Inside India’s Handjob Spas

“Many believe that the risk of contracting STIs is far less if it’s just a handjob as opposed to going to a place where you know it’s just sex.”

In the heart of India’s national capital, a neon-lit men-only spa, named after a popular Greek island, doubles as a “guest house.” The unassuming rainbow signboard and the black typeface betray little. Inside, however, tells a different story. 

For just Rs 1,500 ($18), you can get a full-body massage that includes a “happy ending” or a handjob. You can also access the “dark room” which is a glory hole with no lights. According to Urban Dictionary, a gloryhole is “a hole made in a thin wall or other type of partition where someone can insert their penis for sexual stimulation by an anonymous person on the other side.” Those without penises can enjoy glory holes — anyone can — as they can be used for peeping, putting your fingers through, and pretty much anything else you’re capable of doing through a hole in the wall.

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It was a friend who recommended this place to 27-year-old Ashish Chopra, who works as a hiring manager at an IT-based firm. After getting over his initial scepticism, because he’d never been to a spa for gay men in India before, he succumbed to the many pleasures it had on offer.

“You cannot take pictures because you have to deposit your mobile phone and your clothes in a locker before entering the spa,” Chopra told VICE. “There are small rooms with men, mostly from the northeast of India, standing outside.” 

Shady massage parlours exist across India. Some of them are fronts for sex work, while other places offer everything but sex. In 2014, cops from the state of Goa raided 20 massage parlours and arrested more than 35 people for alleged involvement in sex work. In 2017, the police arrested six women for being part of a “spa-sex racket” in Gurugram, Haryana.

Fearing such arrests and random police raids, many of these spas now choose to have only “happy endings” on offer. With happy endings, the masseur/masseuse is still fully dressed and it becomes quicker to shift focus to other parts of the body in the wake of a surprise police raid. Also, mutliple court rulings have clarified that spa and massage parlours cannot be booked only under the pretext of a woman offering massage to a man, unless there is sex for money on offer.  

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A massage with a happy ending is what Chopra opted for. Why? For the thrill of it, he said, adding that he’d been to similar massage parlours in Paris. The option of having a similar service closer home in Delhi, despite his friend’s warnings about the potential risk of contracting an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection), seemed worth a shot. “My friend told me not to blow anyone for this reason,” he said. “When I went inside the dark room, three men blew me at different points. In many ways, this was fascinating because the [personal] filters of height, body, and complexion became irrelevant, as we were practically blind in [there].”

Though the spa is well known in the queer circles of Delhi for the past four years, legally, of course, the establishment looks just like a guest house. Even so, over the three hours he was there, Chopra feared the cops would raid the establishment and everyone would be arrested. 

How do these services come about and who manages them? Do clients demand extra services or do massage therapists first offer them? According to Nikita, who works in multiple spas and prefers being known by her first name only, it’s a mix.

“In some cases, the spa itself might not be shady, but the therapists offer the extra services and get paid on the sly,” she told VICE. “You can only do so much to stop that because the transaction remains between the therapist and client, and we cannot have CCTV cameras inside the spa room.” 

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In the massage parlours that she’s managed over almost a decade, Nikita would ensure that the doors of the rooms were either kept slightly ajar or look for telltale signs that something shady was going on behind closed doors. “For instance, if the therapist goes in neat but comes out looking dishevelled, that’s not a good sign. Or, if clients insist on the same therapist, you can connect the dots.”

She shared that many clients come up with strange requests. These include “the sandwich massage,” where the man is sandwiched between two oiled bodies, “the soapy massage,” where the man sits in a bathtub and the therapist soaps his body, and the “boom boom massage,” which is not a massage and involves having the therapist ride the client until he ejaculates. 

“Some Indian men have their first sensual massage experience only in places like Pattaya in Thailand or the Philippines, and they hope to replicate the same in India,” Nikita said. “Initially, I’d get super pissed but now I simply decline their requests, and accept that we will always have such demands.”

However, she clarified that the stereotype of only a middle-aged, married man with a paunch visiting these shady spas is untrue. In her experience, such clients span social classes and age groups. “The stereotype is that therapists who offer these services belong to specific foreign nationalities but we have so many Indian girls who also end up doing the same.” 

For some men, shady spas can also provide a safe space to make sense of their fantasies. Karishma Swarup, a sexuality educator, said that these men prefer visiting spas offering handjobs and body rubs, instead of actual brothels. 

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“For starters, they believe that the risk of contracting STIs is far less if it’s just a handjob, as opposed to going to a place where you know it’s just sex,” she said. “Also, the idea of going to a massage parlour or a spa is more socially acceptable and the internalised guilt is less because many men don’t consider it as cheating as long as penetrative sex isn’t involved.” 

The way Swarup sees it, a sexually inexperienced man in his twenties, who doesn’t yet want to get married and barely finds connections on dating apps, will likely gravitate towards such spas that don’t carry the taboo of visiting a brothel. 

In the case of 29-year-old Suraj, a content writer from the south Indian state of Kerala whose past includes being bullied as a child and persistent depression, and who prefers to be anonymous, the spa became a safe space for him to understand his body. 

A casual conversation with an autorickshaw driver in Kerala led to the suggestion that Suraj visit a spa in the coastal town of Kovalam, less than 200 metres from the local police station. “It was my first time,” he recounted. “The therapist assigned to me was a [woman] in her 40s, who offered me a happy ending. I agreed because I wanted [the experience]. A few weeks later, the news channel Asianet [conducted] a sting operation about the illegal activities in the same spa.” 

However, the raid did not deter Suraj. Over the next two years, he went on a rampage visiting better spas all over Kerala – nearly 40 of them. “They have all the makings of a traditional Thai spa, minus the sex,” he said. “Some of them had options for a body-to-body massage – that experience was the best, but I did fear skin allergies.” 

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It’s been nearly a year since Suraj has stopped frequenting these spas. So, what changed? Therapy and depression pills. “Apart from providing an outlet for my childhood trauma, and those years of bullying in school, visiting these [places] helped me believe that I wasn’t suffering from erectile dysfunction, which I feared I was.” 

Beyond the sensual massages and the “shadiness” of it all, Chum, a 24-year-old massage therapist who works in the Indian city of Bengaluru, said that the exploitation of therapists from the northeast of India is hardly ever brought to the fore. 

“It’s not like we’re paid millions when we offer a ‘happy ending’ or a body-to-body massage,” she said. “Many massage parlours get girls from Nepal under the pretext of citizenship and ask them to work for free. I was paid Rs 3,000 ($37) for a month in this Thai spa in a posh south Mumbai mall. How are you supposed to survive in these cities?” 

Instead of addressing the reality of the circumstances under which a lot of people have to work to earn a decent living, a more “exotic” idea gets pushed to the front. “The fascination with women from the northeast of India or Nepal lies in the fact that many Indian men consciously delude themselves into believing that we are all from Thailand. The narrative is almost to the effect that girls from the northeast are these ravenous animals who can’t live without dicks.” 

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Tagged:

India, handjobs, Blowjobs, happy ending massage, massages, spa

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