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Massage and the Art of HIV Self Care
By Joseph Holmes
We hold babies when they cry. We cup the backs of their heads and gently lay them on our shoulders. It isn’t something we’re taught; we just do it. To offer comfort and affection and show love by enveloping in touch—it is so simple within a typically complex human spirit, its history ancient; we were hugging one another long before we could make fire. And no doubt it may even help keep us civilized.
We give hugs, and we receive hugs. It feels good during, and it feels better after, and likely we’ve never pondered why. We may not think of human touch being vital to our health and survival. But it is, and study after study has proven it. When our embraces are brief but sincere; when we out and out give big ole hugs; when we comfort with simple touch—these are times when small miracles of healing have taken place right under our, well, shoulders.  
The need for this type of touch—hugging, caressing, etc.—is no different with those who are HIV positive or those diagnosed with AIDS—gay, straight, race, religion—none of this is important. But all such persons share one thing: Small miracles.
Any one of us may have a friend, gay or not, who is positive for HIV. Their viral load is undetectable, their immune system is in check, and overall, their health is excellent. The closest of friends and their families are their best support systems. They’ve educated themselves how HIV and AIDS can and cannot be contracted, so they still know it’s safe to give their friend or relative big ole hugs like there’s no tomorrow. And it is this type of support and plain old hugging that helps keep alive HIV positive people and people with AIDS.
But some friends and relatives aren’t so receptive when they find out one of their own is HIV positive or has developed AIDS. Even when it comes to showing affection to the healthiest of HIV positive people, they withdraw into the tense body language of Don’t Touch Me. I have no doubt this can and has happened to someone with AIDS, or if he or she has disclosed his or her positive HIV status. The less enlightened person may recoil in fear only once, which is bad enough, but if the scenario is repeated often enough, any HIV positive person or person with AIDS gets to deal with fresh wounds of rejection all over again.
What’s worse, they begin to believe they are unworthy of even the sincerest of hugs. 
Do any of you identify with this? No matter who you are or where your path has led you, now’s the time to listen up: Hope never fails to spring up in the least likely of places.
Non-judgmental care; unconditional focus on soothing the muscle and skin; hands trained to dismantle negative body energy. Not only is this possible for those with HIV or AIDS, it’s mandatory.
I’m speaking about massage therapy, but I’d like to pin it down specifically to gay massage therapists with privately owned businesses who’ve created their own genre. 
These masseurs have “come into their own”, so to speak. Their business venture is rather more a higher calling borne from their desire to meet the needs of gay (and HIV positive) clientele, and they are exceeding the expectations of those who walk through their doors.
The benefits of massage therapy for HIV positive people, as well as those with AIDS, are probably still being counted. Massage has become a popular part of a holistic regimen where simply taking meds can cover only part of overall HIV self-care. Medications help keep the virus in check, true, but the side effects can leave the body feeling ravaged, exhausted, and like hell in general.
But even deeper is the onset of unpredictable depression not necessarily brought about through medication side effects. The virus lurking within can cause just as many problems emotionally and psychologically—not just physically. Remember: Don’t Touch Me is conjured from a damaged belief system. 
But with massage therapy, you rekindle an inner intimacy you may have thought would never burn again. With eyes closed and under a therapist’s kneading and prodding hands, vulnerability unfolds. Your soul blooms, and once again you are part of the human race where you believe you deserve to be touched in a safe and caring way.  

Web sites abound concerning the physical and emotional benefits of massage therapy. Just use your favorite search engine. However, gay men with HIV or AIDS may have a difficult time tracking down a massage therapist skilled enough and caring enough to provide a positive massage experience. Tapping directly into web sites such as is the best place to start.

Allow yourself an hour and a half of bonding and trust in the hands of a massage therapist. Allow that tired old Don’t Touch Me idea to drop dead in its tracks. It bears repeating that such therapy truly can and will help contribute to the process of healing the inner self more quickly in caring hands. Human touch can become that component of care, which has probably been on hiatus for way too long. And for that, a gay massage therapist, complete with a privately owned safe place, is only an email away.



Joseph Holmes, a freelance writer of more than twenty years, is currently a staff writer for He grew up in the rural Deep South of the Mississippi Delta. Somewhere along the way, he acquired a couple of degrees from Louisiana State University. He thinks they're in a box in the attic.


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