To Drape or Not To Drape

By Kenn Howard
[A Question of Ethics]


I have a client who’s been coming in monthly for two years. We’re in the same social group, so I’ve known him for a while. He’s a real nice guy, always shows up on time for his appointment, and always compliments my work.

One day while I was massaging him, he mentioned that he and his partner occasionally go to what he called a “naturist community.” I had visions of people standing around hugging trees. “No,” he said.  “A naturist community is a nudist camp. It’s not a sex thing,” he said, “it’s just a bunch of people who feel more comfortable doing stuff without clothing. We’re actually very normal; we play volleyball, take walks, play board games, have picnics, only nobody’s wearing clothing.”

Then, he surprised me. “We get massages there, too. We do that without a top sheet. I wonder if you would be willing to do that for me.”

I like and trust this client, and I wanted to meet his needs, but I didn’t know if I should.



Dear Jessie,

Getting naked is great. So is Camembert cheese and blue paint. But there is a right time and a wrong time for each.

When a massage client suggests that anyone present get naked, without draping, red flags automatically go up. When these hazard flags fly, it is time to ask two crucial questions:

• Am I safe?

• What is really going on here?

First, you must make sure you’re safe. You have no suspicions that your client’s suggestion was anything more than what he said, so your answer would be, “Yes, I feel safe.” Good. 

Second, you are taking his request at face value, but his request runs counter to your training. The Code of Ethics for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) members explicitly guarantees client privacy. This means we keep our clients properly draped. Your situation is a perfect example of an unwritten rule: protect your client, even if he doesn’t want it.

You introduce a second dilemma at the end of your letter. You want to respond to your client’s request. It might seem to be OK in the privacy of your treatment room, but you never know if word will get out. Our society is not keen on making the distinction between massage and sex, and a disclosed scenario like this could just fuel that fire. Also, undraped massage distracts from the goals of therapeutic massage. Even though the client is used to nudity, your massage table is not an acceptable place for it.

So, Jessie, enjoy your Camembert cheese, paint your living room blue, and save the nudity for the naturist retreat.

 Kenn Howard is a massage therapist, NCBTMB-approved provider of ethics workshops, and instructor of ethics for the past 14 years. Contact him at