Is this sexual behavior respectful and okay?
April 26, 2021 10:42 AM   Subscribe

On a hike in a semi-populous area, we stop for a rest. He gently pushes me back behind a tree and puts his hands down the back of my pants. On another hike (this time with no one around) we stop to admire the view and he sticks his hands up my shirt. I gave him a birthday card and he said, "I'd like to have you in your birthday suit for my gift." This kind of stuff goes on all the time. It just feels like sex is always on his mind, and not in a romantic way. It feels like he's always pawing and grabbing at me. In other relationships, we did the sex thing and then after that we spent time together without sex always being in the air - without the groping and the sex-related remarks. Is his behavior normal and acceptable or not? Do some couples enjoy this? Are he and I just not a good match?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Do some couples enjoy this?


Is his behavior normal and acceptable or not?

To whom? It seems like it might not be to you. If it's not, you need to communicate that. (If you have communicated it and it has continued then that is very bad obviously)
posted by atrazine at 10:48 AM on April 26, 2021 [69 favorites]

That's both normal and acceptable to some people; unacceptable to other people. Some people enjoy it; some do not. You may not be compatible in this sense.

That being said, you could talk with him about how you feel, and see where it goes. This may be something that's happening because the relationship is in its early stages of infatuation, and it might fade out as time goes on.

It's perfectly acceptable and normal for you to have your own feelings about this. Don't stifle yourself for him.
posted by hydra77 at 10:50 AM on April 26, 2021 [8 favorites]

Some people like this, some people don't. It can be normal, depending on both!! people involved. Have you tried speaking to this person about how you feel? Not right when he does this, but at a neutral time, say that you don't feel appreciated, or that this isn't sexy to you.
posted by kellyblah at 11:00 AM on April 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

It only matters if this behavior is acceptable to you. Some people are into that dynamic, sure, but they don’t get a vote on whether or not it should bother you. If you set a boundary that works for you both, great. If you set a boundary and he pouts or can’t respect may not be a great match.

There’s a lot of cultural pressure on women to be cool with sexual things that they don’t find enjoyable. Dan Savage promotes the whole idea of being a “good, giving, and game” partner but I feel like that glosses over a lot of situations where people don’t want to do something and don’t have to do it simply because they don’t want to. It’s not your job to crush your preferences down in the interest of making someone else happy.

(I have been in your position and there was a lot of pouting when I drew some boundaries. He is now pawing someone else, someone who presumably likes being pawed.)
posted by corey flood at 11:01 AM on April 26, 2021 [42 favorites]

I guess I'd say that if someone is going to be very physical with a partner in semi-public, they should already have checked in that this is okay. While it's not unheard of to grope someone in semi-public, it's unusual enough, especially among adults, that it seems better to ask permission first.

This would make me really uncomfortable and in the one relationship where it happened, I felt humiliated and reduced and it really did not work out. I'd expect an adult man to be aware that women and AFAB people are always-already being reduced to their sexual use and that just assuming that sexual contact in public is okay is not, uh, okay.
posted by Frowner at 11:01 AM on April 26, 2021 [37 favorites]

It is entirely within your prerogative to not be okay with this. Some people are, but there's also a lot of cultural hype that men or the dominant (by personality if not social construct) partner are supposed to do this and women or the non-dominant partner are supposed to like it (or be the initiator to "prove" interest), which means there's a whole lot of times where one, the other, or even both hate it but engage in it out of obligation.

Time to have a chat.

I have had to break up with someone over this, because not only was my distaste for it ignored but it was increasingly bullshit - I couldn't walk past him to go to the bathroom without some kind of pawing, at least up until I threatened to shit on the floor and he chilled out slightly, but it just never stopped and no completely benign conversation or situation was spared some innuendo. Not my style, not how I want to live my life.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:02 AM on April 26, 2021 [14 favorites]

Has the groper ever asked the gropee how they feel about the groping. If not, that shit's not ok.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:02 AM on April 26, 2021 [15 favorites]

Even if everyone else in the world enjoys being pawed at whenever and wherever, you have the right to not enjoy it, and your partner should respect that. If you have been accepting the pawing and are not comfortable with it, an awkward conversation is in order.

And, this internet stranger 100% does not blame you for accepting pawing or being unsure about what is ok. As noted above there is a lot of pressure for women & feminine & AFAB people to be pleasing at all times and that shit is insidious.
posted by esoterrica at 11:07 AM on April 26, 2021 [13 favorites]

Compatibility is important, but no couple is completely compatible. What's crucial is the ability to communicate about preferences and to accommodate and adjust to the other person. You will then find out if you are a good match.

If this sort of interaction is an essential part of a playful relationship to him but makes you feel uncomfortable and disrespected, then you simply aren't a good match. If he's willing to listen and adapt to your desires, then you may be a good match.

If you tell him how it makes you feel and he keeps on doing it, then it's not a question of mismatch, but of him being an asshole.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:09 AM on April 26, 2021 [12 favorites]

Has he asked if you enjoy this behavior? It doesn’t sound like it, but I don’t want to assume. Respectful sexual behavior happens with and for an enthusiastic partner. If it’s something both/all people have expressed they enjoy and want in XYZ context (e.g., “I like when you feel me up when we’re at home, on a secluded hiking trail, or otherwise have privacy. I don’t want you to feel me up in public”), then it’s respectful to do the mutually enjoyed behavior. If the person engaging in overtly sexual behavior doesn’t know if their behavior is enjoyed by the other person, and especially if they know it makes the other person at all uncomfortable, then that’s disrespectful to say the least.

If a person really likes something their partner doesn’t enjoy (whether we’re talking PDA or something more taboo), it’s ok to have a conversation like “I really like X, I know it’s not your favorite. Would you be at all open to doing it with me, and if so what would you need in order to feel comfortable?” But it’s deeply disrespectful to just go ahead and do the thing without a conversation. If your partner grew up in a family where patriarchal norms weren’t challenged, he may have the misguided idea that men love sex and women tolerate it, and therefore it’s normal for a male partner to aggressively push for more sexual contact while his female partner gets increasingly uncomfortable. This is a possible explanation, but not an excuse. I wouldn’t hold my breath for him to get it, but if you wanted to have a conversation about his need to learn how to be a respectful partner, that could be a place to start—BUT it’s not your job to teach him basic respect and communication skills, and it’d be absolutely reasonable for you to break things off and look for someone who has them already.
posted by theotherdurassister at 11:18 AM on April 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

I have been in relationships where this is normal and I liked it, and I have been in relationships where this would not have been normal or welcomed. Even me, the same person in both situations, has had different preferences.

As long as both people are being respected, giving respect, and enjoying things, then it is fine. And it's not if it's not.
posted by phunniemee at 11:36 AM on April 26, 2021 [34 favorites]

Do some couples enjoy this?
Yes! And some couples enjoy it at some times and not other times.

Is his behavior normal and acceptable or not?
This isn't a question with an answer. It sounds like it's unacceptable to you. Have you all ever had a conversation about this sort of thing? It's totally fine to say you don't like it and don't want it. He could also ask! It sounds like you haven't talked about it.

Are he and I just not a good match?
It's a real possibility! Without any other context of the length or commitment of this relationship, or what and how you've talked about sex and sexually-charged talk, I'd say to determine if you like this man enough to keep dating him. If so, then start a conversation about this, preferably soon, but not right after one of these incidents. Let him know you are uncomfortable with this and don't like it, and see what he says and if he agrees to stop and then does stop.

If you've talked about it and he still does it, then, yeah, DTMFA. Like, right away. That's a clear boundary violation. Or if you talk about it and he gets angry or doesn't understand, then you're also not a good match (and then I'd say he sounds like an ass).

You can end a relationship for any reason. I'm concerned that you are asking if this is "acceptable" because it doesn't sound like it's acceptable to you. What's okay to you is most important.

I'm like phunniemee in that I've been in relationships where similar behavior was fun and welcome, and others where it wasn't how we interacted, and I wouldn't have like it if we did. I've also been in relationships where some more of this kind of banter would have been okay too. It sounds like you feel badgered, which can be stressful and exhausting. If this behavior continued and I didn't like it, I would address it or end the relationship.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:46 AM on April 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

And some couples enjoy it at some times and not other times.

Reading this, I think some of the responses above (including mine) are oversimplifying things. When and where and how to express sexual interest is a spectrum. As in every relationship, even if he listens and honestly tries to respect your wishes, chances are there will be occasional times he touches you in a way you don't want to be touched, either because of the location, the time, the place, or just your mood. (And the reverse will happen, even if less often.) That doesn't make him an asshole. In a good relationship, either person can say - at any time - "not now," or "not here," or "not like that," and be comfortable that the other person will simply say, "OK, sorry."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:06 PM on April 26, 2021 [10 favorites]

Everyone here has given great advice, the most important of which is: you and no one else gets to decide what you like. I'm going to go a little further out in the field and reach out to you in a way that I needed once upon a time:

It is possible that you're just not compatible, and it's also entirely possible that this man is testing how you respond to your boundaries being crossed to set up an abusive relationship. I had a partner like this, and the latter was the case. Every intimate action felt weird and othering, and I later found out that he had a long-time fetish for something that I happen to have. Trust your gut that his behavior feels disrespectful. I waited too long for concrete evidence that his behavior was wrong in all possible situations, not just wrong for me, and by then I had endured grevious amounts of mental and sexual abuse.

I'm not saying this is what's happening, but you don't have to put up with "normal" behavior if you don't like it! It doesn't matter if all but 4 men engage in a random behavior, if you don't like it you don't need anyone's permission to protect yourself and move on.
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:36 PM on April 26, 2021 [10 favorites]

Agree with FMK--sometimes it's just a matter of communicating preferences, but, honestly, if you're getting a "disrespectful" vibe, especially from a grown adult who isn't just touching boobies for the first time, it's usually for a reason. Your lizard brain knows even if your head is trying to rationalize it. Proceed with caution.
posted by praemunire at 2:02 PM on April 26, 2021 [5 favorites]

I consider my marriage to be healthy, stable, and good, you wouldn't ever know we have any problems.

But we struggle with this a LOT. It's just a hard thing to communicate how, while things can be a fun sexy game, sometimes it can feel terrible. And there's no easy way to communicate that without hurt feelings on one side or the other.

I've heard advice before like "try to communicate more" "let the less-frisky person dictate when is best" etc, but I just think it's a hard problem to solve.

What has ended up being closest to a happy resolution for us, is for the more frisky partner to exercise reserve, and the less-frisky partner to try to instigate as much as possible. It puts it into a happy frame of mind, though slightly less/more than each partner would prefer. Such is compromise.
posted by bbqturtle at 2:28 PM on April 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

Compatibility is important, but no couple is completely compatible. What's crucial is the ability to communicate about preferences and to accommodate and adjust to the other person. You will then find out if you are a good match.

Yeah this is definitely the thing, I've been in a long term relationship with my partner for 13 years and we still sometimes talk this through.

We're both very affectionate with each other even in semi-public (hold hands, sit near each other, lie around arms around each other on the couch, etc) but have a different line where we feel like affectionate touching turns into overtly sexual touching which is something I am more okay with in private and very rarely okay with in public. So for him that line doesn't exist, it's just a gradual continuum, and you just do what you feel like, and for me it's crystal clear and I'm really uncomfortable if we're in public and he's doing what I usually think of as foreplay. And my tastes have changed over time, when we were first dating I was less bothered by this, so to him it feels kinda not-great because he really likes what I might refer to as "pawing me" more of the time. And doesn't get why it's okay to hold hands or even lie next to each other on the couch but copping a feel on my breast if other people are even nearby, in the next room for example, is NOT OKAY.

He's ADHD so some of this stuff needs to be reinforced, and I manage some anxiety and sensory issues so we just kind of try to communicate honestly and openly about things, how we're feeling, whether we had a strong reaction (occasionally if he's not in a great mental place, he'll feel "denied" when I ask him nicely to please not grab me on the ass or whatever, and that's a separate issue, he has no right to my body, but we all get into funks from time to time and try to work through them, his feelings are his feelings even if I don't agree). At some level this is all about consent and some people find consent boundaries easier to navigate than not, other people would prefer this was more unstated and there was some manners-like "What is normal?" thing we could all agree on.

That said even though a lot of this is stuff that needs to be negotiated between the two of you that doesn't mean there are no norms, especially for things you might be doing in public. But that doesn't mean you don't have to spell out your own likes/dislikes explicitly if you're feeling this is outside of your comfort zone. And if someone you're with tells you that they think your needs or desires in this arena aren't "normal" then that is a cue that they're not good with boundaries and is more of a compatibility thing that anything else.
posted by jessamyn at 2:47 PM on April 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

I agree 1000000% that the important thing here is whether you enjoy this, and whether your partner respects your stated wishes regarding when and where and how you like to be touched, and when innuendo or straightforwardly sexual talk is okay. I agree with everyone that communicating in very clear terms about this is important.

I do also want to add that an important component of all relationships, but especially intimate ones, is unspoken communication. It’s not unreasonable to expect that your partner should have some skill in determining your potential mood or interest in sexual activities, especially since, as Mr.Know-it-some points out, a lot of our preferences exist on a spectrum. After people have been together awhile, they get to know each other’s expressions, energies, body language, etc. which can be a cue for what might be okay that doesn’t rely solely on predetermined and verbally-expressed rules.

I bring this up because, in your case, my guess is that all of your non-verbal cues are screaming “I don’t want this, this is not fun, I want this to stop.” If my partner stuck his hand under my shirt (even in a previously stated okay situation) and I was stiff, or flinched, or grimaced, or froze—he would stop! And ask if that was okay. I would do the same if the situation is reversed. That is not an unreasonable standard for touching of any kind in my situation, let alone a sexual one. People have different standards for how open they are to sexual touching at different times, but what I think is absolutely necessary is listening and paying attention to what your partner wants and is enjoying all of the time.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 3:27 PM on April 26, 2021 [15 favorites]

I don't really hear that you have stated your preferences unambiguously. I don't like it when you grab my breasts in public/ out of bed/ out of the house. I don't want you to put your hands down my pants. It doesn't feel good. and %Name, give the sexual connotations a rest, okay?

I find persistent sexual connotation exhausting, not at all sexy, and maybe linked to lack of sexual confidence or a belief that sexuality itself is transgressive/ dirty/ shameful. People I know who do sexual connotations all the time have not been peeple with a vibrant, playful, happy sexuality. One co-worker did it in a way that I thought was aggressive. But if 2 people like it, I don't care. You aren't enjoying it. Say so.

It is only a deal-breaker if he can't honor your boundaries or if the 2 of you can't find away to talk about it and find a middle ground that works for both of you. It's okay to live with someone's annoying verbal quirks, but unwanted touching would not be okay with me. Talk about if you can.
posted by theora55 at 3:45 PM on April 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

Yeah, some people do like to be desired like that. Some people like it some times and not other times. Some people who like it are real and some are fictional porn tropes that someone has watched too much of. We can't know without knowing the guy. Does he think you like it (and is wrong)? Communication problem. Does he not care if you like it or not? Not a communication problem.

In any case, it's ok to not like it. You're not an abnormal person and there is someone (in fact, many many someones) who will be ok with your preferences. Is he able to be that someone? Can't know from your question.
posted by ctmf at 5:39 PM on April 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

It sounds like it would be worth having a direct conversation about this, and by "worth" I mean not only so you can be comfortable but because you could learn a lot about him and how he works with you.

Look for:
  • If he makes this be about his feelings. If he honestly didn't pick up how you felt then it's normal for him to be taken aback, but he has to realize he can't block the conversation with that.
  • If he blames you for not having told him before, so it's your fault.
  • If he complains about how inscrutable you're being, and how is he supposed to know what you want, and ooookay, he'll never show any affection again, to be safe...
  • If he tries to pressure you to put up with it with any of "but I love you so much I can't help it", "but it's normal", "but other people like it", "don't be a cold fish", etc.
Those are (some of) the negatives. Any of those... trust your gut. But you are also looking for the positive: how much does he actively work with you in a way that feels effective and good-natured and as-easy-as-possible-under-the-circumstances to find a way for you to be comfortable?
posted by away for regrooving at 9:19 PM on April 26, 2021 [5 favorites]

It feels like he's always pawing and grabbing at me.

Your feelings are the only thing that matters here. If you don't enjoy it, it's not OK. Tell him how you feel.

If he doesn't respect your boundaries, or can't live with them, dump his ass.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:21 PM on April 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

I know several men like this. I know very few couples like this, or women like this.

I am in the midst of heavy new relationship sexual energy. The most intense in my whole life. My partner has not dismissed other efforts to connect or be kind in order to request sexual behaviour. He has not groped me in public, or even at home, without clear signals prior that we are engaging in that behaviour. Yes, he will make out with me in public to a degree beyond where I usually stop - the moment I pull back so does he. He will have his arm around me and hug me and be affectionate without sexualising it in public and in private. He will affectionately pat my butt in passing, which I do appreciate, but we literally discussed it.

To me, a man who cannot disengage the sexualisation of affection, caring, and connection, and who does not take care of his partner's emotional safety during sex and sexual activity is incompatible with me. And that's okay. I dislike being around those men when they are like that with their partners, and I find they are often unreliable friends, and very often not attentive to their partners needs and boundaries without extreme explanations or defenses of both. I've been fairly gendered here but it is often a gendered situation but not always.

Yes mistakes do get made in "I thought this would be okay but it is not". How a person responds to that is key.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:17 PM on April 26, 2021 [6 favorites]

I think a lot of the comments so far have treated this as seduction/prelude to sex, but it doesn't sound like it to me.

The OP questioned whether this was "respectful", so obviously you feel disrespected.

I don't find what you've described to be sexy either, it feels kind of possessive and gross, ie, not really about sex/intimacy at all, more like clumsy, oafish gestures that don't evoke a sensual, sexy mood.
posted by NatalieWood at 11:51 PM on April 26, 2021 [10 favorites]

The question is not is this normal. The question is if you consent to this behavior. Being in a relationship with someone does not give them blanket consent to do whatever they want with you/your body/your boundaries. End of conversation.

If you don't like it, he shouldn't do it.

If he isn't picking up on visual clues or cues of your discomfort, that troubles me personally, but you can also speak up if you feel comfortable. How he responds will tell you a lot about who he is.

How you think he will respond also gives you some intuitive information about how you feel about/see yourself in terms of space (equity space/power space) in the couple.

You get to feel safe and comfortable always when it comes to a partner/person's relationship with you. Other people's relationship dynamics and what they consent to are not determinative of what you want, need, and should get.
posted by anya32 at 7:05 AM on April 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Anecdote: I have seen many (many!) dating profiles of women on Tinder and such that say "Looking for a man who will grab my butt regularly!" or something similar.

So clearly for some people it is normal and desirable, although this doesn't address the public/semi-public nature of your question.
posted by tacodave at 9:45 PM on April 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

While I agree 100% that what's "normal" doesn't matter, I suppose if you do want to think about it that way it's worth remembering that it's also perfectly normal NOT to want your partner to grope you in public / constantly / without consent.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:54 AM on April 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

People are different. Some people will be cool with this. Personally, I really would not like it and would probably have to end the relationship if it continued repeatedly after requesting that they stop. Corey flood gave a great response to this at the top of the tread.

Some people act like you're some kind of Victorian if you're not down for anything sexually. You're not. It's ok to like what you like and not like what you don't.
posted by cultureclash82 at 6:06 AM on June 3, 2021

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