IS there any part of the body where you could not like to be touched?"
So read the last question on a form handed to me by a massage therapist ahead of our designated appointment earlier this week.
I feigned a look of careful consideration when I reached this particular query - I didn't want to give the impression that I offer it up too easy.
I was also struggling with the use of the word 'could'. Surely 'would' is the better auxiliary verb in this circumstance? Then again, maybe the sentence was simply lost in translation (I should have mentioned that I was in Germany at the time).
Or perhaps it was a canny Kraut disclaimer, limiting them of any liability should there be post-massage legal wranglings. "You did not explicitly state that you did not vant the arsenrubben."
Either way, I wouldn't have a chance in a court of law. Mainly because I clearly wrote 'no', partly because I'm always up for an auld arsenrubben - more of which anon.
I spend a lot of my spare time and money getting massaged. It doesn't really matter who's giving it or where I'm getting it. All I know is that I'm in. Swedish, Thai, Indian - I don't discriminate. I had a Mayan woman walk across my back in Mexico, a Chilean man crack my neck in Argentina and I can't pass by Melt in Temple Bar without calling in for a quickie.
We used to have a housekeeper who decided that I had poor circulation and therefore needed daily massages, which she was only too happy to provide. I didn't argue with her. My mother did though when she began to neglect the duties for which she was employed. "Not a shirt ironed and you in there getting lovingly stroked like Cleo-f***ing-patra."
But back to my last massage, and the question of where one might not like to be touched. It later occurred to me that this is probably an elegant way of getting to the bottom of a touchy subject. Put simply: "Is your arse off limits, love?"
It shouldn't be when you consider how much tension is stored in the glutes, and how effectively this type of massage releases the lower back. Besides, it's not what they touch but how they touch it.
Even so, a massage therapist friend tells me that it's always a tricky one to negotiate. Some physically bridle when she moves her hands in that direction; some relax further into the bed. It's rarely discussed but it's generally agreed that when a client has removed his/her underwear then they are happy to have their glutes pummelled.
This one was new to me. I always wore underwear as a matter of course.
These days I make sure to wear a thong so that I'm protecting my modesty while letting them know I'm no prude when it comes to matters of the arse.
But I also make sure to accessorise with a no-nonsense, borderline Teutonic attitude, lest they get the impression that I'm up for anything else.
This is not because I've had a dubious massage in the past (well, actually, I have, but that's another story for another day) but because I don't want to suggest that I'm that way inclined.
Let's be honest, there's an undeniably sexual subtext to massage. I have a hunch that it's to do with the fact that you're having hot oil applied to your near naked body by someone with an exotic-sounding name.
This is why good massage centres ask women if they're comfortable with a male therapist when they make a booking; why co-dependent couples book in for couples' massages (they are the same types that order chocolate-dipped strawberries when they book a hotel room) and why some massage therapies in South East Asia are more hands on than others.
This is always at the back of my mind when I remove my clothes and slide under the towel. I wish there was a box that you could tick that indicates that you are agreeable to a bottom massage but are not a registered sex pest.
I can only imagine what it's like for men. Surely the fear of unwitting arousal counteracts any tension released. No! Yes! NO!
And even when you rise above the sexual connotations, massage is still inextricably linked to the human need for touch, in a world that is becoming less and less physically connected. It's an intensely intimate experience no matter what way you package it.
This only dawned on me last year when I confided to a friend that I had been intimate with someone I regretted being intimate with. Not a massage therapist - keep up.
"Why didn't you just go for a massage?" she asked matter-of-factly.
She wasn't, I hasten to add, cheapening it to a mechanism for the sexually deprived, but suggesting it as a therapy that assuages the essential need for human touch.
She's a wise woman who knows that women often offer sex for love while men offer love for sex.
Equally, she knows that women can end up in bed with men when they really just want their hand squeezed and their head rubbed.
Or their arse.
Why didn't I just go for a massage? If there's one thing I've learnt in this life it's that sometimes you just want your bum rubbed in a non-judgemental, non-sex pest kind of way.
So why not just go see a professional?