I moved to the boonies about three years ago, and while I love living in the California desert (70 degree days in December), I can’t seem to get delivery to come to my door: not even dinner. Imagine my surprise when Soothe, the ultra-popular massage-on-demand app, announced they were heading my way. After hearing people in Los Angeles (including Sharon Stone) rave about it, I could finally embrace it myself.
For the record: I love being massaged. I have fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome so my primary, rheumatologist, and pain management doctors have each recommended regular massage. Getting massaged is one of the few things on this planet that I can afford (at least occasionally) that helps relieve my chronic pain. A day without massage can be a day of agony.
I’m not alone. Chronic pain has reached epidemic levels and people with HIV are far from immune. In fact, according to a 2012 report in Pain Physician Journal, chronic pain “has increased incidence in HIV patients, with multiple HIV-related conditions raising risks of pain disorders.” Studies have estimated the prevalence of pain among those living with HIV to be as high as 90 percent. Rand’s HIV Cost and Services Utilization Study (the largest survey of its kind) found that 67 percent of people living with HIV in the U.S. reported experiencing at least some pain in the previous week.
Peripheral neuropathy impacts over 40 percent of people living with HIV, and, according to the Pain Physician Journal, poz folks also frequently experience headaches, abdominal pain, joint pain, pain from Kaposi sarcoma, and myofascial pain. Researchers have also found that pain is more common in women but, “while pain is reported to be less common and less severe in African-American HIV patients … a recent study suggests that these patients are more likely to be suspected by health care providers of opioid misuse. It has been suggested that both women and non-White patients may be at higher risk for under-treatment of their pain.”
In the 16 years since being diagnosed with fibro and MPS, I’ve found only a handful of treatments that successfully manage it: prescription opioids, medical cannabis, hot salt water soaks, and massage. When we moved out to the sticks, I had to leave my massage therapist behind and have gotten so desperate to find a new one, I even stopped at new place in town that advertised “1-hour Oriental massage.” There were many female masseuses, but no female clients. I may have been willing to pay for a happy ending—as it appeared was customary—but the women sent me packing before I could disrobe.
Thankfully, Soothe has saved me. The app takes away all the ambiguity and the fear of accidently walking into another sex worker storefront. Instead, all it took was answering a few simple questions to request a fully licensed massage therapist. Leilani arrived on time, set up where I directed her, and proceeded to give me the best deep tissue massage I’ve had in a long time.
Soothe’s recent expansions takes the on-demand app to the Palm Springs and Inland Empire regions of California, as well as Toronto, Canada. By the beginning of 2017, Soothe’s 7,000-plus licensed massage therapists will be available in 50 cities (and several countries) including: Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Barbara, California; New York, London, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Fort Worth, Ft. Lauderdale, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Long Island, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, Northern New Jersey, Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Seattle, St. Louis, and Scottsdale, Arizona; Toronto and Vancouver, Canada; Washington, D.C.; Charlotte, North Carolina; Portland, Oregon; Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland, Ohio; and Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.
All that growth and the ability to book on your phone, draws apt comparisons to Uber. Booking, paying, and tipping is taken care of via credit card ahead of time, so the awkward money exchange is out of the way. Soothe offers deep tissue, Swedish, sports, and prenatal massages daily between the hours of 8 a.m. and midnight. In addition to the type and length of massage, you choose the gender of your therapist, and prices are reasonable: $99 for 60 minutes, $139 for 90 minutes, and $169 for 120 minutes. (Yes, a two-hour massage is as wonderful as it sounds.)
CEO Merlin Kauffman created Soothe in 2013, while attending Harvard Business School. He was traveling frequently, and found it difficult to schedule a massage appointment outside standard business hours. What started as a solution to his own problem, has grown into a flourishing business, with the number of certified massage therapists on the platform having more than doubled since last year. Therapists I spoke with (two women and a gay man) all said they love the gig economy aspect of working for Soothe — and the LGBTQ friendliness.
I asked Jeff Bishop, the gay director of operations at Soothe — who lives in nearby Palm Desert — about the recent expansion. “Palm Springs is an ideal location for Soothe as it is not only an amazing place to live, but one of the premiere LGBT resort destinations in the world,” he says. In fact, Palm Springs’s LGBT residents make up around half the city’s permanent population, the average age of residents is over 50, and the percentage of gay and bi residents who are living with HIV is relatively high. That’s one reason why Bishop is quick to reassure poz locals and visitors alike that Soothe bodyworkers won’t stigmatize them.
“Our therapists are rigorously trained and vetted to ensure that they are able to work with people from all walks of life including senior citizens and people living with HIV — they are true healers,” he says, adding, “Those living with HIV can expect to see many benefits from receiving massage therapy regularly. These include a reduction in stress and anxiety and even increasing NK cell cytotoxicity and T-cells, which can be beneficial to one’s health when HIV-positive.”
Certainly you don’t need to be LGBT or HIV-positive to enjoy a massage. It’s been shown to provide health benefits for everyone from athletes to factory workers to pregnant women. Having celebrities tout Soothe is raising demand for the app — from both clients and would-be employees. (My massage therapist, Leilani, signed on after hearing Ellen DeGeneres talk about it on her TV show).
“LGBT folks are definitely known for being first adopters and brand advocates,” Bishop says. “So we are really excited for them to be able to try Soothe out and share it with their friends and family. Similarly, LGBT folks tend to be very conscious of their bodies and their overall health — in terms of what they are eating, how often they are exercising, and so forth — so it makes sense for them to embrace massage from a health benefits perspective, and add massage to their active lifestyle.”
It only took one massage for me to fully embrace Soothe. More than that, I suddenly can’t live without it. Thankfully, it’s expanding quickly. I’m already planning to schedule in Soothe sessions as I travel for work this year.
Editor's note: You can book a massage 24-7 via the iOS or Android app, soothe.com, or via the toll-free concierge number (800) 960-7668.