Backpage Body Rubs Explained

Backpage, a classified advertising website that became infamous for its adult services section, was seized by the US government in April 2018. This action was part of a broader crackdown on websites that allegedly facilitated prostitution and human trafficking. One of the services advertised on Backpage that drew considerable attention and controversy was “body rubs.” This term, often cloaked in ambiguity, essentially referred to massage services. However, the context and implications of these services varied widely, with many veering into the realm of the erotic and the illegal.

What Are Backpage Body Rubs?

The term “body rubs” on Backpage was a euphemism that often referred to a range of services from legitimate therapeutic massages to those with a sexual or erotic component. Advertisers on Backpage used the term to navigate the site’s policies against explicit content, offering services in a way that could be interpreted as both innocuous and suggestive. The ambiguity of “body rubs” allowed the service to exist in a gray area where the line between legal massage therapy and illegal activities was often blurred.

The Appeal and Risks of Backpage Body Rubs

For many, the allure of Backpage body rubs lay in their accessibility and anonymity. The platform provided a space where individuals could anonymously seek or offer massage services, including those of an erotic nature, without the need for physical establishments that might be subject to regulation or scrutiny. This accessibility, however, came with significant risks. Reports of exploitation, human trafficking, and other illegal activities associated with ads for body rubs on Backpage were rampant. Critics of the platform argued that it facilitated such practices by providing an easy means for traffickers to advertise the services of their victims.

Legal and Ethical Implications

The controversy surrounding Backpage body rubs was not just about the services themselves but also about the broader legal and ethical implications. Backpage’s defenders argued that the website provided a safe platform for sex workers to advertise their services, reducing the risks associated with street-level prostitution. They contended that shutting down Backpage would push the industry further underground, making it more dangerous for sex workers.

Opponents, however, saw the platform as an enabler of sex trafficking, arguing that it made it too easy for traffickers to exploit victims. The legal battle culminated in the passage of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) in 2018, which aimed to curb sex trafficking by holding websites accountable for facilitating such activities.

The Aftermath of Backpage’s Shutdown

The seizure of Backpage and the shutdown of its adult services section sent shockwaves through various communities. For legitimate massage therapists, the closure meant the loss of a widely-used platform for advertising their services, albeit one that had become controversial. For sex workers, the shutdown eliminated a major advertising platform, pushing many into more dangerous situations without the safety net of vetting potential clients online.

The closure of Backpage’s body rubs section also sparked a debate about the best ways to combat sex trafficking without negatively impacting consensual sex workers. Advocates for sex workers’ rights argue for decriminalization and the creation of safer environments, whereas proponents of strict regulation emphasize the need to combat trafficking through law enforcement and penalties for platforms that host such content.

Navigating the Post-Backpage Landscape

In the wake of Backpage’s closure, both providers and seekers of massage services have had to navigate a new landscape. Legitimate massage therapists often turn to more specialized platforms that strictly vet advertisers to distinguish themselves from illicit services. Meanwhile, those seeking erotic services have dispersed across a myriad of smaller, less regulated websites, some of which have attempted to fill the void left by Backpage but with increased caution and privacy measures.


The phenomenon of Backpage body rubs highlighted the complex interplay between internet freedom, sex work, and the fight against human trafficking. While the closure of Backpage’s adult services section marked a significant moment in this ongoing debate, it did not resolve the underlying issues. The discussion about how to protect vulnerable individuals while respecting the rights and safety of sex workers continues, with no easy solutions in sight.

As we move forward, it’s crucial to continue this dialogue, ensuring that efforts to combat trafficking do not inadvertently harm those they aim to protect. The story of Backpage body rubs serves as a reminder of the nuanced challenges at the intersection of technology, law, and human rights, urging society to seek balanced approaches that address the needs and safety of all involved.