Sex & Relationships
*Sends link to partner*
Massages are a great way to release stress, work out kinks in your body, and relax. But according to the American Massage Therapy Association, most people get professional massages for health and pain management — after all, massages with a professional masseuse can help with injury recovery and migraines. Still, 43% of customers get them for relaxation and stress management. Wouldn’t it be great if your partner could give them, too? (And vice versa, obviously.) According to experts, knowing how to give your partner a great massage can do wonders for your relationship.
"Massage is a great way to build intimacy and trust in a relationship as well as build a stronger bond," says Geraldine Abergas, a massage therapist and educator. "It’s shown to increase levels of oxytocin, which is known as the ‘hormone of love.’ Touch also signifies [to a partner], ‘You are safe, I am here, you are not alone.’ ... Touch is a way to communicate more honestly, as our words can often be influenced or limited."
In fact, Sari Cooper, a certified sex therapist and director of the Center for Love and Sex, uses massages as central parts of her practice. “I encourage partners to carve out a weekly time for intimacy dates to expand their sexual script through erotic massage,” she says. And while not every massage has to be erotic, Cooper is a big believer in massage as a way to “trigger sexual and erotic responses … [especially] if more attention is paid to exploring a wider array of touch and locations.”
In hopes of upping the oxytocin, the experts below share time-tested strategies to give professional-grade messages.
Set The Mood
You want an environment conducive for relaxing. So regardless of your location, temperature is key, says Abergas, as well as other adjustable sensory details like dim lighting, scent, and music. “Imagine a romantic candlelight dinner, [with] soft music playing, maybe even your partner's favorite chill album,” she says. “Light a scented candle. Think more lavender-scented than cinnamon pumpkin pie. And make sure the room is comfortably warm, warm enough to have the least amount of clothing [on] and still be relaxed."
“Worst-case scenario would be a brightly lit room that smells like the chain-smoking neighbor's apartment on a cold winter day, [with] the sounds of the construction zone outside permeating the walls," Abergas says. "This would not lead to any sort of relaxation.”
Pick A Good Massage Oil
"Pick the right massage oil or lotion. Put some thought into this," says Abergas, who recommends unscented coconut oil. "Don't just grab the plain body lotion, which is super emollient like you're greasing a turkey. You don't want anything super slippery either, so there's not enough skin-on-skin contact.” She suggests heating the oil so the initial contact is less surprising."Microwave some water in a bowl, and keep the oil [or] lotion bottle sitting in the bowl of warm water and cover with a towel to keep the warmth," Abergas says.
If you’re comfortable with scents, Cooper recommends massage candles, which melt into a warm oil that can be safely used on your partner’s skin. And once the massage has found its rhythm, there’s no harm in experimenting with a cold compress to “bring the receiver’s attention to a higher level of alertness,” Cooper says.
Accept You're Not A Professional
Even though you’re not a trained masseuse, you’re adding an emotional intimacy to the massage that your professional counterparts lack — so don’t stress about it. It's more about "the rhythm of your touch, your breath, along with their breath, that will induce relaxation that will release any knots," according to Abergas. Put simply, your touch is the most important part of this massage.
Also, you can always start small. “Next time you step out of the shower, ask your partner to lotion up your legs. Or when you’re at the beach, offer to put sunblock on your partner’s back. And each time, try to linger a little longer, find those sensitive areas and gently tend to those places. … It’ll be so much easier to build upon it,” says Yue Xu, the co-host and co-creator of the Date/able podcast. Julie Krafchick, her co-creator, agrees. “Rub your thumb in a circular motion on your partner's hand,” Krafchick says. “It’s a PG way to up the sensations and make them feel good.”
The First Touch Is Important
To begin, have your partner lie on their stomach. You may want to put a pillow under their chest for comfort. Ask them to turn their head periodically to prevent pain or discomfort in the neck.
Even if you've never given a massage before in your life, it's important to be confident. "First touch signals a lot," Abergas says. "So be confident, mean it, and enjoy what you're doing. They can feel your intention. Find your rhythm and breathe. If you are tense, they feel it too."
Start By Slowly Massaging Their Back
"Standing next to the bed, start by placing your hands on their shoulders to signify the beginning,” Abergas says. Then continue to spread the oil throughout the back, down along the muscles of the spine, with no pressure on the spine itself. ... When you get to the base of the spine, separate your hands and move along the waist as if you're going to grab the waist. But you're not. You're not going 0-60 here. [Start by] setting the tone and rhythm, translating comfort, security, connection, and relaxation.”
Use Your Whole Hands
"Pressure must be whole-handed,” Abergas says, “using the palm of your hand as the most pressurized, [with] fingers not loose and connected to the skin.”
Focus On The Spine
Says Abergas, “As you’re along the waist, bring the hands together again and move up the spine and move hands apart again, and move up along the spine, alternating hand motions until you're back up to the shoulders."
Have Them Roll Onto Their Back
“Now, if you're still at it, ask your partner to get on their back. This will ease any tension in their neck from lying on their stomach,” Abergas says. It also gives you more access to other parts of their body, which could shift the mood of the massage, Cooper says. Take your time, and don’t be afraid to veer off the path.
Pay Attention To Their Feet
"Apply more oil [or] lotion," Abergas says. "Rub it between your hands and simultaneously grab both feet, placing your thumb on their inside arch, and tops of your hands along the tops of their feet. [With a] firm pressure, stroke rhythmically and simultaneously. If they’re ticklish, apply firmer pressure. The softer your touch the more ticklish it is. Now finish off by grabbing one foot at a time with both hands, [with] one hand on either side of the foot and thumbs at the sole, like if you were holding a [sandwich]. Move your hands up and down [the foot] as you squeeze and wring out any tension. Then repeat with the other foot."
Center Your Thoughts
"To finish, center your thoughts around your partner," Abergas says, "and with both hands on their feet, take a couple of deep breaths." As you come to the end of the massage, prioritize the bond between you and your partner.
Pay Close Attention To Your Partner’s Erogenous Zones
When people think of an erotic massage, their minds tend to think of the back or “pleasure zones,” Carmel Jones, sex and relationship expert, tells Bustle. “But there are parts of the body that are sensual and should be stimulated too! Don’t forget to massage the neck, ears and thighs as well.” If your partner has a particularly sensitive spot, be sure to focus your attention on that.
If you don’t know which spots to hit, Cooper believes a massage is a great way to “discover the many erogenous zones on one’s body that often get bypassed by partners for the primary erogenous zones. I invite partners to begin with parts of the body that are furthest away from these zones and work towards the primary zones by experimenting with varied types of pressure,” she says.
These are the areas on their body that are most sensitive to arousal. As sex educator Lola Jean previously told Bustle, “There are thought to be seven main erogenous zones, or primary erogenous zones, but there can [also] be secondary and tertiary.” The main zones are the lips, neck, ear lobes, chest/breast or nipple area, inner thighs, butt, and genitals.
Use Your Mouth
Aim to give your partner a pro-level massage, but don’t be afraid to get more intimate. After all, this is a massage you’re giving to your partner. So, feel free to experiment. According to Jones, one of the easiest and hottest ways to do this is to use your mouth. “Surprise your partner with some unexpected kisses throughout the massage, using the heat of your breath in sensitive areas (like the nape of the neck, the earlobe, etc.).”
Make The Massage Pleasurable For You As Well
It’s the same with sex. It’s a lot more enjoyable when you can feel that your partner is having an equally good time, even if you’re the receiver. “Energy is an unspoken language and your partner can feel if you hate what you’re doing,” Erica Wiederlight, sexual empowerment coach, tells Bustle. “If you are genuinely checked in and present to the situation and enjoying yourself, your partner can feel that and actually enjoy the massage so much more.”
Sari Cooper, a certified sex therapist and director of the Center for Love and Sex
Geraldine Abergas, a massage therapist and educator
Carmel Jones, sex and relationship expert
Erica Wiederlight, sexual empowerment coach
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