Oh dear, this isn’t going to be popular. And the reason it isn’t going to be popular is because I’m suggesting that women go to alternative practitioners for the same reason that men go to sex workers – for rest and relaxation or, as the women’s magazines call it, “a little bit of ‘me’ time”. Hear me out before you dismiss me as salacious or simplistic: it’s a conclusion it’s taken me a couple of years to arrive at and it’s one I’d like to test in debate.
When we ask “what do alternative therapists offer that doctors don’t” the simplest answer is “45 minutes of undivided attention”. There are plenty of other answers the most worrying of which is “hope”, but this post is not about desperate searches for a reprieve from a death sentence, it’s about healthy people who go time and again to alternative practitioners. I know what they’re like. I’m one of them.
In my time I’ve spent thousands on alternative therapists. I’ve had pins stuck in my flesh, candles balanced on my ears and my aura captured in photographs. I’ve had my chackras re-aligned, the state of my gut diagnosed by the strength in my arms and been annointed with everything from marigolds to onions. One osteopath refused to chant over me on the grounds that “it’s a bit too shamanic for Cheltenham” but he was willing to do it in Stroud. Make of that what you will.
It was all money fantastically well spent even though none of it cured anything, though the shamanic osteopath did free up a neck muscle which had gone into spasm. But I got a bargain every time, because what I was really buying was 45 minutes of uncritical attention.
Men go to sex workers for this, though in their case they want orgasms rather than attention, but then they’re from Mars. Vive la différence.
So here is my two pronged observation:
- Firstly, that what pays alternative therapists’ rent and rates is a predominantly feminine need for someone else’s considered attention and non-threatening touch
- And secondly that men tend to sexualise sensations, and women tend to de-sexualise them, and alternative therapists and beauty therapists offer some decidedly odd services in a women-friendly way
If you’re not sure about my second point, ask yourself why it is that if men want a massage or colonic irrigation or to be wrapped in cling-film or put in a sensory deprivation tank it’s sexual and they look around on the scene or go to a sex worker, but if women want any of those things it’s beauty treatment and they go to a health spa?
Please think about this for a while because it’s probably one of those things that you’ve taken for granted for so long that you’ve never realised just how strange it is. Yes, I know that health spas will happily take a man’s money and wrap him in mud and cling-film, but let’s face it, men who really want this sensation see it as a form of bondage (it’s called “mummification”) and find other fetishists or go to some highly specialised sex workers. And equally, if having your insides washed out with warm water is your thang, then women want Enya playing in the background and the gentle aromas of neroli and ylang ylang floating in the air and men, um, don’t.
But think how peculiar this is. Same physical sensation interpreted in very different ways. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s very odd and very interesting.
So, what do we do with this observation? I dunno, and there isn’t room here for my thoughts and speculations on the subject. But if the medical profession is serious about casting a harshly critical light on to alternative therapies, then it should consider what it is that people are buying, and if you ask me, it’s attention.
Personally, I think that the alternative practitioners are providing a service as necessary and helpful to society as the service provided by prostitutes, and while I’m certainly in favour of regulation, I don’t think banning either helps.