Ms. Olsen

Spas, Health & Fitness

How Far is Too Far in Unisex Spas?

By Casey Olsen, Owner, Spa Sources

Spending a day in a spa has always been a wonderful personal experience. It is a day that hopefully promises to deliver serenity, calm, warmth, individual attention to your every need, relaxing and a bit of indulgence. But as this industry has evolved, we are seeing more integration of couples treatments, that can, if done properly, deliver an additional perspective. The question yet to be fully understood, is sharing what has normally been a self pampering day really allow for that true individual tranquility? Does the interjection of your significant other interrupt just a little of your "ME" time? And, what about the trend to integrate what would normally be a segregated clothing optional space?

Let's take, for example a project that I recently was involved with. This projects owner wanted to re-invent the traditional spa environment and cross over to a trendy, sexy, youth-oriented spa design. The most daring portion of the design included steam rooms in both the Ladies and Men's spa facilities that shared a common back wall made of glass. The notion was that those in the steam room could wipe clear the steam fogging the glass, and, if on the opposite side, someone did the same, both could see into each other's space. Obviously, clothing is not typically worn in a steam room, although, most at least bring a towel with them to sit on, but do not cover up with a towel. So, you now have men able to peer into your space to potentially see us naked and visa versa. I can hear you all now...some of the women out there are saying "icky", while some of the men are saying, "alright"!

Pretty cool idea, I must admit, but I did have to bring them back to reality. The reality is that most women in a steam room simply do not look their best, and the same goes for the men. Hair, if not in a towel, is a disaster with all the steam, and, quite frankly, the majority of spa users do have some body image issues and would generally not invite strangers seeing them naked. But, maybe just the idea of the possibility being there is a selling point to a particular market. I think the real question is, "Will it appeal to the vast majority of the guests, and if not, is the expense both financial and image wise worth this venture?" Hey, I remember when we started designing in couples treatment rooms and that was considered to be a bit risqu'e. Maybe the new frontier for spas will push this envelope to an area that eventually will become common place and accepted.

The one problem that I have difficulty in seeing a change in is regarding that body image aspect. Americans, particularly, have always had more of a body conscious image than the rest of the world, while many cultures find bathing and spa-ing together to be a normal ritual. I have traveled Europe and seen numerous beaches that are clothing optional and I can see that most of those on the beach sans clothing would be deemed very out of shape on our beaches. So, as Americans, unless you are truly proud of your physique, do you want, or even need, to be exposed to strangers while enjoying your spa day? And part of the reason you need a spa day is that you don't have to worry about your appearance for those few hours?

No matter how unique you want your new spa facility to be, I can pretty much guarantee you that the vast majority of females using your spa want to be able to lose the makeup, not worry about their hair or general appearance and just kick back and enjoy their day, sans men. And, on the opposite side of the coin, I'm really not sure that too many men really want women seeing them in their birthday suits, sweaty from the steam and sauna. But, hey, I just might be wrong, considering the trends in today's society. What was considered puritanical just 5 years ago is considered tame today.

One vital aspect that needs to be explored is the potential for liability. It is one thing if a couple decides to share a treatment room while getting a professional massage simultaneously, they have dually agreed to that participation. But what if I go into that glassed in steam room, unaware of the "see-through" potential and the glass is cleared by another guest, how could I react to that? Even if I am aware of that possibility before entering and the other guest wishing to look into the men's steam room does so regardless of my objection, who is at fault? I can see the delivery of the subpoenas now, can't you?

The arguments then ensue. The guest was aware of this viewing possibility but still utilized the amenity knowing full and well that this could occur. Well, maybe so, but what if the guest wanted to use the full spa facility like all the other guests were able but because of this intrusion, as this particular guest would see it, was discriminated against simply because they did not want to be seen unclothed, and, didn't they have the same right to use the steam room comfortably as the guest that desired the nude viewing? Ugh! For these few reasons alone, the question on whether or not to integrate clothing optional areas of a spa is definitely not worth the potential for liability.

There are many opportunities for couples to share in their spa therapies in today's' spa environments. Most resorts have included outdoor cabanas poolside that allow for couples to receive massages, even facials and manicures together in the privacy of their cabanas. At most tropical spas, open air treatment rooms allow for even the potential for the general public to see a treatment in progress, but not at the intrusion of the guest. The tropical resort typically inquires if a guest would enjoy the treatment room doors to be open to the surrounding vistas or not. It is the guests' option at these locations.

Those of us that have been in this industry for many years have worked hard to establish the credibility of all the therapists, particularly the massage staff and their therapeutic education which separates them from the more seedy operations that offer illegal sexual favors as their primary purpose. Still today, we train our massage staff on how best to handle a guest that may be making inappropriate advances while receiving a massage treatment. There are still those guests that see massage therapists as a sexual conduit and do not realize that these are trained individuals that are licensed and insured and strictly instructed to avoid and cease any bad behavior. So if we begin to venture into skewing the lines of mingling the sexes into areas where there is opportunity for sexual behavior, then how do we protect our stance in a private treatment room? It will then become very difficult to defend our position when we have literally "opened the door" in other areas of the spa facility.

As open minded and innovative as I might feel when working with developers on new spa facilities, I feel that the time spent by each sex in a spa is best left divided. As noted previously, when I plan my spa day and I enter the spa facility, my mindset is to leave the world behind. That includes my job and any other circumstances of stress in my life. I NEED to be unconcerned with the real world and tune out all of its challenges. If I have to be concerned with sexual intrusion by a stranger during any part of my day's journey, then that spa was not able to deliver on my needs.

Let's try and keep one of our last bastions of escape true to its original purpose, which has been successful for thousands of years and not allow it to deteriorate into another opportunity for stress.

Casey Olsen is the principal owner of Spa Sources, a comprehensive health spa consulting firm. With 23 years of Spa Design and Review, Management, Staffing, Marketing, Budgets and Forecasts, Complete Spa Operation Set-up, Liability Guidance, Accounting, Equipment and Product Identification, Spa Sources provides comprehensive assistance in the creation of new, and the renewal of existing spa facilities. As one of the industry's foremost health spa consultants, Ms. Olsen provides invaluable guidance to developers planning their luxury resorts that include a health spa facility. Ms. Olsen can be contacted at 760 341-3311 or spasources@earthlink.net Extended Bio...

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