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The Parlour Game: a behind-the-scenes tour of Toronto’s thriving rub ’n’ tug industry

The Parlour Game

Over the last decade, spas have proliferated across the GTA faster than Starbucks

Ivy glows like a 1930s starlet. She’s 27, with high, round cheekbones, rosebud lips and luminescent skin. She has worked at three erotic massage parlours, or so-called rub ’n’ tugs, in the GTA, where female attendants offer men “sensual release,” code for a session ending in a hand job. She agreed to tell me her story on the condition that I not reveal her true identity. For her customers, Ivy puts on a breathy Marilyn Monroe voice and wears retro baby doll nighties and stilettos. She mimics her high-pitched greeting for me: “How are you? I can’t wait to get started.” Her act appeals to her clients—typically white professionals who came of age when women like Ivy appeared in every car and scotch ad. Walk-ins can choose from the half-dozen women on shift, though many men pre-book Ivy based on her photo on the spa’s website.

Inside one of the spa’s five private rooms, Ivy and her client get more intimate. The space is cozy in a utilitarian way, with a shower stall in the corner and a padded massage table in the centre. But for a few boom-chicka-wah-wah details—mirrors on the ceiling, candles, lights turned down loooow—it could be an ordinary massage clinic. The client disrobes, showers (a city bylaw requirement) and lies facedown on the massage table.

Ivy spreads oil on his back and engages in small talk. “You having a good weekend?” “Have you been here before?” Nothing too heavy or revealing—she learned years ago that guys don’t want to hear about her master’s degree or an argument she’s had with her sister. They like her to be attentive, sweet, a
little helpless.

As she moves her hands further down his back she pays careful attention to his body language. If he spreads his thighs, Ivy knows she can start reciting “the menu”—the unlisted special services. The $40 door fee, which goes to the spa owners, gets him a standard half-hour massage; anything extra goes to Ivy. For $40 more, he can have a “nude”: Ivy gets naked, then gives him a basic massage ending in “hand release” (that is, his climax). For $60, he can get a “nude reverse,” which means he can massage and fondle Ivy in return. Sometimes the client might request something off-menu: to be tied up and whipped with a wet towel, for example. Or he might ask about “extras”: oral sex or intercourse. Fetish stuff isn’t Ivy’s favourite, but she’ll do it. Extras are a firm no.

The premium service is a “body slide,” for $80, which is something like a full-contact horizontal lap dance that requires an enormous amount of dexterity and stamina. Ivy will slip out of her nightie while the client turns over onto his back (“the flip,” in industry parlance). Assisted by massage oil, she lays herself face to face with him, stimulating his penis with her calves or thighs, or swivels to face his feet, so she can use her hand or breasts. Refined over hundreds of sessions, Ivy’s vocabulary of techniques and positions provide the visuals and friction of sex without penetration. On Internet message boards, men who frequently use escorts and visit body-rubs will review spa girls and criticize clumsy body slides. A good review can bring in dozens of new clients. Ivy’s reviews praise her talent for moving fluidly through multiple positions, as well as her movie-star bone structure and style. She extends the buildup so that orgasm occurs in the last five minutes of the body slide, with the guy “finishing” between Ivy’s hands, breasts, legs or feet. After years of doing slides, Ivy can time an ejaculation down to the second.

When the deed is done, she might spend a few minutes with him, hugging or chatting idly while he winds down. Some men want to be left alone, so she makes her way to the shower. Unless he’s paid for one of the more expensive 60- or 90-minute sessions, she’ll have to wrap it up quickly; spas depend on the speedy turnover of customers (some even charge attendants for keeping a client overtime). On the wall, above a table of massage oils, there’s a clock. She’s been watching it the whole time, though discreetly. The client might tip Ivy (anywhere from $20 to $60 is the norm), which ups the chances she’ll remember him the next time he comes in. Clients love it when attendants recall their names and what they like; some spa workers even log details in journals. With $80 for the body slide plus tip, she could make $120 in a half-hour session, easy, and, if she works three eight-hour days, often about $2,000 a week.

Once the client is gone, Ivy collects the towels and hauls them out to a back room where the women do laundry, gossip and check their email. Then she waits for the next guy to walk in the front door.

Over the last decade, spas have proliferated across the GTA faster than Starbucks. Many are concentrated on Finch near Keele (referred to by insiders as Finch Alley), as well as in the downtown Chinatown and in the strip malls of East York and Scarborough. The strip mall locations are ideal for men on the way home to the suburbs after work (the busiest time for many spas is around 5:30), and for customers who don’t want to be spotted.