'I entered my erotic massage ready for a happy ending, but I left in tears.'

“Dance with me,” he said.

“We’re just going to move together really slowly and see what happens.”

This lanky, slow-talking stranger with long fingers and salt and pepper in his tousled hair.

The music started. Slow and soft. Not loud or fast enough to drown out my racing heartbeat. He pressed against me and I closed my eyes. Trying to relax as he gently swayed with me. My shoulders felt like they were up to my ears.

His fingers played over my arms and torso, softly along my arms, all the way to my fingertips. And back. And up. To my neck. Deliberately missing my breasts. His hands kneaded my shoulders and I jerked. I was so tense.

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Can I remove your sarong?

I swallowed. “A-huh,” I squeaked.

He teasingly and painstakingly slowly undid the knot above my breasts. Letting it slide slowly along my body and down onto the floor.

But I’d given him more barriers — I was still in my bikini top and underwear.

And 10 minutes later, when he finally and slowly removed those, there was still one barrier left…

It had been a manic effort to get here. This ‘back to the body’ retreat. Taking the week off had meant two weeks of very long hours, trying to get on top and ahead of all my work.

To top it off, my on-off-on-off-rinse-wash-repeat boyfriend was finally giving it a real shot at getting sober. After two weeks of no contact, he’d turned up on my doorstep after a meeting.

In a moment of weakness, he’d stayed the night.

Then the following night.

Then I went to visit him the night before I was leaving. I got home at 1am, still needing to pack before my 8am flight.


By the time I’d arrived in Maui, I was frazzled and exhausted.

The retreat promised a week in an exotic Hawaiian oasis, where I’d explore my erotic and sensual desires in a safe, nurturing, non-judgmental environment.

I suspected that underneath my inhibitions and age-old body shame, there lurked a dormant sexually empowered, slightly kinky Goddess just waiting to be awakened. This was the alarm clock she needed.

But of course, I’d signed up for the retreat while the boyfriend was hitting his rock-bottom, and M.I.A.

And of course, he’d shown up out of the blue; I’d let it slip that I was attending the retreat, and now he was freaking out.

“They do WHAT?!?” he bellowed.

I tried to explain the process so it didn’t sound like an erotic massage with a happy ending for women.

“I work with a male practitioner. They use touch and sensation to help me find my arousal centres in a safe, non-judgemental environment. I get to receive pleasure without the pressure of having to give it back.

“It’s an erotic massage with a happy ending for women.”


It was a moot point. It was non-refundable.

So now, here I was. Naked. With a clothed man whose sole job was to give me pleasure.

The trouble was I was too stressed to receive it. My whole body was tense and weird. This whole thing was f*cking weird.

And as he moved in to embrace me, I realised I didn’t know what the protocols were. What do I do with my hands?

“Can I touch you?” I asked.

“If it feels natural and if it’s something you want for yourself, it’s fine,” he told me. “If I hug you, it’s only natural for you to hug me back.”

“But if I grab your arse…,” I laughed.


He moved in closer again. He wasn’t letting me break the mood. I leaned into him. Feeling his hands play softly over my body. Better…

He invited me up onto the massage table.

“Face up or down?” I asked.


I lay on my back. Instantly I realised this was a huge mistake. I was still nervous. Now I was nervous and exposed. I closed my eyes. I felt the warm oil drip on my belly as he began to massage my body.


And my breasts. I felt a slight tingle in my groin. This is promising, I thought.

His hands went lower. And lower. To my legs. Ankles. Feet.

My inner thighs. Moving higher. When he reached my groin, I suddenly tensed.

I managed to get up the courage to roll over.

“Listen,” I bravely mumbled.

“I’m still really tense. Especially my shoulders. I can’t relax. Can we focus on that for a bit?”

He was happy to. His deft fingers moved to my shoulders and quickly found the knots. He kneaded gently, lovingly, patiently. Slowly my body relaxed into his fingers. As I relaxed, I realised other things were happening in my body too… I was feeling warmer…

I was feeling a little turned on. My hips shifted and my back slightly arched.

As if reading my mind, his hands slid down and around my belly. Caressing and stroking. Moving lower and lower. Over my hip bones. Around my inner thighs and… Hmmmm…. This is more like it. But when they reached my labia, I panicked again.

“I’m not ready.”

He smoothly went back to massaging my shoulders and caressing my back. Okay. That’s better. I felt some tension dissipate. But there was still some left. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t let go yet. I didn’t know how. For the rest of our 90 minutes, he quietly and gently massaged my shoulders and back.

When our time was up, he gently covered me with a sarong and gave me a moment to myself.

“Stay there,” he said. “Feel in your body.”

And I lay still for a minute. Trying to process the journey that had got me here. On this table. Naked. Getting touched by a guy I didn’t know. No, getting lovingly touched by a man whose sole focus was my pleasure.

And suddenly the tears came. I couldn’t explain them. I hadn’t been expecting them. A well of sadness just rushed to the surface.

I’d been burying so much for so long, I realised. Trying to make everyone else feel better. Trying to help my struggling boyfriend. Trying to be the good daughter to my mum while she struggled with her own unhealthy, destructive relationship. The residual grief of losing my beloved aunt — while trying to be there for my external family as best I could, but not put my grief on them or take away from theirs.

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I felt like I was carrying the weight of everyone else. That hadn’t left much space for me, I realised. I’d fought down all of my feelings, pushed them down deep into my body and the minute I finally relaxed — up they all came.

Then something else occurred to me and I burst out laughing through my tears.

“It figures.”


“I have three days of amazing sex, then I come here to experience nothing but erotic pleasure and I cry. I’ve got it all backwards.”

Sometimes to get to the pleasure, you have to let go of the pain, he told me.

“If I let it go, I’m afraid I’ll never put it back in.”

“You will, “he replied.

He dressed me tenderly. Showing me how to tie my sarong by knotting it around the back of my neck, instead of how I usually did it.

Then walked me back, handed me over to my kind, support-woman-in-waiting and subtly disappeared.

I collapsed on a beanbag and sobbed into her arms. She said nothing and I let myself be held.

“You’re exactly where you need to be,” was all she said.

As my sobbing gradually subsided to relieved tears, I realised she was right.

For the first time in years, I was in a safe place where I was being nurtured. This weight was being taken from me and I was being given the gift of permission to be completely in my body. I’d finally found somewhere I could truly let go of all the things I’d been holding on to and just… be.

I was overwhelmed with gratitude. And more tears.

I’d come here to feel arousal, but instead, I’d found something else. The freedom to feel. To receive. Without the expectation or demand of anything in return. I was relieved. Empowered. Excited.

Maybe now the Goddess could finally awaken.

This article originally appeared on Medium and was republished here with full permission. The image used is a stock photo.

Jo Buckman is and English born, mostly Australian writer, currently living in LA. When she’s able to be physically separated from her laptop, she can be found camping, scuba diving, traveling the world or reading a book. Sober and single. Currently exploring sexuality, mental health, love and life – and taking you along for the ride. 

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