Please don't touch me there. Or there. Or there, there, there and... yes, not there either.
October 28, 2006 9:04 PM   Subscribe

Why don't I like to be touched on certain parts of my body? I'm a 38 year old male, and for as long as I can remember, there are places on my body I don't like to be touched. Some of them make sense, given certain events in my past, but most of them not so much. To explain...

When I was 11 years old I was molested on two separate occasions by an adult male. I dealt with this on my own, and thankfully the adult in question had the grace to pass away from a heart attack about 6 months after these events, so I don't have much lingering guilt that keeping quiet about it meant that many other boys ended up also being molested. The whole thing is a long, sad story; but these are the salient details for what comes below.

My experiences at age 11 didn't seem to interfere in my ability to grow into a sexually active and responsive adult. I don't fear or avoid physical and emotional intimacy. I seem to be, in other words, an averagely functional adult; whatever that might mean.

There is, however, one thing about me that I'm curious about - something that might (and I stress the word 'might') have something to do with what happened to me when I was 11. Then again, it might not.

There are places on my body I don't like to be touched.

Most notable of these, in terms of sexual intimacy, are my testicles. I don't like having them touched, by anyone. Not my partner, not me, not health professionals the very few times I've had to be examined 'down there'. The sensation is unpleasant, almost painful, even at the lightest touch, and it means that I have to have a long conversation with every new partner about 'please don't touch me there'. The last time I had to have my testicles examined, in response to an unexplained groin pain, I had to be sedated for it to happen, because I had an intense emotional reaction to the thought of anyone touching them. My current partner, in particular, finds this limiting, and this feels like a long-term-enough relationship to take her concerns seriously.

However, there are other places on my body that cause a similar unpleasant sensation. These being: nose, solar plexus, shoulder blades, the backs of my heels, just below the ankles. All my life any form of cuddling etc has been something of a dance of rearranging my partner's hands, legs, feet etc so that none of these 'trigger points' are being touched. Which is annoying for me, and must be utterly infuriating for them.

I don't know why, but I've always assumed these physical sensitivies arose from my experiences at 11. Perhaps because my sensitive testicles are what I have been most often asked about or challenged over by partners. It's probably the worst form of backyard psychotherapy, but it always made at least some sense that 'guy fondled / molested me at young age, don't like having testicles touched, ergo...' But this doesn't really explain the other places - at least, not to my untrained reasoning.

So. I'm curious. Do any other MeFites suffer from similar phobias / physical reactions to being touched in certain parts of their bodies? Do you know why? Have you been able to do anything about it? If so, what?

The obvious answer is to go talk about it with a therapist; and while I'm not beyond doing this, I have always had an aversion to laying these things bare, since emotionally I feel 'okay', aside from the discomfort associated with specific touching. Again, I care enough about my current partner to give this some serious thought, and I suspect this post is at least partly about getting used to the idea. Still, I'm genuinely curious about whether or not the molestation and the physical sensitivity might be related, or if they just happen to be coincidental experiences in my life.

What say you, hivemind?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The obvious answer is to go talk about it with a therapist; and while I'm not beyond doing this, I have always had an aversion to laying these things bare, since emotionally I feel 'okay', aside from the discomfort associated with specific touching.

It sounds like it is interfering with your sex life, and that's a huge place to not be 'okay' with.

I would go with your instincts here. If you've always assumed these physical sensitivies arose from your experience at 11, then they probably did.

At the very least, looking at the issue in a therapeutic setting should help you put the question to rest. You may chat with a therapist for a few sessions, and come to the conclusion that they are unrelated issues: at the very least, that significantly narrows down where to go next.

For what it's worth, I have been physically intimate with at least one woman who had similar issues (and yes, it is simply infuriating from the other side) and she and her therapist both felt that they were related to a childhood molestation. As time and therapy continued, she became much more comfortable with her entire body.

As always, your mileage may vary.
posted by tkolar at 9:29 PM on October 28, 2006

I have a problem with anyone touching my neck or throat. I have no idea why it happens but if someone touches me there, I totally lock up in a panic attack. I can barely breathe, I almost get to the point of crying. I had a friend reach over and fix my collar one day, and you would have thought he'd strangled me from the way I reacted. There's a total different reaction if you play with my hair though... I totally love having my hair played with.

I have a friend who can not stand to have her forehead touched. If you touch her forehead, she has to go wash her face immediately. Touching her cheek or her nose or her chin doesn't get the same reaction. Just her forehead.

Neither of us have a reason for these reactions. It's just the way we are.

Some of your reactions may be related to the incident, but others may just be quirks of your personality. Either way, talking to a therapist might be a good idea. It couldn't hurt (Ok, maybe a little).
posted by aristan at 9:53 PM on October 28, 2006

The last time I had to have my testicles examined, in response to an unexplained groin pain, I had to be sedated for it to happen, because I had an intense emotional reaction to the thought of anyone touching them.

Wow. That sounds.... pretty awful. And maybe this next thing I'm gonna say sounds weird, but, whatever: Just because you understand what emotional damage this abuse *could* have caused you doesn't mean you're immune to it. Our minds are capable of playing terrible tricks and making us think we're right/ok when we really aren't. And that's not a personal defect, that doesn't mean you're stupid- it just means you're sick, and going to a doctor might make things better.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:44 PM on October 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Even if the touching aversion is completely unrelated to the molestation, it may still help to talk to a therapist to help you learn some techniques to control your response when you're touched in your sensitive areas.
posted by stefanie at 11:19 PM on October 28, 2006

I have a Huuge problem with anyone being molested anywhere. I also find that the initial discomfort of laying these things bare is soon outweighed by the benefits of acknowledging how your past affects your present. Things often get uncomfortable right before you're about to make a breakthrough.

(And this isnt what you asked, but for some reason Mr. Rogers always gave me the creeps. Am I the only one who feels this way?)
posted by mynameismandab at 11:56 PM on October 28, 2006

I have a similar problem, though less severe: I get uncomfortable and ticklish if my bare skin is touched anywhere except the forearms and head. My answer is either chemical or just "swallow it down and maybe the pleasure you get will outweigh the discomfort."
posted by nasreddin at 12:48 AM on October 29, 2006

There is one spot on my body that's always been iffy to touch; low on the abdomen, about halfway between appendix and groin with a slight detour toward the hipbone. A light touch there will occasionally produce a disablingly violent cramp right in that same spot. No molestation history; that's just how I'm wired.

It even happens if it's me doing the touching, though less violently. But if I or my beloved kind of circle in on it, so the spot sort of gets some warning that a touch is coming, it's usually possible to end up touching without cramping. Still feels weird though.
posted by flabdablet at 3:24 AM on October 29, 2006

When I'm in therapy, I talk about major traumatic episodes in my life like when I brought my 3rd grade teacher a lame present and she sincerely thanked me for it, or when I came to school dressed for a halloween party that no one else was dressing for until the afternoon.

Which is to say, without something as clear cut as molestation, a growing psyche molds around almost unnoticeably insignificant things and enshrines them as pivotal, outlook-shaping events. It could be that this kind of other thing is what's really limiting you; it could be that it's just the molestation; or most likely, it's a combination of the two. A few sessions talking with a competent therapist may at least get you some perspective.
posted by xueexueg at 4:23 AM on October 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think it's quite common to have some body parts (and I dated a guy who didn't like his balls touched) that people don't like touched. But you seem to have a huge response to being touched in those areas, and I've never heard of anyone having as much trouble dealing with being touched (wherever that area may be).

So it does make sense ot me that it might have to do with what happened to you when you were eleven, and what tkolar said - it does seem to be interfering with your sex life, and that's a big area to not be okay with.
posted by Amizu at 5:19 AM on October 29, 2006

If you think talking to someone will help, by all means do so.

On the other hand, this could be something that doesn't go away no matter what. Even if it was triggered by the abuse, it may be something you just have to work with, even after talking the episode to death and dealing with it emotionally. There are some things about ourselves that we cannot "fix," and it may not even be necessary to do so.

I don't want to minimize what you're going through, but in terms of a problem in your relationship for your _partner_ to deal with, this does not sound that unreasonable to me. I would only address it if it is something _you_ are really uncomfortable with, and then not with the mindset that you are necessarily going to be able to "fix" it. There's nothing wrong with having parts of you that you don't want anyone to touch. It's only "wrong" if it bothers you significantly. And even then you might have to live with it.

You sound more curious about it and willing to try to adapt for your partner's sake, which is very gracious. But don't feel bad about it, it sounds pretty normal to me. That's my take.
posted by Marnie at 6:09 AM on October 29, 2006

Marnie:..but in terms of a problem in your relationship for your _partner_ to deal with, this does not sound that unreasonable to me...It's only "wrong" if it bothers you significantly. And even then you might have to live with it.

Um.. he had to be sedated to allow a doctor to touch him. Surely that indicates that it "bothers [him] significantly" His issue would seem to be something that would be best addressed and gotten rid of, if at all possible.

It can be frightening to think of going to a professional to talk about your issues, but .. he intensely dislikes to be touched on his "nose, solar plexus, shoulder blades [or] the backs of my heels, just below the ankles." That covers an awful lot of untouchable ground.

I don't know what you're trying to get across by telling the OP that this isn't "wrong", as this doesn't have anything to do with right and/or wrong, but surely he would have a much simpler time of it if someone could help mitigate those symptoms. Not being able to stand being touched in those areas would limit a lot of things that have nothing to do with sex. Getting glasses often results in one's nose being touched, for example. Should he have to be sedated to get glasses? Being fitted for shoes may have a shoe salesman touch the part of the heel that he has a problem with. And I can only imagine the various things that would have to be avoided in order to never have anyone touch your solar plexus. Many sports, I would think. Working out at the gym, potentially.

As for the "It's your partner's problem, not yours" thing: Wouldn't a couple have to work together on a phobia so deep-seated that he can't have medical personnel touch him, rather than either person dropping a "it's not my problem, it's yours" type of bomb? It's not unreasonable to ask your partner not to do particular things, no, but since there are that many places he can't be touched, I think it would be an ongoing thing to remember them. For those of us that are physically affectionate outside the focus of sex, there are little physical touches that would not be possible and would have to be relearned as no-touch zones.

OP: I would suggest finding someone to talk to, whether it be a counselor, pysch or whoever. It may well help you if you just get it all off your chest. It's also possible that if you go through some sort of touch therapy, where you touch (or have touched) the spots that bother you enough times, over time, you may come to be able to tolerate it much better, even if it never becomes a pleasant sensation. I laud your desire to make things better in your sexual relationship, but I think that getting some relief from these symptoms would be an even better thing for you, personally. It must be rather tiresome to be always a little on edge worrying if particular areas are going to be touched.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 7:12 AM on October 29, 2006

You might want to look into seeing a hypnotist who does past-life regressions. I can't stand having my throat or belly touched-- and the only explanations for this have been learning that there were several past life times in which I was strangled, and one where I was a Japanese warrior who was forced to kill myself.

NO SNARKS--this is something that helped me and may work for the OP.
posted by brujita at 8:50 AM on October 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Really, you already associate this with your experience at having been molested. Bravo to you for dealing with it. You sound strong and balanced. I think you might be helped by group work, with a therapist in a group of people with similar experiences. I am not a therapist, but I was helped by attending a self-help group related to family issues. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 9:08 AM on October 29, 2006

A lot of people have issues with being touch in certain places. I'm weird about my collarbone, for absolutely no reason. Maybe your sensitivity isn't directly related to the abuse. You're looking for a reason behind the sensitivity, and because you mentally link the sensitivity to the abuse, the discomfort becomes much more takes on an emotional component. If you can somehow disconnect the abuse from the sensitivity, through meditation or cognitive behavioral therapy (which will not necessarily require you to "lay things bare" or dredge up the past), perhaps the sensitivity would be diminished.
posted by lunalaguna at 9:13 AM on October 29, 2006

The obvious answer is to go talk about it with a therapist


and please don't do any "past-life" stuff, please.
posted by matteo at 10:31 AM on October 29, 2006

I have an absolute horror of having my face covered in any way, or of being held down or restrained - even in play by someone I love and trust. At some point I realized the perfectly obvious: when I was three, I sustained a very long, serious cut on my forehead, and it took several nurses and orderlies to hold me down while it was being stitched... and, of course, my face was covered during the procedure. I don't remember the incident at all, but it finally dawned on me once when, as an adult, I heard my parents reminiscing about the incident, how ferociously I had struggled, and how difficult it had been to hold me still so that the doctor could do a proper job. Of course! This was the source of my phobias. Yeah, I still have them, but it's nice to know why.

Your various trigger points may all have to do with the awful incidents that happened to you at 11, or some may be related to other physical trauma. Try to remember the times when you might have had childhood injuries or incidents of being bullied, etc., and see if any of those match up in any way with those sensitive areas.
posted by taz at 12:01 PM on October 29, 2006

I have always had an aversion to laying these things bare

But chatfiltering with random people on the Internet is fine?

Seek professional help.
posted by meehawl at 12:05 PM on October 29, 2006

I agree with lunalaguna. Maybe you'd still have touch sensitivities if you'd never been abused, but if you feel they are linked, they are linked.
Also, I hate to derail, but MyNameisMandab, please read this; Fred Rogers was a wonderful person.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:16 PM on October 29, 2006

I cannot, under any circumstances, tolerate tickling. I'm not going to go into how it makes me feel, but I will say that it causes me to become extremely violent.

There are two possible and probably not mutually exclusive explanations for this.

The first is that my brother tormented and beat me from the time I was six or seven. One of the many things he did to me was hold me down and tickle me.

The second is that I have fibromyalgia (or chronic fatigue syndrome, depending on who you ask). It's not unusual for people with this disorder to be unusually sensitive to touch.

I was once very physically masochistic (these days it's more the mental stuff I prefer) and would tell potential tops that they could hit me all they wanted, but that tickling was absolutely off limits. They were not to even threaten or joke about it. Most respect this limit, of course. However, there was one noteable exception. I talked, on line, to this one top for about four years on and off with an eye towards, eventually, meeting. One night we were talking about limits and I mentioned the tickling thing and she told me that I was being ridiculous and that if she had me tied down, she'd tickle me. I've not spoken to her since that night.

And, of course, I can't stand the tought of doing it to someone, so anyone who bottoms to me has to go without the "T" word. I played with one bottom fairly regularly who kept joking about tickling me. She was just being smart-ass-y, trying to get me to smack her. It's a common and usually pretty harmless form of flirtation. But I explained to her that this was not an acceptable topic for jokes. When she still didn't get the message and continued to do it, I would just walk away in the middle of the conversation. She learned.
posted by Clay201 at 7:39 PM on October 29, 2006

I think a therapist would be a great idea, and it might help to be aware that there are non-psychotherapy counselors that could be an option for you. There are therapists that work with the physical body as a means of unlocking psychological reactions, and if that's something that sounds interesting or appealing to you, it might be a good way of getting at your issues. There are yoga therapists, movement therapists, etc.

There's more info about yoga therapists here; there's info about a somatic psych program I know about (and know students in) here. I'm guessing these sorts of therapy would be easier to track down in big cities; if you're interested but at a loss for finding someone, please feel free to email and I can see what I can do to help you find someone.
posted by occhiblu at 8:39 PM on October 29, 2006

The obvious answer is to go talk about it with a therapist


and please don't do any "past-life" stuff, please.
posted by matteo at 10:31 AM PST on October 29 [+] [!]

Who are you to judge?
posted by nonmerci at 8:45 PM on October 29, 2006

The reaction might not be the result of your childhood molestation (although that seems like a likely explanation, I-am-not-a-doctor...), but regardless of the source, it *is* interfering negatively with your (sex) life, in which case I'd recommend you talk to a therapist about it, even though you feel "okay" otherwise.
posted by Zephyrial at 9:34 PM on October 29, 2006

Do any other MeFites suffer from similar phobias / physical reactions to being touched in certain parts of their bodies? Do you know why? Have you been able to do anything about it? If so, what?


Anywhere else is fine. It's not a big deal for me, so I've never cared to try to do anything about the kneejerk reaction.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:04 PM on October 29, 2006

I have the same kind of problem, but less severe. My wife has 'cured' me of this by touching me there, inching closer and closer, over a long period of time, months, years, to where I don't get the knee jerk reaction when she touches me there anymore. I just 'perceive' it as safe for her to touche there. Inner thigh, if anyone was wondering.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 11:05 AM on October 30, 2006

I can't stand people touching/stroking my legs which comes from an unpleasant event in my past. This has sometimes caused problems for me, as it is often where men will lay their hands when in the cinema, when eating out etc.

Sexually can be even harder as just the smallest touch can make me flinch, and can turn me off for the night.
What i have learnt to do though with my current partner is to let him stroke my legs and just grit my teeth and try to enjoy the sensation it can bring. After a while it has beomce something which i hardly notice and when i do the feelings i use to have are not as strong anymore.

I suggest that if it is coming in the way of your sexual relationship, you should seek some help in some form. If you are not wanting to do this, just try touching these parts a little at a time. Try massages to relax and get use to the good feelings that can arise from being touched in certain places rather than relating to the negative ones.
posted by rainbow_2006 at 4:19 PM on October 31, 2006

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