If you don’t know much about massage, you may assume that the terms “masseuse,” “masseur,” and “massage therapist” are interchangeable. However, massage therapists are sensitive to the terminology people use when referring to their profession.

What is a masseuse? What is a masseur?

The original meaning of the term “masseuse” was simply “a woman who provides massage services.” A masseur is the male equivalent of a masseuse. Both terms came into widespread use in 19th-century France. “Masser” a French verb meaning “to rub” or “to knead.”

Unfortunately, these terms developed sexual connotations in the second half of the twentieth century. Specifically, “masseuse” has come to refer to women who offer sexual services alongside massage. These days, a “masseuse” is likely to work in the sex industry.

If you come across advertisements for a “gentlemen’s’ massage” or “sensual massage,” know that these are euphemisms for sexual services. Usually, these forms of “massage” are given by sex workers with little or no formal training. They are not normally registered with any official body and will not be able to help treat injuries and illness.

What is a massage therapist?

A massage therapist is a term used by the medical profession to describe someone who performs massage for therapeutic purposes. They are trained, licensed professionals who know how to apply their skills to relieve stress and treat specific ailments. They do not provide any form of sexual service.

Forty five states have laws that regulate the profession. Passing laws and drawing up official standards for massage therapies became popular in the 1980s. At the time, sex workers had begun to use the term “masseuse” as a cover for sexual services. This practice damaged the reputation of legitimate massage therapists.

In some countries, “massage therapist” is a protected title. This means that anyone describing themselves as such needs to be appropriately qualified and licensed. In the US, a massage therapist can use L.M.T. (“Licensed Massage Therapist”) after their name. Some are entitled to use C.M.P., which stands for “Certified Massage Practitioner.”

However, the requirements for practicing as a massage therapist vary by state. Most states stipulate that a therapist graduate from a recognized program and pass exams. They must abide by codes of conduct. They can have their licenses revoked if they are found to be engaging in illegal or inappropriate behavior.

Massage therapist Robin Wooten believes that massage therapists should do everything within their power to educate the general public. If a client asks whether “masseuse” is offensive, the therapist should explain why the term carries negative connotations. Sometimes, a direct educational approach works best.

When a massage therapist refers to themselves as such, a client is likely to follow their lead. Don’t be surprised if your therapist gently corrects you if you accidently use “masseuse” or “masseur.” Massage therapists still face an uphill battle to have their profession taken seriously. With this in mind, it’s unsurprising that they take this issue seriously.

Be considerate of your therapist’s feelings

Massage therapist Donna Wilt notes that any implication she offers anything other than a legitimate service “stings.” Terminology is important.

To avoid causing offence, always use “massage therapist” when referring to the person who gives you a massage. Be wary of anyone who describes themselves as a “masseuse,” as this often implies that they offer erotic services. Moreover, “masseuse” is not a protected title. This means that anyone can say or imply that they offer massage.

Even if you overlook these sexual connotations, the word “masseuse” is still considered offensive on the grounds that it is a gendered term. Massage therapists argue that there should be no distinction between practitioners on grounds of gender. Male massage therapists do not, as a rule, like to be referred to as “masseurs.”


Carmen is an entrepreneur and content marketer. In a former life, as a corporate business executive, she relied on yoga, reflexology and other alternative practices to fight stress, anxiety and find balance. She’s on a mission to build healthy habits for a balanced, healthy life, connecting body, mind and spirit.