Alright, if you need it to be very linear and specific; don’t grope someone you aren’t already in a sexual relationship with. How do you get into a sexual relationship in the first place then — well, for someone like you who apparently needs hard and fast rules because they cannot navigate nuance and pay attention to the cues of the other person, you are probably going to have to do the verbal consent route — with both intended sex partners and grieving widows. The difference between sexual touching (groping) and other types of touching should be obvious — don’t touch the “bathing suit” parts unless you know you are allowed to. As for other types of touch, intent makes all the difference. Are you coming on to someone or are you just being warm and friendly? Or as been amply demonstrated by the #MeToo movement; are you really just exerting dominance or power?

If your intent is to flirt, first off, don’t do flirty touch at work and secondly….. oh damn, we’re back to that paying attention thing again. If you are intending to flirt and she is looking uncomfortable or not reciprocating in any way, then it’s time to back off. Movies and culture in general may try to sell the idea that no really means yes if you just keep persisting, but this really isn’t the case at all. That’s just sexual harassment.

There are some interesting articles on Medium written by women who have a lot of tattoos about how people frequently touch them without permission, like this one here. Not surprisingly, a bunch of other women chimed in to recount their pregnant belly touching stories — yes this is a real issue. Across the board, there is apparently way too much non-consented to touching going on between people who don’t know each other all that well. The better you know someone, the more leeway you probably have, but even then, everyone has the right to their particular boundaries. And you are correct, you may not know up front what someone’s boundaries are ahead of time. You may not know if they’ve suffered abuse or have a medical condition that makes touch unpleasant or what have you. Everyone has the responsibility to work with their shit and try to get it cleaned up as best they can, and to communicate their comfort levels if they can, but you also need to do the emotional work of paying attention and trying to ascertain what they want if you can. And that is I guess, the ultimate guideline — are you just going after what you want or are you providing what the other person wants? In the best of all possible scenarios, those two things are one and the same, but when they aren’t then it’s time to back off and keep your hands to yourself. And if you aren’t able to ascertain that non-verbally, you are just going to have to ask.

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Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

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