Sexplain It: How Can I Flirt if I Don’t Want to Be Touched?

Sexplain It: How Can I Flirt if I Don’t Want to Be Touched?

I’m Zachary Zane, a sex writer, author, and ethical Boyslut (a fancy way of saying I sleep with a lot of people, and I’m very, very open about it). Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of sexual experiences, dating and sleeping with hundreds of people of all genders and orientations. In doing so, I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating issues in the bedroom (and a bunch of other places, TBH). I’m here to answer your most pressing sex questions with thorough, actionable advice that isn’t just “communicate with your partner” because you know that already. Ask me anything—literally, anything—and I will gladly Sexplain It.

To submit a question for a future column, fill out this form.

Dear Sexplain It,

I recently went through therapy to get past childhood sexual trauma. Because of my experience as a kid, I’ve historically identified as asexual to avoid having to be intimate with another human. I’ve done the work and am at a point where I’m ready to explore and be intimate with another person. I have an extensive history with both females and males expressing interest but was never able to reciprocate.

I recently went out with my best friend to a bar and had someone approach me to express their admiration for my handsome qualities. This person was very inebriated and was at a point where others personal boundaries seemed far from their minds concerns. I definitely sensed that this person was harmless, but in their drunken stupor, they definitely violated my own personal boundaries by being very handsy. I almost reached a point of having to ask them to stop, but luckily, my friend came in to whisk me away.

As I’m entering this new exploration phase of my life, I know this situation will occur on numerous occasions as it has in the past. I genuinely feel most people are harmless, so getting handsy isn’t the greatest offense to me. How would you recommend I navigate these types of situations without hurting their feelings / me not having to disclose my past?

— Considerate Human

Dear Considerate Human,

When it comes to dealing with trauma, I want to be able to give you the most reliable information possible. Since I don’t specialize in sexual trauma, I reached out to Kate Balestrieri, Psy.D., founder of Modern Intimacy. After speaking with her, I decided it was best that she alone answer your question.

FYI, Dr. Balestrieri has been working with sexual assault survivors for over 16 years. She developed a program to address the long-term symptoms of sexual trauma so survivors who are ready to can reclaim their lives can do so.

Here’s what Balestrieri said when I showed her your question:

If other people are intruding on your personal space in a way that leaves you feeling uncomfortable or is not desired, the only person to prioritize in that situation is yourself. Whether intoxicated or not, it is not your job to protect people from their feelings, should you assert a boundary and they feel shame or rejection as a result. You may choose to verbalize a kind boundary at first, but if someone is intoxicated (and even if they are not), they may not respond in kind to your rational request for space.

Other approaches may be to move your body away from that person, and put other people, furniture, or space between you. You might consider going to the bar to get the next round of drinks, or heading to the bathroom to give yourself a moment to regroup and get some space. It sounds like you already have supportive friends, and it might be advantageous to develop a code word or phrase with them, that lets them know you’d like them to intervene or would prefer to leave, if your other strategies are not being honored.

You get to decide if you want to disclose your past, and it is not a requirement to share it to justify not wanting to be touched ever, even when you’re out. Not wanting to be touched is a perfectly good reason to assert a physical space boundary. Also, if someone does not respect your boundary, or evidences an escalation in behavior or you feel unsafe in any way, it is okay to leave or ask the staff at the location for help to intervene.

Considerate Human, I hope you can find a partner who respects you and your boundaries, and I’m wishing you the best of luck in this new phase of your life.

Headshot of Zachary Zane

Zachary Zane

Contributing Editor

Zachary Zane is the author of Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto and editor-in-chief of the BOYSLUT Zine, which publishes nonfiction erotica from kinksters across the globe. He writes “Sexplain It,” the sex and relationship advice column at Men’s Health, and is the co-author of Men’s Health Best. Sex. Ever. His work has been featured in New York Times, Rolling Stone, Washington Post, Playboy, and more.  

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