How to get used to physical contact with men?


I really want to be able to have a normal relationship but I’ve an issue with physical contact. I’m 21, had a physically abusive step-father and have been afraid of physical contact for years. I’ve never felt comfortable enough to kiss someone, and even with male friends it can take months to feel comfortable with having their arm around me for photos. My therapist says that I have to accept that I’ve got more boundaries than others (I’m not going to consider changing therapists based just on this, as they’re great in every other aspect).

My hormones are messing me up. I go out to clubs and when guys approach me, part of me won’t let me hold their hand to dance together, but the hormonal part is pushing me to dance, get closer and kiss them. Where I’m from is small so at a club with hundreds of people, everybody has mutual friends somehow (no idea how it happens, but it does). Because I’ve never kissed someone before, there’s that fear of “what if I suck and that gets spread around,” (but I think as the same time “might as well practice on a stranger so I don’t suck when I find someone I do like,”) while another part goes “you can’t possibly get that close to a stranger” and a third says “your first kiss shouldn’t be some drunken stranger you won’t see again.” Then there’s the part of me that is almost saying yes to the guys looking for one night stands! Jesus like.

Because it takes so long to get used to someone, I know I can’t possibly date someone and say “I’ll probs hug you on the second date, but it’ll be weeks before I feel okay with kissing you.”

What the hell am I supposed to do? Pushing myself to get used to physical contact makes me feel sick when I try, and I sometimes shake when my friends put their arms around me! I don’t want to have a panic attack during my first kiss!

Category: asked July 12, 2015

1 Answer

So this might be a little harsh, but:

You've been through so much already. It makes sense that you would be adverse to touching. But Kelly Bells, even if you hadn't had a physically abusive stepfather, you would still deserve to have your own personal space, and to have a partner that respects that space.

The point of being in a relationship is to be with someone you enjoy, and the core features of a healthy relationship are communication, trust, respect, and consent. You need to be able to communicate your needs and understand theirs, trust each other, respect each other as equals, and know and respect each others boundaries, interests, and be able to tell each other no without guilt or fear of repercussion.

If you are uncomfortable with your partner touching you, then your partner needs to respect your boundaries, listen if you say no, and be able to stop. There is no "but I'm a boy and I have urges", no "blue balls", no "you were okay with hugging, so you should be okay with anything else". No. That's not how it works. If a partner tries to force you to do anything against your will for their benefit, there's no point in being in a relationship with them because it means 1) that they don't respect you as an individual with your own unique needs, that 2) that they are comfortable with hurting you physically and/or emotionally to satisfy their needs, and 3) that they aren't ready for a relationship, because they aren't mature enough to be patient and they don't understand the word or physical expression of "no".

Bad things have happened to you, and it's completely logical that you aren't fully equipped to handle so much physical affection. It's okay. I'm certain that if you had a friend that was attacked by a shark, they probably wouldn't be leaping back into the ocean right away and would be scared of sharks, if not terrified. I'm also sure you wouldn't be dragging them out to the ocean and forcing them into the water after they'd healed enough to get back in.

This is no different. It makes sense and it's completely okay for you to be so adverse to touching in such a manner, and it's only right for everyone else to understand that you have boundaries that you're not ready for others to cross just yet.

You need time and therapy, and someone you can depend on. If you want a relationship, that's okay, but it needs to be with someone who isn't going to push you to do anything no matter what. You can't be in a relationship with someone who gets tired of no touching and gives you an ultimatum or anything. They knew what they were getting into when the consented to a relationship with you. Relationships shouldn't require physical affection to be functioning. Yes, the physical stuff is nice, but it's not true love if it comes with at price of your mental or physical health.

I know you want to be close physically with someone else, but if touching might give you a panic attack, you just aren't ready to jump into this right away. You need to go slowly and ease into it. If you think you're ready to kiss, and I mean REALLY ready, as in you think you won't freak out, then you can do it. If you're ready to hug, then hug. Allow yourself to heal and get comfortable. But don't rush it.

Don't beat yourself up over this, okay? The abuse wasn't your fault, and neither is this aversion to physical touching. This is out of your control. If you broke your bone, you'd be resting and easing back into it slowly, not sprinting a 5K a week after you break it. If you're not ready, you're not ready, and there's not much you can do about it. You need to take it slow and wait it out. I know you're impatient, but you can't force yourself to be more comfortable with something that triggers you.

And tell your friends and family about your being uncomfortable, too. If they love you, they'll hold back on the affection. Just like a romantic relationship, you shouldn't be with friends and family who don't understand what "no" means and are more comfortable with you freaking out and being extremely uncomfortable or even triggered so they can touch you than by stepping back and allowing you to heal slowly. There are more ways of showing your affection for somebody that don't involve touching them, and it's not okay to touch somebody without them being okay with it, even if you meant well in the first place. Just because someone doesn't mean to do something bad to you doesn't erase the fact that they did something bad to you.