Dr. Wendy Walsh: Just weeks after former Vice President Al Gore grabbed headlines for announcing that he and wife Tipper were divorcing after 40 years of marriage, newspapers are latching on to a four-year-old story claiming that Gore sexually harassed a massage therapist in Portland, Oregon. The only update is that local authorities have dismissed the masseuse's claim of "unwanted sexual contact," due to insufficient evidence. (It was a civil case. Read: for money, not jail time.)
The story's sources are mostly tabloid. The National Enquirer broke the story four years ago, and this week, the New York Daily News tells it this way: In 2006, while staying at an upscale hotel in Portland, Oregon, Mr. Gore apparently scheduled a massage under the name "Mr. Stone." Then, while the massage therapist was doing the abdominal portion of the massage, he allegedly made some moaning sounds and asked her to go lower, even attempting to guide her hand down.
There are few things to consider here. Included in my own thought processes are these: the physiological possibilities of a man in deep relaxation; the wide range of services and specialties available in the massage industry; and -- the biggest issue of all -- personal boundaries verses perception of personal injury.
For the purposes of this hypothetical examination, let's assume that this woman's allegations are true. (And that's a big assumption, considering the lack of evidence.) Let's start with what happens to a man in deep relaxation. As anyone with a husband knows, spontaneous erections happen all the time, during sleep and especially during massages -- which is one of the reasons women dominate the massage industry. (Heterosexual male clients feel too uncomfortable having a spontaneous erection at the hands of a man.) So, let's assume that an erection happened during the massage. When some men get an erection, all the blood from their brains apparently drains out to puff up their appendages; thus, they make poor decisions when they are aroused. Let's assume -- solely for the purposes of scientific examination -- that this was, in fact, an inconvenient truth for our dear former VP.
Biology aside, let's place a little blame on the massage industry. In America, the quality and nature of massage services can run the gamut from licensed physical therapists (who work with doctors) to spa therapists (who focus on sports massage and relaxation) to masseuses who offer a "full-body release" (yes, that's code for "happy ending") to illegal massage parlors that offer sex for sale. Who knows which kinds of massage services Big Al has used in the past? Mightn't he have mistakenly assumed that he was getting a full-body service in Portland? If so, then oops! Wrong kind of massage therapist, Mr. Gore.
Finally, there is the issue of boundaries. Everyone has a comfort level when it comes to sexuality, both in which acts they can tolerate and how comfortable they are with making sexual requests. Maybe Al Gore (again, if the story is even true) has a good ability to communicate his sexual needs. If so, kudos to Al. On the flip side, maybe the massage therapist was particularly sensitive to sexual injury. Injury is in the eye of the recipient: What one therapist might perceive as sexual assault, another might just brush off with a "Tsk, tsk!" and a little admonishing to the cheeky boy.
Let's hope the whole thing was a big misunderstanding, and that Big Al will learn to stay alert during future massages.
P.S. Yes, Al Gore was married at the time the massage incident allegedly occurred. Is it OK for a married man to have a sterile hand-job in a professional setting? Our guest blogger Gina thought so! She encouraged her husband to get a happy ending. Check out her story here.