Handholding, Hand Jobs, and Intimacy

Hand holdingI recently admitted my surprise that some people find handholding more intimate than a hand job.

And I admitted that, for me, the “aloof intimacy” of non-emotional sex ranges from unappealing to disturbing.

And then I asked people who saw things differently — both on my blog and among my friends — to tell me how they felt.

Here’s what they said — plus a few more thoughts:

We are simply wired for sex

A guy I know who I’ll call “Rocky” said:

We are a lot more like our primate ancestors than we think. They don’t need emotional connection, and neither do we. Apes? Us? We all need sex.

We are wired for sexual gratification, so why not? Religion hates anything that gives us pleasure — who knows why? We need to get out of that trap.

apes matingI agree that religion too often deems anything pleasurable “wrong.” The Taliban instituted the perfect Islamic state by banning music and kite flying. “The seven deadly sins” include gluttony and lust…

At the same time, are we just like animals? Humans live in a symbolic world — much more than animals do. So the same behavior can mean different things in different cultures, and vary from person to person.

Apparently, entering someone’s body means something very different to me than to Rocky.

Or to a lot of other people:

Several said that physical intimacy simply did not feel intimate. Which I still don’t get, but okay.

We have the right to determine our privacy setting

In the comments section I asked this question:

How do you experience becoming so physically intimate as to enter someone else’s body, or have your body entered, or fondled, while maintaining a sense of emotional remoteness?

Especially when all of us have probably grown up in a society that teaches us that we have our “private parts.” We grow up learning that and then suddenly those private parts are just opened up to anyone? I don’t mean to sound judgmental (although I realize I may). I just don’t get it, and I’m trying to understand.

One answer: We have the right to determine our own privacy settings, says Vagabond Urges:

hand jobI conceptually applaud women for embracing the idea of “aloof intimacy” in the sense that it’s a (roundabout) step towards dissolving our gender stereotypes, just as I applaud men for questioning its appeal. For me, it’s yet another case of letting each person decide their own opinion, and determine their own experience of it, unpressured by gender roles or expectations. If you want to view hand holding as more intimate: go for it! If you want to view intercourse as the ultimate sanctity: go for it!

As for “private parts”, I see that much the same way. Everyone has a right to their privacy, and bodily….let’s say…safety? Only being touched when, where, and by whom they choose. But by the same token, I endorse everyone’s right to determine their own privacy setting, so to speak. (Too much facebook in our lingo, these days!) If someone wants to dance around and let people caress them? I wholeheartedly endorse it. If someone wants to maintain an ironclad bubble of personal space? I endorse that too. (Though I doubt it’s psychologically healthy.) I think most folks fall somewhere between the two, in that luscious gray area.

And actually, breaking taboos can increase excitement — making “pleasure parts” even more pleasurable.

Entering private parts: a doorway to self-esteem

Moving to a whole other set of symbols, entering someone’s private parts can be a doorway to self-esteem.

Becoming sexually active means you have entered adulthood, manhood, womanhood and accrue the rewards, therein. Unless women are slut-shamed, and then self-esteem drops.

Scoring!

Scoring!

And some men have sex hoping to gain points in a game where bedpost notches keep score. This game depends on the double standard: if a woman will risk her reputation to sleep with a man, then 1) he must be pretty darn special and 2) he has managed to conquer her, getting her to “submit.”

Women face a no-win situation in this game. If they have sex their reputations suffer. If they suppress their desire, they repress their sexuality. And in the long run, this harms men, too, as women lose interest in sex as an outcome of repression.

But some women also have sex with men, hoping to feel beautiful. “She” assumes that “he” wants sex with her because he finds her so attractive — a big ego boost.

Emotion-free, distraction-free sex

One woman said that distracting emotions would have been overwhelming when she was first exploring sex in college:

I would certainly have called hand-holding more intimate than sex. I needed to see physical intimacy and emotional intimacy as separate… they were both new, big things to learn to handle as an adult! Getting a handle on the mechanics of naked bodies in close proximity in a way that minimized embarrassment and maximized enjoyment for the participants was hard enough without thinking about emotions at the same time.

Handholding: More intimate than sex?

Those who felt that handholding was more intimate than sex thought along these lines:

  • Hand holding is more intimate. It shows that I’ve chosen this person to be with me outside of just what our private parts are doing. They are my partner. Sex can be just sex. A physical release of pleasure shared between two adults.
  • Of course sex CAN be way more intimate, when you’re with a partner who knows you very well. But that’s not the only kind of sex, nor is it the only kind of good sex… I think holding hands with someone implies a more permanent choice. It means that not only do you care, but you don’t mind other people knowing it. It’s a symbol of coupledom whereas sex might just be a fun night or a way to get some release.
  • Free to be you and me

    Free to be you and me

    I think intimacy is emotional, not physical. It’s not really about which body parts I’m using but the things I’m feeling. Love and lust are two different things. I don’t think of it as aloof intimacy because it’s not really intimate at all, nor is it necessarily aloof. It’s passionate and sexy, but the focus is on pleasure and bodily sensation.

Feeling free to be me

I’ll admit that sex without emotional intimacy still doesn’t sound appealing to me. But:

Whether you’re someone who needs intimacy to enjoy sex, or someone who doesn’t but still enjoys consensual sex — while doing no harm, I hope that we can all let go of the social pressures that create inauthentic experiences or that work to shame who we are.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on February 23, 2015, in men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 45 Comments.

  1. great post – LOL – Such great reading it !!!

  2. Sex isn’t all that. I mean it’s nice here and there but there is also those gestures. Like handholding and dates that come into play and I feel it shows all how it happens. And by then it actually turns into a real relationship. All in all I’d have to agree Intimacy is mostly emotional. The physical stuff is just a little extra, but hey what do i know. Personally, I would say that what the topic says is true even as a male. Because anybody that has been in a relationship for a long time would agree that of more Love than Sex. Although I’d also add that when new to a relationship sometimes sex is what one or both may be thinking about a lot until it actually happens.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. It’s interesting to hear a variety of perspectives.

    • “Sex isn’t all that. I mean it’s nice here and there but there is also those gestures.”

      Wow! Well, you can speak for yourself on that one!

      It really is a matter of preference I think. I would tend to agree with Georgia. I have never been a man who could do casual sex. I have to know AND respect the woman before engaging in sex. Nor am I interested in these 2-3 month “dating” rituals people go through. Bed hopping I call it…No thank you.

      The human species is morally superior to the animal kingdom. We don’t go around preying on, murdering, raping, and killing one another etc. Such behavior is not widely accepted behavior.

      I think what has occurred with sex is animalistic behavior has become more of the norm. I can even see incest as becoming an acceptable practice soon since anything today that involves “consenting adults” or “they are hurting no one” is our new moral code. Awful in my view.

  3. Hand-holding and other intimacies finding its joyful climax in sex would be the ideal; however, the option of consensual sex as physical release and diversion for the moment may also be recognised. While it is okay to control, repression of the sexual urge is unhealthy. Interesting post, Georgia…best wishes… Raj.

  4. I enjoyed reading this one. What ‘Rocky’ said, is quite thought-provoking…. 🙂

    Emotional attachment is important for sex, otherwise it just becomes ‘an act of pleasure’ not ‘a loving act that leads to ultimate pleasure’.

    • Different strokes for different folks, eh?

    • Agree. Otherwise sex and smoking a blunt are valued as equivalent.

      It is really funny how so many people today do not even consider a hand-job or oral sex as sex!!! Crazy!

      I recently read a book by a sometime Good Men Project contributor where he writes, “…lots of women have sucked my cock…but I have only had sex with six women in my life.” What a crock!

  5. marissa martinez

    n my opinion, everyone have she say and he say what different topics. For the most part I respect that for people be brave enough to speak what’s on their mind. However, for this topic I agree that to me holding hands is more intimate. Like the article states that when you hold someone’s hand in public that you feel more in the relationship and not caring who see them. On the other hand, we are still animals. Sure we have feeling and intelligent, but without the animal part of people there would be less reproduction in society and very few people that start their own family.

  6. I really like this article and what it talks about. I believe in many ways to be in a nice relationship that will last a long time. When a couple can be good friends before establishing a relationship all of this can happen well. I think that handholding is a message of emotions. I have always like doing it because I liked the feeling of the woman’s hand as I felt her squeeze mine. Handholding can let the couple know that they belong together. I enjoy to learn about a woman’s emotions and what she thinks about. I guess hand jobs can be cool depending on the mood and location. It depend’s on if that is what the woman really wants to do. Hand holding is a form of intimacy because it can make each other feel something. When I walk around with a good woman she will always wrap her arm inside mine as we are walking. I enjoy it. Intimacy is special in a relationship, but not very important. I would love a woman who is free to be a rebel, by having her own beliefs. I think that the man and the woman should have their personal space while being together. Good things can happen that way.

  7. I came across something, it’s not exactly new as I’ve seen your references about porn and the bad part of it or how it can make women feel. But I find it interesting how many or more women than I thought do not want or like their men watching porn or any porn and some feel it’s cheating. I understand if a man is addicted or spends hours on it instead of attention toward his girlfriend or wife.

    But many just not liking men looking at porn at all even if guys are spending time and attention to their women and the porn doesn’t distract from sex with their gf. It’s weird, because I guess it’s good that many women don’t check the internet history of their bfs or else they’ll most likely see some porn searches. If a gf is away for a day or late at work, a man might look at something to get him off when horny. You have to also consider fantasy too, where the sex that isn’t being had, the man can escape to.

    • I see your point. But historically my commonsense way of understanding the issue was more like the women you describe. It feels like he’s having sex with them instead of you. And you feel jealous because you worry that he thinks they are more attractive than you. And studies show that it can actually have that effect, so there can be something real to feel frightened by.

      • Well, then most women better cover their eyes and look away, because I guarentee most of their bfs or husbands have watched porn, are watching porn or have a collection whether tapes on on their computer. And their husband or bf has probably looked at the porn time to time when say their gf or wife has worked long days or overnight or there’s been less sex and having it to get off on.

        I think porn can be a problem if a man is watching it instead of giving attention to his wife or gf or spends a lot of time on it and away or rather look at porn than be intimate with his wife. But porn use on the casual side shouldn’t be bad, as long as he’s respectful about how and when he watches it or spends time. Watching porn while she’s right there in the room or with you is rude and inconsiderate. But then it brings up the point, so is it simply better because she’s seeing and knowing he’s looking at it compared to a man watching it and her not knowing or seeing him do so? So what’s the difference? Would a woman really feel better that her man is watching porn when she’s away compared to her knowing he’s doing it? It seems not any better, but one just more discreet. So men getting off looking at other women is cheating to women or bad to women because he’s getting visually aroused by a woman on a screen?

        That doesn’t seem logical or useful, because, I’d hate to break it to women, but many men will masturbate without porn and just from their imagination and thoughts in their head. And a decent perentage of those fantasies are not of his wife or gf, but rather a hot celebrity, maybe a hot girl he sees at the cofee shop or worse, maybe his wife or gfs pretty sister or gf. Doesn’t mean it’s because of a desire to cheat. But yet this isn’t a problem. What;s the difference? A man fantasizing and jerking off to something in his mind, well he’s vividly “seeing” in his mind, a woman;s or women’s naked bodies. Though women don’t fantasize like men, women fantasize to and iv;e heard that woman will have fantasies that their husband is not in and another man is.

        On top of that, I know women or most don’t look at porn. But hypothetically speaking, I would not be bothered if a gf I was with, watched or got off to porn from time to time. It would only be a problem if it consumed her time and she wanted it rather than having sex with me. That’s a porn addiction thing. I’m not talking about that for men, but simply a little fix here and there, which still seems to bother women.

      • I’m just saying why it bothers women — including me. That doesn’t mean you don’t make some good points. I don’t know what would be the best way to handle it, Given that with a ease of the Internet most guys check out porn. And I suppose that different women will have different views on how he goes about it. I’d prefer subtlety, myself. Most gay couples don’t seem to mind if their partners look at porn in the way that women do. And many women don’t mind, either. But a lot do.

  8. loved this post. although i don’t necessarily agree that holding hands is more intimate than physical or sexual interaction i do understand where its coming from. Like you said anyone can have sex just for the heck of it, but by holding hands you are showing connection other than showing your intimate relationship as a couple. We see people holding hands but never really think about the connection they have. Its a connection that actually means an attraction, a relationship, not just a one night stand. i see much where this is coming from, because i personally love to hold hands with my loved one and show people through it the bond we share. That it isn’t just to get laid, but to have a relatinship that will lead to something on the long run.

  9. This is a great post ! I do agree that religion tends to shut us down for desiring pleasure unless we are married we can only desire sex with one man. For me personally because i’m not a very sexual person and i am more of a romantic person, so for me holding someones hand would much more intimate than giving someone a hand job. Although we are compared to being like animals in specific apes, we aren’t meant to be acting like that but thats what our society is starting to because with all the casual sex going on and everyones especially in my college just looks to hook up and have sex.

    • Thanks for your input. Another example of the confusion that surrounds this question:

      Handholding may be more intimate in yet this doesn’t imply that the person holding this view would more easily give a stranger a hand job than hold his hand. Some distinctions are being missed in all this. What is it?

  10. Expect a response from this 51-year-married man/husband/spouse. A great piece that needs more discussion and comments. I think you have hit a nerve here. Youth vs. Age; sex vs. Luv/affection. We must read about “constancy” by William Shakespeare. “Love’s not Time’s fool.”

  11. Different strokes for different folks, it sounds like! I agree that there is no right /wrong to what someone says feels good/intimate authentic to them- as long as it doesn’t violate someone else.

    • Just because something feels good/intimate and/or authentic does not make it right….

      It seems as if our society is moving towards this judgement free zone where there are few if any codes of moral conduct.

      How can we possible have a authentic society with genuine respect for humanity if there are no rules of moral conduct? If you look at history, you can see the fate of such societies..

      • Actually, I never said that sexual violence or anything immoral was right but I do think people have the right to do with their own bodies what feels good or intimate to them. Who are we to judge what someone wants or need for themselves? But that doesn’t give carte blanche in regards to how they engage with other people.

    • Thanks so much. I just changed my New York Times alerts to include “Sexuality” (strange that I didn’t have that before).

      Before I finished reading your comment I made this note for something to think about and blog on later:

      Intimacy, handholding, and hand jobs
      It’s complicated.
      I will hold hands with many people that I wouldn’t have sex with. I won’t have sex with anyone I wouldn’t hold hands with.
      Entering someone’s body feels like huge act of intimacy to me
      But then there’s this:
      “There’s an intimacy that comes later that is staggeringly wonderful,” she said. “You can hold hands with this person you love and adore, and somehow it’s just as passionate as having sex at an earlier age. There is such a sense of connection and intimacy that grows out of a long relationship, that touch carries with it the weight of so many memories. And many are sexual.”
      Indeed what she misses most as a widow, she says, is holding hands.
      “Sex was certainly an important and joyful and healing part, but I’m not sure that the connection through holding hands, which elicited such peace, was not a deeper intimacy,” she further reflected in an email. “But of course I would not have known that during the first 30 or 40 years of marriage when sex was of paramount importance — our recreation and solace. And I am quite sure younger people would shake their heads and think, ‘poor old soul her sex life was probably not very good.’ They would be wrong!”
      http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/23/married-sex-gets-better-in-the-golden-years/?_r=0

      I doubt this implies that she would more easily give a stranger a hand job than hold his hand. Some distinctions are being missed in all this. What is it?

      • “I will hold hands with many people that I wouldn’t have sex with. I won’t have sex with anyone I wouldn’t hold hands with.”

        I am with you!!!

        This whole idea reminds me of how sex workers engage in sex with men but do not allow any kissing (maybe for hygiene purposes?). So, it would seems as if even prostitutes think kissing and holding hands are more intimate than allowing some joker the bang away…..

  12. In my opinion, Holding hands is more intimate than sex.

  13. First, sex is just sex, every animal on the world have sex, like us, but just the human need/want have feelings while having sex.

    Second, just remember years ago sex was almost forbidden, so for people hand holding was the norm, so sex was something very intimate, something to do with a few(one) people. But things changes and know sex is cheaper than ever, so for us the norm is sex and what is almost forbidden to do with everyone is hand holding.

    Finally, we, as society choose what is intimate and that can change from generation to generation. So IMO sex is very overrated and hand holding is more intimate than sex.

  14. Caroline Dietrich

    Thank you so much for this great post and insight into the subject of hand jobs and handholding. I most definitely think that handholding is very intimate and shows affection rather than giving someone a hand job as almost a “sexual favor”

    I really liked your quote in stating “I’ll admit that sex without emotional intimacy still doesn’t sound appealing to me” as I feel the same way. The emotional aspect of sex to me is what makes it so wonderful and passionate. Whether you are having sex with your boyfriend or your husband it is a time to put everything aside and focus on your relationship and intimacy. After a long day of work or school it is a great opportunity to reconnect on an intimate level without the distractions of our phones, computers, tv ipad and the technology of our culture.

    Overall, I thought this was an excellent post.
    -Caroline

  15. I totally agree with the writer who admited that handholding is more intimate than a hand job.It also is more intimate than the act of sex. We need to differentiate physical intimacy from emotional intimacy. Physical intimacy happenes at bed and is short and transient and peaks for the initial acquaintance of the pair and gradually weans off in a way that those individuals may gradually incline toward other people overtime, merely as a matter of newly formed emotional intimacy. On the other hand, emotional intimacy is a consistant and unconditional situation that is based on true love and genuine relationship satisfaction, which is characterized by its persistance which may lead to marriage. I may say that two people may agree upon having sex based on the contract, money, job which eventually makes a physical body intimacy. In this scenario, the pair barely know about each other, but they will experince enormous lust and self indulgence and satisfy their intense craving which ends up quickly, but on the other side of the spectrum, there are couples who are emotionally intimate and close friends and care about each other; and holding their hands has significant meaning to them and they consider hand holding as an intense pleasure and joy. I may want to add that normal relationships like marriage or engagement bring about both physical and emotional pleasure at the same time and while it is possible that men are more engaged in sex intimacy, women are more possible to immerse in emotional intimacy. I myelf do not beleive in sex or physical intimacy as a proper way for people to get their confidence, body image, or self-esteem; because there are other more social accepted ways to gain those.

  16. “I’m just saying why it bothers women — including me. That doesn’t mean you don’t make some good points. I don’t know what would be the best way to handle it, Given that with a ease of the Internet most guys check out porn. And I suppose that different women will have different views on how he goes about it. I’d prefer subtlety, myself. Most gay couples don’t seem to mind if their partners look at porn in the way that women do. And many women don’t mind, either. But a lot do.”

    Yeah, perhaps some communication and compromise. I know I said how hypothetically speaking I wouldn’t mind if my gf liked to watch porn. Well actually, I think one could say how people getting off to imagination and fantasy is or could be worse to people getting off from porn or visual erotica. What I mean by this is, fantasy is not often a problem because it’s a secret in our minds and to ourself. That’s why people can think of taboo, forbidden things or kinky things in the secrecy of their own thoughts. But anyway, to me, if you knew what others were getting off to in their mind, it would bother you more than them watching porn.

    To put it bluntly, I’d more likely not be fond of a gfs fantasy that she might get off to compared to a porn video and the reason is the fantasy if it’s not me, could include a guy I know, or one of my friends, or relative. Something that could more likely create jealousy and hit closer to home than if she got off to porn and a man who she’d never meet and a stranger. Like if your SO was fantasizing about your friend, wouldn’t that be more bothersome than them getting off watching porn stars having sex? One’s more personal, is it not? Neither bothers me, but actually if look at it thoroughly, I’d say a man or woman getting off to thoughts created in their mind, than visual images or erotica as potentially more worrisome or what should be than porn.

  17. Lisa Hopewell

    Because sex can be a selfish act or a medium for sharing and giving there is a lot of fluidity around the idea of intimacy. It may or may not include an emotional connection that would produce the intimacy. However hand holding hands almost always involves emotion. Can you think of any situation that would include you holding hands with someone that you didn’t feel an emotional connection and intimacy with? Weather it be romantic, familial, or a close personal friend there intimacy that would be experienced is based on a relationship and positive emotions. Sex can be intimate, a violation, or a personal release.

  18. Great post…
    It’s interesting what society now views as “intimate”; and that it’s now accepted and somewhat expect for sex and emotional involvement to be separate.

  19. In my experience, holding hands mean a lot more than having sex. When I love someone with all my heart, everything I need is spending my time with her, holding hands, talking about everything in the world, and letting my soul and hers get into each other. In a relationship, sex is just a need as people need to eat, drink, entertain, and so on. But, having a soul mate is the real happy ending of every relationship. People can have one-night stand easily by appearing in a classic suit or fancy dress at the clubs plus a skillful flirting ability. Having someone understand them is truly a big issue and sadly, not much people found theirs. Especially, people need a soulmate the most in their hard time. In those rough moments, people can face and conquer anything on their ways if there is someone, who is always trust them and is willing to be by their sides no matter how bad the situations are. In the tough time, an awesome sex life doesn’t help them solve the problems but a holding hand with their soulmate can.

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