When May, 25, a banker and law student, met 28-year-old Teddy, a researcher, she thought she hit the jackpot. He was everything she wanted in a guy: tall, smart, romantic, with a great sense of humor. He was also a political science graduate, so the two never ran out of things to talk about. “I believed he was perfect. He was committed to the relationship, he never missed our ‘monthsaries,’ he was always there,” May recalls. “I was so sure I’d end up with him.”
One afternoon, May discovered something that would totally change the way she regarded him. “I was fiddling with his phone when a text message from this girl named Thelma came in. It read, ‘Sir, kelan po kayo balik dito sa [name of the spa]? Kung busy po kayo, pwede rin po ako mag-home service. Miss ko na po kayo.’”
May almost choked. She felt her body growing cold. “Immediately, I Googled the name of the spa, and ’yon nga, it was what I had suspected: It’s a spakol. He was getting hand jobs regularly from her. I was so livid I just started to cry.”
The next day, May broke up with him. “He cheated on me,” she cries out. “Imagine someone else giving your boyfriend a hand job! What a sex-starved jerk. ’Di ko akalain kaya niyang gawin iyon.”
Teddy, on the other hand, couldn’t believe May had dumped him—as far as he was concerned, going to a spa that offers “extra” services didn’t qualify as a major offense. “Siguro mali nga na I did it behind her back. Okay, technically, I did cheat on her. But it was all physical lang; there were no emotions involved. My work’s very demanding so it’s normal na magpamasahe ako. Besides, a lot of other guys do it, too. We’re just after the instant satisfaction, the ‘release.’ It’s our nature.”
He justifies,“Parang ulam lang ’yan. Kahit favorite mo ’yung adobo, magsasawa at magsasawa ka rin so hahanap ka ng iba. Titikim ka ng ibang ulam. It’s for variety. Frankly, that’s how men are.” Teddy’s tone is unapologetic and firm, almost as if he dares you to believe it.
Former FHM writer Patrick Alejandro, who has been studying Pinoy male behavior for the past 10 years, puts it simply: “Plain and simple: Men like sex. But it’s not a need one can immediately address, so they go to massage parlors (massage + ‘all the way’) and spas colloquially known as spakols (massage + masturbation).”
So, how do these kinds of massage parlors and spas operate anyway, and how do they differ from “girlie bars?” Michael D. Smith, author of In the Company of Men, spells it out: “Unlike a more traditional massage, the session would end with the masseuse performing some combination of sexual acts, colloquially termed a ‘happy ending.’ Most often, sexual acts include the masseuse masturbating the client to the point of orgasm. Perhaps less common would be her performing oral sex on him, or rarely full vaginal sex.”
Buwayahman.com, notoriously known among pleasure patrons in Metro Manila as the expert reviewer of massage parlors and spas, breaks down the spakol experience: First, the guy or “client” will ask for a therapist at the counter. Said therapist will escort him to the shower area—if he paid for the therapist to help him shower, she’d join him. After showering, he’ll strip down naked, and the therapist will proceed to the massage. Then, “once the standard massage is done, the therapist will then employ a dukot technique, wherein the therapist reaches for and strokes the man’s genitals while he’s lying face down. Then, the therapist will ask him to turn around. He will now be lying on his back facing the therapist (possibly with an erection). The therapist does the ‘extra service,’” he says.
Inside the spakol, “extra service” can mean a lot of things. It can be playing with the genitals, licking and stroking the guy’s nipples, knees, nape, and other erogenous zones. The therapist, usually clad in her undies, will then perform the “happy ending” in the form of a hand job or blow job that gives the guy his most coveted release—all priced from P700 to P2,000.
Here’s the question which leaves the girls baffled: Why do men do it? Why pay for something that they could get from their respective partners for free? Annalyn, 24, a teacher, is outraged, because even if she’s more than willing to perform back-breaking bedroom stunts for her boyfriend, he still chooses to go to a spakol at least once a month.“I always end up asking myself, hindi pa ba sapat iyong ginagawa ko? Am I not good enough?”
Therapist and addiction expert Malyn Cristobal, NCAC, a certified drug and alcohol addiction counselor of National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, offers this answer: “Does going to spakol mean your guy no longer has the hots for you? Not necessarily. There are so many reasons why men do what they do. Some do it out of curiosity, others for something different—not really because they are not satisfied with their partner. Or because their friends are doing it, so they see nothing wrong with doing it too.”
Alejandro theorizes, “Some men just like to experiment; while others, believe it or not, do it for the sake of camaraderie. It’s a guy thing that’s just as normal as watching games or playing billiards. Men just need to fulfill their urges with no strings attached. As they say, men pay women to leave after the deed, not to have sex with them.”
For John, 30, an administrator, opting for extra services feeds his ego and lets him bond with the boys. “Going to these parlors is a rite of passage. It’s part of being a man,” he says. “’Tsaka kasi minsan nagkakayayaan ang barkada tapos doon kami pupunta.”
These reasons make men sound like hopeless cases (really, their idea of male bonding is a field trip to an illegit massage place?), but even a 2008 study in Scientific American confirms that men all over the world would gladly and almost guiltlessly pay for pleasure. “Many experts argue that it is a male appetite—and not the choices of personal sex providers—that fundamentally drives the sex trade,” the report says. “Some believe the practice serves as a salve for common psychological afflictions, such as an unfulfilled craving for sex or romance. Others, meanwhile, paint a dimmer portrait of men, believing they are driven by chauvinistic motives, such as a desire to dominate and control women.”
Frequent trips to a spakol is a telltale sign that a man suffers from low self-esteem, such that “when they pay someone to do something they like, it gives them a sense of power,” Cristobal says.
In the Philippines, the need to go to massage parlors can be chalked up to the machismo culture, “wherein a man’s worth, among other things, is also equated with his ability to lure other women,” says sexologist Jose Florante Leyson, director of the Sexual Dysfunction Center of the New Jersey Health Care Systems and author of The International Encyclopedia: Philippines. It doesn’t help that the country promotes what sociologist Rolando Tolentino calls the “‘vaginal economy’ or the intensified feminized sexualization of Philippine labor—whether as factory, service sector, or sex workers,” instrumental to the cult-level popularity of this trade.
Even if Teddy has yet to accept that his relationship with May is over, he’s quick to admit that what he did was an act of infidelity. “In a relationship, you’re supposed to be faithful in all aspects—physically and emotionally. So even if sabihin nating walang emotional infidelity na nangyari sa pagsa-spakol, I sinned against May because I asked someone else to perform an intimate activity.” Alejandro adds, “If you believe that anything one tries to hide from your girlfriend is a form of cheating, then yes, going to spakols is cheating.”
Other men like John, however, stand by the belief that getting a massage with extra services is not a form of cheating, because “there is no sex involved anyway.” To this statement, Cristobal dares them to respond to this: “Yes, they may be right, but would it be okay with them if their girlfriend also asks some other guy to give her oral sex because it is not intercourse anyway? This excuse only tries to justify the behavior. There has to be a discussion about his actions—why he is doing it and what is he looking for—and then address that need instead of going to these places. It has to be made clear that it is not acceptable to [you].”
This is where you step in to clarify the matter, just in case your guy has a different concept of fidelity. You need to communicate to him that you don’t want him going to spakols—period.
“Simply say that you are not tolerating it and then implement consequences that are not empty threats,” advises Cristobal. “Breaking up with the guy because you can’t tolerate a behavior is good, because it shows him that you don’t approve of the addiction. It gives a clear message that he has a problem, and he has to do something about it or else he will lose you. You only enable the behavior if you tolerate it. You have to be firm and make your message clear.”
Another surefire way to get him out of that shady establishment? Warn him about police raids and undercover operations. Says Alejandro, “I have friends who have vowed never to return to massage parlors after getting their taste of a police raid!” Unless your guy wants to be seen in a criminal exposé on the news, he’ll most likely stay put, behave, and get out of the therapist’s way.
This story originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine, February 2012.
* Minor edits have been made by Cosmo.ph editors.