This is part 2 of a 2-part entry for the December 2014 Carnival of Aces: Touch, Sensuality, and Non-sexual Physical Intimacy.
*warning: talk of sexual coercion*
In part 1, I wrote about the social norms that devalue nonsexual intimacy, because it’s often seen as just a lead-in to sexual intimacy in relationships. Consent in the context of nonsexual intimacy is hardly thought about, as nonsexual intimacy is taken for granted. Sara K, the host of this Carnival of Aces came to the same conclusion, noting that the ethics of nonsexual touch are much less developed than sexual ethics because of it.
I suspect that part of my repulsion towards sensual touch comes from the sexual expectations behind it, and that I’ve been in a relationship with someone who has sexual and romantic feelings for me, while not knowing what the line is between sensual and sexual.
My “partner” didn’t seem to think he needed my permission to kiss, or cuddle me. In fact, I wasn’t sure if he needed permission, and I feared I was asking for too much, or unfairly complaining when I spoke up against him touching me without it. After all, isn’t it “only” touch?
It wasn’t until recently that I found out that one’s boundaries for physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, and hand-holding actually do need to be respected too! I never pushed for physical intimacy on anyone, but I’ve had it pushed on me a lot, and thought I had no right to complain unless it was sexual.
Any kind of physical intimacy doesn’t come naturally to me. I had no desire to initiate, but I’ve put up with it to please him. It’s the least I was able to do in our “compromise”. It wasn’t a good compromise for either of us, but I felt like I had to do it.
Actually, we both devalued sensual intimacy, seeing it as just a watered down version of sexual intimacy. He greatly enjoyed sensual intimacy, but felt like it wasn’t enough. He saw it as of lesser value, or less satisfying than the sexual intimacy that he really wanted, while I was still having to do something that physically repulsed me. He saw sexual intimacy very positively, while I saw it very negatively.
To him, our compromise was akin to only having the appetizer, not the full meal, and he was still left hungry. To me, it just felt like I was serving a lighter sentence, that I was lucky to not be “sentenced” to sex. I saw intimacy as punishment I had to serve, so sensual intimacy and/or non-penetrative sexual intimacy was the lesser of two evils to me.
To me, our “compromise” really did feel like I was trying to plead for a lesser sentence, and was thankful that my plea worked. I wasn’t expected to completely be free from “serving” any intimacy, and I just saw it as a victory that I didn’t “have to” have sex.
The intimacy between us blurred the lines between sensual and sexual. I wasn’t okay with this, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where the line was, so I put up with the kissing, cuddling, and touching, because he told me it was just sensual to him. I still felt uneasy, believing it was sexual, and that I’d be going against my rejection of sex. I believed meant rejecting anything that can possibly be construed as sexual intimacy, though at the time, I didn’t know that there was a distinction between sensual and sexual intimacy. I just assumed it was all sexual, therefore I must reject it all.
Is the distinction partly a matter of perception? Although I wasn’t happy about doing these things, I complied, under the assumption that he was okay with only sensual, not sexual intimacy, and that what we were doing wasn’t sexual, because genitals weren’t involved.
When he told me that he enjoyed the sexual intimacy we had, I felt disgusted with him, and myself. He perceived it as sexual, so it must have been? I felt like he deceived me, and that he found a loophole in my rejection of sex, while I went against my principles, and was easily misled so soon. If he had said making out and kissing count as sexual intimacy, I certainly wouldn’t have agreed, but I was a fool for assuming he didn’t see it as sexual intimacy, because he was sexually attracted to me.
I felt like I was in limbo: I was still repulsed by this contact, whether it was considered sexual or not. If it wasn’t sexual, I didn’t go against my celibacy, but thought I had no right to complain about this “compromise”. If it was sexual, then I quickly went against my celibacy, and all the other ideals that I stood for, and I didn’t know if I actually consented to this or not. I felt like it fell under a gray area between sexual and non-sexual, consensual and non-consensual, and I felt trapped being in these gray areas. Being trapped in either, or both made it so hard to try and talk about these experiences.
I don’t think I had to have such a negative attitude towards sensual intimacy. I didn’t have to, if I had known much earlier that it doesn’t have to lead to sexual intimacy, it’s not the sign of a romantic-sexual relationship, nor is exclusive to romantic-sexual relationships, and if I had known where the line is. I wouldn’t have taken it for granted, and I could’ve actually thought it through, and decided for myself whether sensual intimacy would be okay for me, instead of automatically rejecting it all under the assumption that it’s just a watered down version of sexual intimacy.