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How to Touch a Woman Without It Being Sexual Assault

How to Touch a Woman Without It Being Sexual Assault

  • Culture
Image credit: Screenshots from Lust Caution and photographs from Unsplash.

Ever since the #metoo campaign, the world for heterosexual men has changed for the irrevocable worst. And this isn’t just something that’s happening in the West.

Just the other day, I overheard a conversation on the bus where a dude-bro lamented, “Open doors for them cannot, say ‘ladies first’ cannot, because sexist. If a girl goes home with you from a club, it might be assault. How am I supposed to hit on girls in clubs like that?”

He continued: “I only know how to behave like a man, which is how I’ve always behaved since young. If I don’t kiss the girl, it’s not like she’s going to kiss me!”

And he’s not wrong.

With regards to relationships, men are still the ones who feel the pressure to pursue, or lose out. They’re the ones who are expected to take the initiative. So in a time when sexual harassment and assault are finally receiving the attention they deserve, how does a man remain sexually (or romantically) aggressive without being threatening?

What the above dude-bro misunderstood was that just because women have become more vocal about their negative experiences with unsolicited male attention, it doesn’t mean that he needs to overhaul his entire way of life. In fact, several female friends I consulted for this story insisted that they would still like to be hit on.

According to them at least, there are several (okay, just three) things men should pay attention to if they’re going to hit on a woman. If applied correctly, they should actually increase one’s chances of getting laid success. 

To flirt ethically, a man must learn how to read the "signs".
Firstly, you can touch a woman without it being considered sexual assault.

Most dating experts will tell you that physical touch is essential to building intimacy between strangers. 

“Arms and shoulders are usually okay,” one friend tells me. “The important thing is not to linger. If you’re telling a funny story it’s okay to lightly touch someone on the arm. But that should last only about half a second.”

Never grab a woman by the waist, she also says, although if you are in a tight space like a crowded club, you may use it as an excuse to press up, shoulder to shoulder, to whoever you’re trying to hit on.

Once you sense that you guys are ready to get to first base, this is what she also has to say on the matter of kissing:

“You know in movies you always see couples kind of like, move in with their faces looking down, when they’ll linger and then the tension builds? Yeah, do that. Don’t just go straight for the mouth. If you don’t give us time to see what’s coming, that’s when we freak out.”

According to Phoebe, another female friend, it all comes down to the leaning in. Do it slowly, and give the other person time to react. It’s when you surprise them that they tend to react violently, and it starts to feel like assault.

She adds, “At least if the girl has a chance to turn away or to stop you, you can always try again later. She might just mean ‘not yet’. If she’s disgusted because you forced yourself on her, then forget it. Just go home already.”

Oh and apparently you should make eye contact as well, preferably while also paying attention to what’s actually being said. I’m told that this is far more effective than any other kinds of flirtatious touching.

we live in a world where gender norms have yet to balance themselves out

Another friend shares about many of the men she’s encountered don’t seem to know the difference between ‘sexy innuendo’ and sexual harassment, and only one of these things is actually attractive. While there’s nothing wrong with focusing on the superficial, there are ways to do it without being lame or creepy.

Which brings me to our second point.

“On Tinder, for instance, many men seem to think that all you want is to be directly complimented for your looks. There’s no effort to be charming or anything at all!” she says.

As the journalist Kit O’Connell writes, at some point after flirting has commenced, the conversation inevitably drifts towards each other’s sexual preferences. Each begins to sound the other out, and a sense of possibility enters the conversation which can be exciting.

“If you want to tell me about that one time someone bit you while going down on you, that’s fine. We can swap stories and you can tell me what you like. It’s exciting, I know,” another friend says. “But don’t tell me that I won’t believe the size of your dick, or that you’re really going to enjoy doing this or that to me. It’s gross!”

She adds, “But before we get to this point, at least pretend to be interested in getting to know me!”

Finally, she points out that there are cute and respectful ways to flirt, and to indicate interest or which boundaries to push. But there are also vulgar, objectifying ones that make a woman feel unsafe. It should be obvious which one might constitute harassment (it’s the latter).

Ethical flirting should be a compulsory subject in secondary schools.
The third and most important thing, I’m told, is knowing how to read a woman’s body language so you know when your advances are beginning to cross into harassment territory.

In this Twitter thread, writer and comic Delilah Dawson describes the signs to look out for when gauging whether a woman is into you. From the “don’t kill me” smile to whether a woman compliments you back when you compliment her, she details all the different ways a woman might respond to a man’s overtures, and what they most likely mean.

For instance, if a woman seems nervous, has her arms crossed, and is obviously looking for a way out of that conversation, flirting is over. Leave the woman alone. Do not hit on her.

“These physical signs are pretty much universal, and yet some guys never get it,” she tweets.

Finally, she says, if things don’t go your way, it’s no big deal. Just move on.

As this viral video explains, do not give someone tea if they don’t want it, are not sure if they want it, or are unable to indicate whether they want it or not. Do not make them drink it.

This is the easiest and surest way to ensure you don’t end up being “outed” as a sexual predator somewhere down the road in the far, unknown future.

I recognise that these precautions put the onus on men to be the ones who “behave better”, and that there continues to be the argument that if only women would take the lead more often, none of these problems would exist.

But as it is, we live in a world where gender norms have yet to balance themselves out. For now at least, men will simply have to accept that it’s up to them to take the lead. And since this position comes with responsibility, it’s only right that the onus is put on them to behave better.  

Social performances like flirting or hitting on someone are so exciting precisely because they thrive on mystery. But this uncertainty also introduces the possibility that things might not actually go the way either individual expects.

If we’re being honest, we could also even argue that many of these steps constitute basic EQ. They should come naturally to us as they seek only to achieve the most ideal outcomes for both parties by creating room for both consent and refusal.

Oh and lastly, everything in this article applies to all relationship dynamics, not just heterosexual ones. Just in case there are men who think this story is all about them.

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Julian Wong Managing editor