A question I get asked a lot by fellow gay men is: “Do you provide a happy finish?”

My answer to that question is “Yes – but not in the way you were expecting.”

Of course, the question is meant as a joke, but it says a lot about the attitude of many gay guys towards physical contact. Modern society in general is highly sexualised and this is amplified to a huge extent in the gay community. Thanks to Grindr, Gaydar and other gay dating sites and apps, it is increasingly the norm to ask someone how well-endowed they are before asking their name.

Photo by Dylan Thomas

At the same time, gay and bisexual men are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than their straight counterparts. I think most gay guys realise this, but if you want confirmation, UCL published a study in 2003 showing that gay men are more likely to have been attacked or verbally harassed in the last five years and to have been bullied at school than straight men; and to have consulted their GP or a mental health professional about emotional difficulties.

The human touch is hugely powerful in helping to relieve psychological distress – we all know how much it means to get a hug when we are going through a hard time. But although gay men are particularly in need of this kind of support, they rarely have access to physical contact from other men that is not in some way sexualised.

As both a receiver and a giver of shiatsu, I have experienced how effective this therapy can be in supporting people who are depressed, stressed, anxious, grief-stricken or just upset about something. Thanks in part to the fact that the client receives a shiatsu treatment fully clothed, there is no ambiguity with this form of bodywork.

Of course, other forms of bodywork – such as sports massage – can be hugely helpful, but where a client is undressed there is less of a clear boundary between client and therapist. If you’re looking for a sensual experience, shiatsu is not your best bet. But if you are in distress and want your body to be listened to in a safe and non-sexualised way, I would say a shiatsu treatment is better than an oil massage, for example.

Also, shiatsu is unlike most other forms of bodywork in that a client’s emotional and mental well-being are a key part of the picture for the therapist. Emotional and physical health are two sides of the same coin in oriental medicine, so a client’s mental and emotional state are just as important to me as any physical injuries they might have when it comes to planning a treatment.

So, to come back to the original question, I do try to provide a happy finish – but not in that sense. I hope that all my clients, regardless of their sexual orientation, come away from a shiatsu treatment feeling that their body – with all its tensions, strengths and weaknesses – has really been listened to, instead of being treated as a commodity or something to be consumed.

For lots of gay men, that’s a rare experience – and something to be really happy about.