Pawing at your partner’s waist, touching her butt, and generally groping her may not be as playful, sexy, and affectionate as it is intended to be. Depending on a variety of life experiences leading up to the seemingly innocent game of grab-ass, more aggressive forms of physical affection can cause many women to feel anxious, withdrawn, and eventually resentful of their boundaries being continually tested. This can hurt your relationship, over time.
“There’s a difference between intimate and affectionate touching, which women like, and groping, which might feel sexy to a woman, but also might feel intrusive and demanding,” Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners told Fatherly. “Most women do not like being treated like a possession or an object.”
That’s not to say that touch, when used appropriately, cannot be a good thing. Non-romantic touch can make bus drivers more likely to give out free rides, grocery store shoppers more likely to enjoy free samples, and even strangers more likely to return spare change left behind in a phone booth, research shows. Romantic touch has its place, too. Women who report being hugged by their partners tend to have lower blood pressure and stress levels.
But groping is a different story. Perhaps that’s because many women learn defend against this type of “affection” long before they find themselves settled into relationships. One study sent 148 researchers to observe interactions in over 100 bars and clubs, where they observed 1,057 incidents of aggression over the course of 1,334 visits. Of these, 90 percent involved a male aggressor and female target, which were sexual in nature about 25 percent of the time.
Women do not need a history of assault, however, to feel violated when a well-meaning husband affectionately pinches their butts. They just need to have a history of having their boundaries pushed. While a woman who grew up with healthy emotional and physical boundaries may be tolerant occasional groping if it’s something she enjoys, “a woman who grew up in an environment where her boundaries were constantly disrespected may feel consciously or unconsciously uncomfortable with the same groping behavior,” clinical psychologist Carla Manly told Fatherly.
Manly and Tessina agree that it’s crucial for their partners to understand that there’s a big difference between a negative reaction to groping and coldness and rejection. It’s also helpful for women to be aware of and communicate their preferences regularly to their partners, who may not always realize they’re crossing a line
“Sadly, many women withdraw and accept the unwanted touch out of fear or anxiety; it can be all too easy to be submissive and not stand up for oneself,” Manly adds. “Some women who do not like to be groped may quietly accept the behavior yet create a warehouse of resentments. These resentments lead to toxicity in the relationship.”
When either party in a couple doesn’t want to be touched in a certain way, it’s an opportunity for the other person to check in and ask what would feel good. This builds intimacy, whereas aggressive physical affection without talking about it can damage it — often in a slow, progressive way that couples may not be aware of until it is too late.
“The biggest conflict is loss of sexual response. If she feels you only want to be close to her for sex, she’ll turn off. If she feels disrespected or that you’re demanding, she’ll pull away,” Tessina warns. “Once you have damaged the intimacy, then all kinds of bickering and fighting can follow.”