing awareness that oftentimes those involved in these activities are from a vulnerable class. It is really unfair to someone who is a victim to prosecute them rather than try to help them escape their situation and get their lives back on track.”

While some are hopeful, other experts say the law will have an opposite effect on sex trafficking.

Kathleen Kim (professor at Loyola Marymount University Law School who focuses on human trafficking) said “while the law my be well-intentioned, it will end up entangling victims in the legal system and take valuable funding away from the resources they actually need. Putting individual ‘johns’ in jail will do absolutely nothing for victims of trafficking. In fact, it harms them because evidence demonstrates that the more resources that go into the law enforcement approach, the more that victims low because resources that ought to be going towards things like victim benefits, social services support and legal advocacy, is still unavailable and maybe even diminished because more resources are going toward a dominant criminal enforcement approach.”

Kim said what often plays out in practice is that survivors are “rounded up” in the same operations as those buying sex, and either become criminalized themselves or enmeshed in investigations as witnesses, which often re-traumatizes and re-exploits them.

Charm BodyWorks in Dallas, Texas

What Is The Realistic Risk Involved With A Sensual Massage?

Are Nuru Massages Legal
Are Nuru Massages Legal

What is the provider doing to minimize their own risk?

Here are the things that any reputable provider should be doing to minimize their own risk:

  1. Don’t do anything that looks, sounds, smells or tastes like a human trafficking organization.  The majority of law enforcement budgets and resources are being used to go after these types of organizations. So, if you aren’t one of these types of organizations then don’t look, sound, smell or taste like one. This means doing all of the following points.

  2. Don’t operate out of a retail or commercial space.  Almost all human trafficking organizations operate out of these types of spaces. This makes it very easy for law enforcement to just walk in and raid their business at any time (without a search warrant). Especially if they are operating as “massage establishment” police and code compliance officers now have the right to enter these businesses at will.

  3. See clients by appointment only (scheduled in advance).  Don’t have providers or massage therapists just hanging around your location waiting for clients to show up… and certainly don’t have any providers who sleep or spend the night at your facility.

  4. Implement a strong screening process for any new clients: By defining and implementing a fairly stringent screening process for new clients, a provider will accomplish several key objectives including:

    1. Weeding out unscrupulous individuals who are generally sleezy, untrustworthy, nasty, thieves and the type of people you just shouldn’t be doing business with. People like this tend to attract other people like them. They also tend to attract bad karma (if you know what I mean). They also may attract the attention of law enforcement because they may be involved in other illegal activities and may even have a criminal record.

    2. If law enforcement actually felt it was worthwhile for them to use their precious resources to conduct some type of sting operation, you certainly don’t want to make it easy on them. Unlike retail establishments where they can just waltz in (even without a search warrant) they can’t come after you if they don’t know where you are. So, make them go through your screening process and provide identification, social media accounts, email addresses and/or references before they are even able to schedule appointment. If they are working undercover, this is just more hoops they have to jump through to come after you. Furthermore, don’t give them your address until they have passed this screening process.

  5. Conduct a background check on all prospective clients. In the sex worker industry, there are several good third-party services that are specifically designed to check out prospective clients. When providers or sex workers see new clients, if they suspect anything is “out of the norm” about these clients they report this information to these third-party services. This not only “black lists” unscrupulous clients but it also raises red flags about clients who may be involved in law enforcement.

  6. Raise their prices. Most human trafficking organizations are dealing in quantity not quality. They intentionally keep their prices low so that a lot of clients will come to see them. This may provide the perfect environment for a 20 year old who just wants a happy ending but it is not the environment for a mature, professional who has a lot to lose by being caught up in a police raid. If providers don’t want to look or act like a human trafficking organization then they shouldn’t charge the same rates as these types of organizations. In addition, by raising their prices they will eliminate a lot of the types of clients that they don’t want to be seeing anyway.

  7. Retain quality talent. Mature professional clients like consistency. They want to get to know their providers and develop a rapport with them. So, treat your providers with respect. Treat them like the professionals they are. Minimize turnover. This makes for a stable business and clients like that.

Massage Laws
Massage Laws

What can you do as the client to minimize your own risk?

As a client, here are the things you should be doing and the things you should look for in a reputable provider or massage therapist:

  1. Avoid massage parlors, sex parlors or any sexually oriented business that shares any of the characteristics that are similar to human trafficking organizations.

  2. Avoid massage parlors that operate out of retail or commercial spaces. Most massage therapists (especially quality massage therapists) don’t want to work in these types of environments anyway. So regardless of what they are offering (including erotic massage, full body massage, nuru massage or a happy ending) just don’t use these types of facilities.

  3. Use only quality providers and schedule your appointments in advance.  No quality provider wants to see those aggressive or “horny” clients who wants to see a provider “NOW”! These are the types of clients they avoid like the plague because generally these clients are just assholes.

  4. Be willing to go through their screening process.  Yes… you may have to provide some personal information. But as long as you are dealing with a quality provider or agency, then you will only have to do it once… and in the process you will be building a quality relationship that you can use repeatedly in the future.

  5. Remember that these providers share information (about you as the client) with other providers in the industry. They do this through third-party services that all reputable providers use. They will know if you have been aggressive or disrespectful to other providers in the past. So, always treat your provider with respect.

  6. Be prepared to pay higher rates for higher quality providers.  Providers know what everyone else in the industry is charging and whether they are quality providers or not. So, in this industry you literally get what you pay for (in most cases).

  7. Once you find a quality provider or agency, then stick with them.  Even if you don’t care for one particular provider, they can generally refer you to other providers they work closely with. This will keep you from having to go through the screening process again with a new provider or agency.

Charm BodyWorks in Dallas, Texas

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About This Article

This article is sponsored by Charm BodyWorks (a Sensual Massage Provider in Dallas, Texas).

© 2024 Charm BodyWorks LLC