Is Handholding or a Hand Job More Intimate?

Which is more intimate? Handholding or a hand job?

The intimacy of hand-holding.

A young woman attending a college workshop on sexual assault was shocked to hear men say they thought handholding was more intimate.

After all, they held hands with women they cared about. They could get a hand job from any anonymous hookup.  

Well, I’m perplexed, too.

Occasionally, someone I’m not super close to will grab my hand and it rarely bothers me. But the thought of reaching out and grabbing an acquaintance’s “privates” — not to mention entering an acquaintance’s body — seems … well, inappropriate, disgusting, horrifying.

It seems to me that entering a body is more intimate than the more tangential handhold.

But then, I missed out on hookup culture. And the shocked young woman, who was attending college orientation, was about to be introduced.

Actually, the notion can bewilder even those who live through it. Actress and writer Lena Dunham told New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni,

I’ve heard so many of my friends saying, ‘Why can’t I have sex and feel nothing?’ It was amazing: that this was the new goal.”

Others say they must be drunk to tolerate taking another’s body inside themselves.

Maybe it’s not so strange to feel that being nakedly vulnerable physically — without trust and connection emotionally — is a bit bizarre.

Maybe that’s why three-quarters of college students — both men and women — say they prefer relationship sex.

Still, as Ms. Dunham points out, plenty of women still think that physical intimacy sans emotional intimacy is the thing to aim for.

But then, it’s widely thought that that’s how guys do sex. And we tend to value men and men’s ways over women and women’s ways. And despite the fact that even men prefer sex with emotional attachment — 75% would rather connect intimately both body and soul.

Something seems amiss to me when handholding feels more intimate than sex. Maybe you see things differently. Thoughts?

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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 17, 2021, in men, sex and sexuality and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 43 Comments.

  1. I am still on the fence about this topic, as I think it is a sensitive topic which is different for everyone. I do however understand the point from both perspectives. Whether you see holding hands as more intimate because of the vulnerability factor of it, or whether you find a hand job to be more intimate. There are still plenty of men which consider a hand job to be “letting someone in” or a very intimate and vulnerable act.

  2. I completely agree that men view non-sexual actions as more intimate. They can receive sexual pleasures from anyone at any time, but it takes vulnerability and trust to be able to display minor actions of public affection. Most people can go get drunk at a club and end up spending a night with a stranger, but when the sun comes up, that stranger is more likely to be gone. This also brings up the idea between having sex or making love. More than likely, you are to experience the feeling of love in a relationship and able to have a sense of intimacy with each other which is a much stronger emotion/feeling than a hookup.

  3. The first thought that comes to mind is that it’s obvious that a hand job would be considered more intimate because you wouldn’t do it to anyone, and you wouldn’t likely do it in public or in front of an audience, therefore being alone, and having such close physical contact and nudity seems more intimate. But I guess it would really be context-dependent. Men will pay for sexual favors like a hand job, and my thought is it’s for physical pleasure rather than emotional intimacy, but will men pay for someone to hold their hand? Really thinking about it people don’t usually hold hands with someone unless you care for that person, but men might receive sexual favors from someone they don’t care about because of the benefits that would come with it.

  4. Is handholding or a hand job more intimate? This is a type of opinion question where everyone’s different point of views will effect the answer. So what I would like to ask a person before asking this question is that how do you define intimacy’s? Some prefer the touch of the partner and connect it emotionally to themselves, for example hand holding or lets say hugging. When someone does this it can sometimes be therapeutic. Some may define it as sexual intercourse, and i wouldnt say they are wrong, because wither way sexual intercourse is a big part of human nature, and relationships.

  5. It sure is interesting to hear about the difference in intimacy between a handjob and holding hands. Just thinking about the situations without any context, my instinctual thought was that a handjob would be much more intimate than holding hands, as one could mean anything and the other has pretty clearly sexual implications. However, when we consider the culture we live in today, and what we consider as “intimate”, the statement made about men considering holding hands a bit more intimate makes a bit more sense. Holding hands in our society is generally affiliated with being in some sort of intimate relationship, even if it’s not the case. If you see two people walking down the street holding hands, chances are you assume that they are in a relationship. But handjobs are a different story. “hook-up” culture has blurred the lines between sexual acts and what we consider to be intimate, and people are hooking up in various manners purely to have fun or feel good, rather than to be deeply intimate with someone. A handjob, to me, is not a deeply intimate act. It’s probably the least personal sexual act you can give someone. So even though when not factoring into consideration cultural norms I would see correlations between forms of sex and intimacy, hook-up culture completely changes the definition and role of intimacy in our society.

  6. I’ve been with partners in the past who could only rarely have sex without being intoxicated – And they loved doing so. Any sort of sexual act brought up such strong feelings of internalized shame, that they couldn’t get out of their own heads and enjoy the moment while clear headed. It could be as little as splitting a single glass of wine, early in the night, but it let them free to explore feelings they didn’t feel comfortable sharing, even with themselves.

    I’m a bit distanced from this, as I’ve never sought out a hookup and likely never will. I’m on the asexual spectrum, and find the concept of sex fairly disgusting in and of itself. When I’m with somebody I trust, and there’s no pressure, however, it brings out the same cathartic fun that I feel running through a mud puddle without caring about my shoes, or making a mess in the kitchen, or trying a new restaurant that turns out to be terrible. All of which is an incredibly roundabout way to get to the point that the notion of a solitary handjob, on its own, seems like one of the least intimate moments available. That might sound contradictory, so don’t get me wrong, it requires a *ton* of trust, and intimacy, and love. But the act itself is weird and strange and more of a trust exercise than anything else.

    Holding hands is different though. I hold hands with my close friends. I hold hands with my partners. I hold hands to lead people across the dance floor, or to help people up the stairs. I hold hands to get help, or support, or affirmation, or to give it. It inherently feels like a supportive act, and can be done in public. I think being done in public adds a lot to the intimacy factor for me.

    It makes sense to me that men also find it more intimate, because it forces them to display an emotional connection of “I LIKE THIS PERSON” in *public.* Emotional displays like this have been conditioned out of men from a very young age, and can make them feel very vulnerable and out of their comfort zones.

  7. It is clear that a hand job is more intimate. Holding hand is a gesture of care and love. Hand job is for pleasure, even that is a sign of love but in a more intimate way. Holding hands reduces physical and emotional pain and it is also a positive way of managing negative emotions.

  8. This is a very interesting question. Right away I think that a hand job is more intimate but if I really think about the history of handholding, handholding is 100% more intimate than a hand job. Although the context of this blog is sexual in nature, I think about the times in my life when hand holding was not sexual, it was more of a comfort. When I was little my mom would hold my hand when we crossed the street, this brought security. When I went through a bad breakup or when I found out that my mom had cancer, my friends would put their hands over mine, offering me solace and protection while I cried. When my first love reached for my hand in public it sent shivers down my spine and for the first time in my life, I felt like I had found true love. My family holds hands when we say grace, expressing faith and unity. It is interesting how I can remember these details of my life vividly, but I cannot remember my last hand job. I guess that answers the question.

  9. This is an interesting idea and I’m not sure if I can say I’m surprised or not. I think the biggest contributor to peoples answer on this is the situation in which they occur. Handholding is often thought of in the context of a relationship. Handjobs can be aswell, but aren’t perceived as sexual as oral or penetrative sex. Handjobs and sex in general can hold less romantic value now, especially in this age of learning to destigmatize sex, be more sexually open and dissociate sex with long term relationships. The preference for romance statistics you provided tells me the biggest decider is what we associate each word with. For example, kissing can have enormous value or it can hold none. If the mood is right and there is tension, a kiss can be magical and start a relationship. I know boys and girls, myself included, who have had a similar ‘intimacy mindset’ with hookups with their exs. They would have sex with their ex to get off with someone who knows their body, but kissing is out of the question because it brings intimacy into the equation. It would be interesting to see who’s more prone to deny kissing in this situation.

  10. I have only held hands with women I have been in love with. Whereas, I have had hand-jobs from women I barely knew, at their instigation.

    • Interesting. Thanks for sharing. Wondering if you have any thoughts on why something that would seem to be more intimate — putting one’s body inside another’s – would be more lacking in emotional engagement. More bodily overlap and less emotional overlap.

      • Holding hands is not just another level of intimacy, it is symbolic of a commitment to someone. In public it is a display of affection that demonstrates we are in a steady relationship at the least. Having intercourse with someone does not result in holding hands. Making love to someone may eventually lead to hand holding, having sex does not.

        I am not familiar with other cultures, but where I am from it is far more common for a woman to take a man’s arm when walking along the road as opposed to holding hands. The intimacy of holding hands is more on par with cuddling where oxytocin is released. I have seen male and female hand touching being demonstrated in Kirlian Photography, where the auras are like an explosion when contact is made.

      • Thanks for elaborating. Are you from the UK?

      • Always a pleasure.
        I am Scottish, but I live in England. I am currently weighing up the options of moving back home.

      • Oh, my step-grandparents (is there such a word?) are from Scotland but moved to Canada. Always interesting to hear perspectives from areas outside my own culture.

      • Yes, step-grandparents is a word. 🙂 For me, one of the best things about blogging is interacting with people from other countries. When I lived in London, I frequently came across other nationalities which was something I liked. Unfortunately, racial intolerance increased in England after the Tories came to power in 2010, and even more since Brexit.

      • Good to know I used a real word!

        It’s also interesting to see parallels between the UK and US, like the increase in racist behaviors. In the US most people thought there wasn’t much racism after we elected a black president. And then we got Trump and people started to realize that racism was still a huge problem as people increasingly came out of the closet with their racial hatred. I’m hoping things will get better here with new leadership.

      • Now that we have gone from holding hands
        🙂 to racist behaviour, the University of the West of Scotland have been carrying out studies into the effects of Brexit on Scots living in England. It shows that Scots have been returning home due to an increase in hate crime.

        There is growing resentment towards all “foreigners”, particularly in areas that voted to leave the EU. In Scotland, the number of recorded, racially and religiously motivated hate crimes, actually fell after the Brexit referendum.

        Scots in England are viewed more negatively since the 2014 independence referendum. Partly because of Scotland voting so differently from England in the Brexit referendum, and partly because of the noted hostility towards migrants in England, regardless of their origins.

        We can go back to hand holding now if you like. 🙂

      • This is so interesting. In America I can’t imagine anyone of Scottish dissent being discriminated against. But there are plenty of people who are discriminated against here for sure! A lot of the problem here seems to stem from high pain jobs being lost to globalization and automation. Well the interests don’t want to be blamed and so they encourage the blaming of black and brown people. Well some do and some don’t. Some wealthy people are liberal but others are not and they encourage the scapegoating. The liberals are more likely to be thinking about how to help those who have lost jobs financially, but they often don’t come up with ideas that don’t hurt the rich, So it acts more like a small Band-Aid to a big problem. A few wealthy interest actually want to get to the root of the problem. So the rates are all over the place on this, but there are plenty who either aren’t doing enough or are actively blaming the most disadvantaged in our country.

        Do you think that any of this is also true in the UK?

      • When I lived in London, I never experienced any discrimination regarding work, but any time I tried to rent an apartment, it was extremely difficult. My English friends could not understand why I had such difficulty. On one occasion an English friend phoned an advert for a vacant apartment that I had just been told was no longer available, the woman at the other end invited him to come and view the property.

        When I moved to Bournemouth, I had similar problems with both work and property rental. I was told by somebody who worked at the Job Centre that the locals tended to try and keep any work for themselves. These experiences have been limited to the south of England and there is a tendency for people from the North of England to be more sociable towards me. It would be unfair of me not to point out that there are plenty of English people who show no bias.

        Racial discrimination has been fuelled by the Tory government with the help of the right-wing media. Most of the mainstream media here is owned by billionaires who do not even live in this country, but they have a massive influence on what actually happens here. It is this Billionaires Boys Club that supports the Tory government. Large parts of our media exist purely in order to manipulate public opinion into accepting private power and inequality.

        The Prime Minister of the UK government published a poem when he was the editor of The Spectator magazine which called for the “extermination” of the Scottish people and describing them as a “verminous race”. In the House of Commons Scottish MPs are treated with contempt by the Tories. The Prime Minister was advised by one of his cohorts to refer to the SNP as the Scottish nationalist Party instead of the Scottish National Party and in spite of being reprimanded by the Speaker of the House on several occasions he continues to do it purely to irritate. When Scottish MPs ask a question during Prime Minister’s Questions, their questions are ignored. When a country is influenced by a narcissistic, racist misogynist, it is detrimental to the harmony of society. As you know of course.

        The Tories have always been about making the rich richer and everybody else poorer. The aristocracy have always horded as much wealth as they possible can and kept property prices artificially high. The Tory Party rely on lies, because if they showed their true intentions, they would never get voted in. They have an extremely effective propaganda machine and unlimited financial backing. When the High Court ruled that the government had unlawfully failed to publish the details of billions of pounds worth of contracts related to the Covid-19 pandemic recently, the BBC led with news about “Harry and Meghan”. The conception of the BBC was originally for propaganda purposes. Their deception goes mainly unreported.

        In England there is no one to represent the common people, food banks and homelessness did not come about by circumstance, it was by design. Austerity was not a necessity in the UK, it was purely a political choice. The money that used to go to local councils, NHS and the police etc. has been siphoned off into the pockets of the top rich 1%. Covid has been like a gift from the gods for this openly corrupt government to give taxpayer’s money to their cronies.

        There was an outcry recently about people with learning disabilities having a “do not resuscitate” order in the event of them getting coronavirus. There was also an order for them not to receive inoculations against the virus. The similarity with “Aktion T4” has quite understandably been pointed out. Although the death rate in this country due to the pandemic is very high, it is still less than the number of benefit-related deaths i.e., disabled, sick and unemployed, since the Tory austerity programme started. In the same group of people suicides for 2018 have been noted at 750. The actual figure is probably a lot higher.

        My motivation to go back to Scotland is because of the government in England. The Scottish government wants a country that is fair to all and treats people, particularly disabled people, with the dignity and respect they deserve. Those words come from the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

      • Wow! That is so surprising. I understand that accents reveal a lot about your place of origin in the UK. At the same time, everything you write reflects a lot of what’s going on in the US with ethnic prejudice, although here it’s more about the shade of your skin. And it varies from place to place, the level of prejudice. I hope things will take a turn for the better.

  11. All the data and comments you have above were gleened from college students… people closer to the virgin end of their sex life than the mature end. And they are more influenced by society.. and society values women’s ways over men and men’s ways. Hollywood is generally glamorising romance and marriage, not casual sex, and college students have been mostly taught by female teachers.

    As for “preferring” intimate sex vs casual sex, that’s kind of like asking if you prefer sky diving or having a beer at sunset. Most people asked would probably take the beer, but that’s because they never got into skydiving. Needless to say, there are plenty of women who do not find it “horrifying” to have a stranger in them. Since you are one to claim everything is socialogical, I guess you would say society has taught them to be horrified.

    Plus what is intimate anyway? Is it more intimate to have sex with someone you’ve been with 20 years and are sick of the sight of, tired of their nagging, and know their every move, or is it more intimate with someone new and surprising?

    As for hand holding, more of your brain surface is dedicated to your hands than any other part of the body. And holding hands is often a tentative, uncertain move in the relationship. By contrast, by the time you have your clothes off, you pretty much know what’s coming next. Holding hands is that scary first move, the first touch of skin, that could be rebuffed, or accepted. That’s why its exciting.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective on this. I’m curious at your thinking that we prefer female ways of doing over male ways. Hook up culture is tied into a glamorization of what we think of as male ways of doing sex. But because both women and men are human beings, and human beings have emotional needs, both men and women tend to prefer more emotion-laden sex. That’s not to say that many people don’t prefer to have many partners, and many sustain the emotion in various ways. Perhaps they have the primary, emotion-field relationship that is also open to other partners. Or they may practice polyamory where they have several partners but each of them is filled with emotion. Researchers found that about half of both men and women prefer monogamy but that the other half of each sex prefer to have many partners.

      • It’s funny, if society pushes monogamy and marriage, feminists say its a way for male patriarchy to control women. But if society pushes casual sex.. again, it’s a way for society to push a male agenda. There’s no winning is there, no matter what happens, you’re oppressed by the patriarchy!! So why are you claiming casual sex is the male way, when feminists claim every way is the male way?

        Again, I don’t think society as a whole glamarises hook up culture. When did you last see a serious Hollywood film glamarise that? Sure, there are some teenage flicks that do, but that’s not mainstream.

        I don’t know how you can assert what “human beings prefer” since your philosophy is that everything is culturally and society taught and malleable. Human beings need emotaional connection.. sure. But do they need it bound together with sex? Who said? It’s like asking do you want an apple and an orange or just an orange? You need the apple and the orange, but it doesn’t mean they have to be a fruit salad together. But sure, if you ask someone would they like the apple AND the orange, they’ll say both. But what if you offer them both but separate? Certainly there are many people into that. And even the people CLAIMING they want them together, are secretly out having affairs, thus disproving their public claims.

      • Some feminists do say that patriarchy uses monogamy and marriage to control women, but that isn’t all feminists.

        We find marriage in all cultures, patriarchal or not. And if half of human beings prefer monogamy then isn’t patriarchy behind it.

        What is common in patriarchy is to shame women for having sex outside of marriage but not equally shaming men. If you want patriarchy with male control over property, family names etc. then you have to control women’s sexuality. Double standards to work toward patriarchy. But a critique of that can easily get confused with patriarchy using marriage and monogamy to control women.

        Feminists believe that sex should be done in a way that cares for the other, which doesn’t abuse them and treat them like objects whose thoughts and feelings don’t matter — whether you are monogamous or not.

        Our patriarchal society prescribes different roles to men and women including how they have sex. And that includes a double standard where men must have as much sex as possible want but women must be more chaste/discerning. So every way of doing sex isn’t the so-called “male way” (as society prescribes it). It’s a structure that society has set up and I suspect that because we value men and masculinity women are feeling pressure to have sex in that way.

        But it’s also a trap because women who do that a lot are also called sluts and hoes. So feminists talk about the “double bind” women get caught in: it doesn’t matter what choice you make it’s wrong. It gets punished.

        I don’t think that media glamorizes hook up culture so much as COLLEGE glamorizeS it. Or at least normalizes it.

        I’m saying “humans prefer” because even within a culture that glamorizes/normalizes hook up culture only 11% of students actually like it. Most want sex with emotional involvement.Of course, 11% do you like it, but that’s more of an outlier. And even then if you look behind what they like about it it is often bragging rights. Men who have been studied talk about having their mind more on bragging to the guys than actually enjoying the sex.

        Also not everything is a social construction because there are some biological limits. The sex drive is a biological fact of life but how it is expressed varies from culture to culture. And when you study the variations you find the social constructions.

  12. When we hold hands I’m often asking this very question? I’ve sat on a couch just casually holding hands with a woman and there were never any issues although I’ve learned now or have I been suspecting this all along? Saying yes to things even one feels uncomfortable is a trauma response not that I really took a lot of notice of that aspect of things (not sure if this is even the point of this post or i’m trying to turn it around but I feel there is some validity). Sometimes people hold hands when they are seeking a source of comfort. I know myself if i’m sometimes emotionally vulnerable I sometimes seek out comfort by taking a hand or hugging or cuddling somebody I’ve come close to intimacy but something I did learn that if a person is mollested as a child they often say yes for fear of consequences if they said no. I was talking to a friend over coffee last week and I was actually talking about a need for some connection when it comes to gaining relationship experience and trying to find my identity and what I want when it comes to looking for love down the track. I’ve been known to say i’m looking for friendship but sometimes my behaviours may come across as something more especially where emotional vulnerability is concerned but I think for me i’m no doubt allowing my fear of rejection and many years of insecurity along with the fact I’ve been sheltered and not always feeling that I’ve been allowed to spread my wings and grow so to speak are dictating what I don’t want and I need a way to try and break the cycle. I might hold hands seeking comfort but I guess I don’t know when it gets to a point where my intentions are coming across as more than what my intentions were in the first place. How is visiting a lady of the night going to help me find my identity and what I want? I don’t want to go down that path even though my advocate is considering it will help. Apologies if i’m going on about myself here more so than commenting on the post with comments regarding hand holding strictly. I think I’ve just got to get off my chest and there’s a lot I need to unpack or I need help somehow to unpack it all.

    • I hope that the writing was cathartic. I am a sociologist who studies social patterns and not a psychologist, unfortunately, and I don’t know a lot about your situation so I’m sorry that I can’t help you more with advice. I do know that writing things out can help us with our own self examination though. I do know that our personal identities tend to be affected by our social situations. How we see ourselves can be strongly affected by how others see us, what we perceive is social expectations. This all influences us but doesn’t have to be predictive. We know ourselves better than others do. We can consider whether social expectations seem positive or negative. And of course we must consider how we treat others and make sure that we treat others in ways that are positive and not hurtful.

      • As well as apologising for thinking of you as a psychologist when really you’re not my question is this we see holding hands as casual but how do we know when we might be staying in to possibly intimate territory when that is not the intention is it about the timer for Lamb‘s or is it the intent

      • No need to apologize. People mistake sociologists for psychologists all the time. And my particular area of study is social psychology, so yeah, that can get confusing. But I’m not really a therapist. I guess regarding making sure you don’t stray into territory that is overly intimate, keep the lines of communication open.

      • Another point I almost forgot many of us are so reliant on reading body language and when you can’t read that body language it can be challenging unless you’ve got someone with you that can with the body language

      • Yes, I’m sure it’s more difficult when you don’t get as much nonverbal communication, which is so important. But there is a tone of voice which reveals a lot. I guess he will just have to use more verbal communication, which could have certain upsides. More clarity for one thing.

      • Have read through some of the other comments left on this post and I was I’ve said holding hands could signal comfort and a sense of safety it’s not just intimacy as children we were taught to hold the hand of an adult when crossing a road but when it comes to sighted guide for somebody who is vision impaired it’s hand on elbow these days I actually wondered what was meant by a handjob to begin with and how that is different to holding hands or is it the same thing

      • What I mean by hand job here is oral sex. You may live in a different culture and not being aware of how that is term is often used, but I should’ve been more clear.

      • I think what we referred to a handjob people refer to as a blow job unless that’s different again but being from Australia I suppose every country has its own culture and its own terminology if that makes any sense and I do apologise for assuming you might of been a therapist because often we think of psychologists as therapists and that may also be confusing slightly for some

      • Well, we use both terms in the states. And really, no apology necessary. People confuse sociologists with therapists all the time so I’m used to it. I focus on sociological social psychology which is how society gets in our minds.

      • On a side note, if my responses to this post are going to a female I should try to be a bit more careful of how I use the language that I use because the reply I sent minutes ago I was essentially talking dirty and I’ve been brought up to show a little respect towards females it’s something all men should be brought up to do but a lot of them don’t really care we are often told never to swear in front of a female or talk sexually dirty in front of a female and it’s not necessarily my ignorance that showing it’s more my confusion that shows

      • I don’t consider it talking dirty. No worries.

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