Help! My Boyfriend Keeps Groping Me!

Here’s a question that showed up in my in box that I think will resonate with many of you:

I have been dating my boyfriend for six months. I like him a lot. He likes to touch my breasts a lot, including when we’re not having sex or during foreplay — just casually, because he enjoys it — he says he just really likes my breasts. Some of the time I’m OK with it, but a lot of the time it feels distracting, like he’s sexualizing neutral situations or invading my space. He even did it one time when I was upset about something and he’d been comforting me. I have told him it makes me feel kind of manhandled and objectified, and I called him out particularly sharply during that incident in which I was upset. He has seemed apologetic but hasn’t quite stopped with the casual breast-touching. I don’t know quite where and how to draw a line with him. I feel kind of ambivalent about it — on one hand, I guess I could just change my attitude about it and go with the flow, but on the other hand, it often annoys me. Am I just interpreting it the wrong way? Should I insist on a no-breast-touching-except-for-sex policy, or ask him to ask me each time he wants to do it, or perhaps declare a temporary moratorium? What would you think might make sense and actually work? I want to communicate clearly, have him understand what this is like for me, and maintain our closeness and trust while coming to some sort of middle ground that makes us both feel good. I’ve taken to attempting ersatz retaliation by squeezing his crotch or nipple occasionally in protest (lightly), which gets the message across but doesn’t make me feel too good about myself, and mostly just makes him laugh. He’s really a good guy and in general works to be a GGG partner for me, I just think he doesn’t get what this is like for me.

I think there are a few different ways you could approach this, depending on what feels most comfortable to you. The first thing, though, is that I don’t think you need to try to change your attitude about it and just “go with the flow.” Your discomfort is valid and you get to have whatever boundaries you want for how and when he touches you.

While it might seem like ersatz retaliation would work, I’m not surprised that it didn’t. Given that men don’t generally experience the same level of unwanted touch, sexual attention, or sexual intrusion that women face, he’s not likely to feel the same way when you do it. So that makes it not really effective for getting your point across.

One of the challenges in dealing with this kind of thing is that it’s easy to slip into the trap of trying to figure out why he does this as a way of strategizing how to respond. The difficulty is that doing that can actually make it harder for you to set your boundaries. While his motivations are a part of this puzzle, they don’t have to keep you from maintaining your bodily autonomy. They’re something for him to figure out so he can change his behaviors, and no matter what they are, you get to have your limits.

So here’s a framework for you to tell him what you need in a way that might be easier for him to hear:

1) Name the behavior. Start with something like, “When you touch my breasts during non-sexual interactions without asking…”  Focusing on the action frames the next part and keeps attention on what he’s doing, rather than why.

2) Describe what meaning you associate with it. Some possibilities might be:

  • It seems like you’re sexualizing me when I’m not feeling sexual.
  • It seems like you don’t care about my boundaries.
  • It looks like you’re not interested in whether I want you to do it or not.

The goal in this part is to talk about what his actions mean to you. We’ll get to how they feel in the next part, so try to keep this piece about what you think they mean.

3) Now, you’re ready to talk about how it makes you feel:

  • Because of that, I feel really invaded.
  • That makes me feel angry about it.
  • I feel upset about it.

The reason this works is that when you explain what you think something means, it becomes much easier for him to understand how you feel. It’s also a lot less likely that he’ll get defensive about this, which will help him absorb what you’re saying. (This is based on the book Taking the War Out of Our Words, which I highly recommend.) Of course, you need to tailor this to your specific situation, but the general format is what happened, what it means to you, and how you feel about it. Put it all together, and you might say:

    • When you touch my breasts during non-sexual interactions without asking, it looks like you’re not interested in whether I want you to do it or not, and I feel upset about that.
    • When you touch my breasts during non-sexual interactions without asking, it seems like you don’t care about my boundaries, and I end up feeling really invaded.
    • When you touch my breasts during non-sexual interactions without asking, it seems like you’re sexualizing me when I’m not feeling sexual. I end up feeling angry about your touching me.

At this point, I’m guessing that he’ll have a response, and the two of you can talk about it. My hope is that he’ll apologize, and there are some important steps to that process, too. It’s essential that he really try to understand how you feel and commit to changing his behavior as part of that. So then, the question becomes: what changes do you want to ask for?

I think it’s totally fair for you to tell him that you want him to ask you about touching your breasts in non-sexual situations. If he has to stop and use his words, it’ll give him an opportunity to explore what he’s doing and why. It will also demonstrate to you that he values your autonomy and that he understands where your boundaries are. When it comes to things like this, I think that the way to find the middle ground is for him to learn how to invite sexual energy into the situation (here’s my favorite way to do that) rather than assuming it’s ok.

One thing- you might also want to consider how you’ll deal with his learning curves around this. Whatever it is that’s prompting him, he’s probably developed some habitual patterns, and those might take some time for him to successfully change. You could, for example, simply take his hand off of your breast. Or you could take his hand away and tell him, “This is that thing we talked about.” If he’s genuinely trying to modify what he does, that will likely be enough. If he gets pushy or insistent, or if he doesn’t seem to be trying to change, that’s another conversation you’ll need to have with him.

I hope that helps!

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13 Responses so far.

  1. ism says:

    It’s possible that he associates other emotions in addition to sexual feelings with the act of feeling up your breasts. Maybe he has fond memories of all the times he’s gotten to do it, and the comfort and care you express for each other in all of your couply sex rituals (like the fun leading up to and basking/caring after) the act of sex (assumption, but stay with me here). Perhaps by now it’s just a kind of “muscle memory” for similarly emotionally motivated physical touch, like hand holding or comforting non-sexual hugs, and he’s kind of conflated the feelings he wants to express with the actions he chooses. This is the optimistic possibility of why. I’m not construcive here in saying how to approach that. Covered quite well already 🙂

  2. ism says:

    to add: to be clear in no way do i mean to imply what he does is OK just because it might ‘come from a good place in his heart.’ He needs to be using his brain here, and G-man’s advice you can help him do so!

  3. Male says:

    “If he gets pushy or insistent, or if he doesn’t seem to be trying to change, that’s another conversation you’ll need to have with him.”

    God forbid we say anything about a woman l–ving (I’ll censor the word for the faint of heart) a man because he’s using her as an object. It has to be “another conversation” — conversation, as in he gets to defend himself, right? Because we live in a happy, liberal utopia, where men are only misguided souls who need a little stern correction every now and then!

    Maybe the woman or a woman like her is reading the comments here, and Glickman has approved my comment. I would like to offer different advice than his. If a man you’ve let very close to you, gets pushy or insistent, or if he doesn’t seem to be trying to change, you should prioritize the option of leaving him, or if you don’t feel safe leaving him, seek help in the form of women’s services, which are hopefully available in your area. No “another conversation” with him.

    Glickman apparently has either not known any women who are in troubled or abusive relationships with men and go through months of despair and trauma trying to “fix” them, or he has, and has just psychologically turned those months or years into something he can ignore. I’ve only watched a few women go through this and it’s a complete waste of time. We don’t even have to talk about the physical, emotional and property damage involved. These women were wasting parts of their lives on abusive men and seeing that makes one feel a certain kind of sadness that I would be surprised if Glickman was familiar with.

  4. NaughtyB says:

    I am one of these men that have trouble keeping my hands of my partners breasts.
    I wouldn’t put it down to affection or a type of hand holding in my case, just the fact I am horny and can’t resist my girlfriends body. I occasionally get told of for groping but never taken the telling off as too serious or breaching her personal space, But I do obviously stop. I think making it very clear with sat down discussion that it is upsetting would be enough to stop me doing it.(although it would break my heart to stop)
    But then if you can’t touch your partner now and then what’s the world coming to?
    Where does that leave spontaneous love making etc..
    I think there should be a balance between both and really that should be obvious in your partners body language if she is looking pissed off, had a hard day or upset it is not the right time to “go for a grope”
    I agree that squeezing his balls isnt the right way to show him you don’t like it. If I was groping my partner and she squeezed my balls I would think waahey game on 🙂

  5. Bill says:

    I feel that anyone has the absolute right to not be annoyed in an intimate relationship. It’s a right. If what he’s doing is annoying, simply tell him that what he’s doing isn’t something that you want him to do… of course it should be done in a reasonable mature way, with understanding, and love — but it’s a two way street of how we treat each other — the “I wants” can be in different directions —

  6. Jane says:

    It’s been 10 years since I left my ex-husband who did exactly this to me on a daily basis. He would come up behind me and grab my breasts and/or crotch. I’d be washing the dishes or brushing my teeth or something like that. He thought it was so funny. It wasn’t funny. It made me feel completely on edge all the time because guess what? Non-consensual sexual touching is sexual assault. Yes, even if you’re in a relationship with the person you’re non-consensually grabbing. Seriously, dudes who think you have the right to grab at your girlfriend’s or wife’s body go fuck yourselves. Being horny or thinking she’s smoking hot is irrelevant to the fact that she has the right to have you respect her boundaries. It’s been 10 years since I put an end to my marriage, but reading this brings up all the rage I had about this behaviour as though it was yesterday.

  7. Lynn says:

    I am in a new relationship and he does this at restaurants and in front of my kids. He said they can’t see so it’s not a big deal. ….but it’s a big deal to me. Why do men feel it’s ok?

  8. Meagan Blanchard says:

    In response to NaughtyB’s comment about “what’s the world coming to when you can’t touch your partner now and then?” . . . I’m just… floored really. That’s not what the original questioner is talking about, nor any of the other people commenting.

    There’s a huge difference in sexual touching when it’s clear that sexual touching is green on all fronts. That kind of touching is awesome. I love that kind of touching.

    I also love comfort touching. A back rub, a quick kiss, a loving hug. Lingering touches on arms, hands, knees. All of these can feel sexual sometimes – such as when sex is actually happening. But outside of that, they are just comforting – or fun touches that can lead to sex. These types of touches are generally ALWAYS welcome unless I’m in dire pain. These types of touches reinforce the idea that you care about me and what I feel.

    Pretty much all touching on my breasts feels sexual (except when I breast fed my daughter). The same with my bum and crotch. I’m pretty sure most women feel that way. It is NOT okay to just walk up to me and start groping me there. Ever. I don’t care if we’ve been married for 15 years or only dating for 5 months.

    Sexual touching when I’m least expecting it (as in Jane’s example of when she was doing dishes or brushing her teeth) makes me feel objectified. I’m not an object you can pick up and fondle at your leisure. An object doesn’t care, it doesn’t have feelings. Women do and we don’t belong to anyone.

    You wanna know what’s super-freaking sexy? Consent! I love that!

    You wanna touch my boobs, ass, crotch, etc, start small! Comfort touch, then ASK for sexual touches. Put your arms around my waist, kiss my neck, my ear. Tell me how awesome my breasts look in that camisole I’m wearing to bed. Creep your hands around my waist and up to my ribs — then ASK. “You look irresistible. Can I touch you?” There’s nothing non-spontaneous about this. You had sexual feelings and acted on them in the moment. Yet, I still feel respected – and beautiful – and loved. And sexy. Had you just started groping I’d have felt little better than a whore.

    You can still have unplanned sex and respect your partners’ personal boundaries and personal space.

  9. Samantha says:

    Mr. Clickman, after having read the women’s comments above, would your advice change at all?

  10. Dan says:

    Married 10 yrs. my wife hates it when I grope her; I’m learning to “get it” on this one.

    First, for a guy, so much of touch for us is ALWAYS sexual; so we don’t get it. Affection, warmth, communication. That’s what I’m saying when I touch her ass. What she’s hearing: GROPE.

    Here’s the deal: reciprocity. That’s what’s sexy. So, if she isn’t “there” when I touch her? Why do it. Better to touch her shoulder, her waist, her hair. Like moving in for a kiss; you check her out first as to where she’s at; then you make your move. I was in a marriage for decades where I NEVER got kissed back. Touch is best when it is RECEIVED in the touching.

    Yes, got to talk about this; every couple. Made me think of your article on complimenting a woman, how we guys only do it as to her LOOKS. We men need to get creative with our touch; seek reciprocity, no?

  11. Michael Foley says:

    My experience has been, if I don’t get along with a woman regarding something that is an intimate behavior, one way or the other, I just wind up leaving them.

    There’s no reason to put up with a bad fit. People don’t change their sexuality. What is this fighting with the guy who likes to touch your butt or breasts from behind while you’re at the sink, by caressing you. For every woman like you, there are ten who wish there man would do it more often.

    You were right to have left him, and he should have moved on happily.

  12. Debra B. says:

    Michael Foley, you poor thing….. When this person does it 20 times a day it’s annoying… that’s why. She wasn’t fighting with him for “groping” her, she didn’t like it that often.

    What men don’t understand is that girls/women are having to fight off men from fondling or groping them from the time they are twelve years old. UNWANTED fondling/groping. Women grow up thinking this is how it should be, even if they don’t like it or would rather it be during a love-making session.

    I had this problem with my boyfriend wanting to touch my crotch every time we got together, even when we said goodbye at the door whether we had sex or not. It is VERY ANNOYING.

    Women don’t have to put up with behavior they are not comfortable with. If the guy cares about you, he will knock it off when you ask him to.

    Guys – KNOCK IT OFF!

  13. Yvonne Gray says:

    Oh boy, my adult married daughter and I had this conversation today. I have been married 37 years, she 14. Committed relationships. We have both repeatedly asked our husbands not to grab at our lady parts Willy nilly! Yet this behavior persists. It seems to afford our husbands amusement, indeed, they act affronted when informed that you want it to stop. They do love us. Undoubtably. It seems like an immature behavior they will never cease. It is often done when our attention is divided. Like when a child pesters a mother while she is talking on the telephone. I surely do not have the answer. While I do not think it is acceptable, I venture to say that it is extremely common.

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