Nonviolent touch is always good, or desired.
Ok, no it is not.
When I was in high school, I was working in an office the summer before I went off to college to make some money (I was an office assistant, and I recall being so bored I thought my brain would melt and leak out my ears), and I was working with a bunch of (kinda asshole-y) boys I knew from high school. Someone always had to stick around and babysit the phones, and so we would rotate who would not get to escape for lunch, and the others would bring that poor, unlucky soul stuck in the office something to eat.
So, one day it was my turn to bum around the office over lunch (there weren't blogs then, guys, I couldn't fuck about on the internet. It was TERRIBLE), and when the boys got back, one of them came into my office holding my lunch. And he said, "I'm not giving this to you until you kiss me."
I had never had anyone pull manipulative shit on me like that, and I yelled at him, "What???" I was totally flabbergasted. I couldn't understand what I was hearing. He was trying to coerce me into a physical interaction, and, wait, WHAT? I got really mad, and he to diffuse it by saying, "It's just a kiss." I gave him the Evilest Eyeball I had and said, "I don't trade sexual favors for things. Don't treat me like a prostitute. Give me my lunch." And he finally handed it over.
The thing is, I think there is an assumption that asking for certain kinds of touch are ok. That as long as there is no physical violence involved, then the physical interaction is not violent. That's just ridiculously false. If a woman agrees to having physical touch with someone out of guilt, out of the inability to imagine saying no, out of duty, or out of necessity (like you are hungry and want your fucking lunch), while there may be no physical violence involved, these things can be experienced by women as incredibly violent. They feel like violations. They make women feel like they are not fully realized as people, as if their bodies belong to others, as if they have no control.
There's also this sense that if the intimacy is small, it is acceptable to ask for or be a little bit coercive to get it. Most guys won't straight out ask you for a blow job. But a hug - well, that's ok. Or even a kiss. But nothing too sexual, too big, because that would be seen for what it is. As long as it's a little thing, an even platonic thing, well then, the dude can't be accused of trying to take advantage of you sexually. So what if he is still trying to gain access to your body through other nonviolent, but still not-totally-consensual means?
There, for some reason, are a lot of men who are very needling about trying to get me to touch them. I find a lot of instances of either requests for or the taking of my touch which are slightly coercive, just a little bit manipulative, just vaguely playing on my emotions to get the desired response. My enthusiastic consent is not asked for, or required. Whether I will receive anything good from this touch is also not considered (and when I mean receiving anything, I also mean the pleasure of touching someone for their pleasure. I like giving other people pleasure by touch. Just not all the time).
Basically, the dude sets it up like this: they "need" a hug. They have to cuddle with me, because they have had a hard day. My touch is required to make them right again. And I think they are just playing on the assumption that as a woman, I am expected to take care of other people. I must sacrifice my feelings for others. And I often do have the problem of finding the healthy boundaries when it comes to not putting someone's needs above my own. But I am put in a position where if I refuse, then I am kinda an asshole. I am selfish, if I say I don't want to engage in touch, because they need this, and it is therapeutic, and touching makes everything all better, and it's really just a little thing, and so what kind of shitty person am I to deny them this?
Generally, I do not want to be a shitty person. And so usually, even if I find it coercive, and it makes my body feel used while my person is erased, I give in and engage in whatever small affection is asked for. And I know cuddling and hugging and even holding hands are supposed to be good, warm, fuzzy, certainly not dangerous touches. But yet, they feel violent. Because I am not giving freely and enthusiastically. My consent has been wheedled out of me. And my kindness is being played upon so that someone may have access to my body.
When I think about this, there have been a thousand little instances where my affection has been obtained by such mild-mannered coercion. All these small, little touches, not totally freely and enthusiastically given. But they add up. Women's bodies are often supposed to be used for all kinds of other people's purposes. And mine has been. Even when there was no overt physical violence involved.
Violent or aggressive touch is always bad.
Ok, if you do not want to know the more intimate details of Gayle's sexual desires, you should possibly stop reading here. Although secretly, you KINDA WANT TO KNOW all about Gayle's sexual desires, so whatever.
I have mentioned in this space before that I like playing the submissive in sex. And I think this actually helps me heal from being raped: it allows me to replace the narrative in my head about sex and aggression and power. Because when I am submissive, I can stop it at any time. I can ask to switch, and be dominant, if I want. It is all about my pleasure, my consent. I have power. Things are done to me all in the name of my enjoyment, and I can see that aggression can have such lovely, orgasmic ends. Submissive sex is healthy for me.
But also, regardless of what I am getting out of it: I like a little bit of pain in sex. I like aggression. I really like to be thrown down onto the bed and fucked (not all the time, but sometimes). It's always been something I enjoy. And sometimes, when I ask for that aggressive sex, when I ask to be dominated, I have been told by a dude, "I can't do that to you; you've been raped."
Ok, I really and truly understand that guys who are good allies can have a hard time with what I am asking them to do. A man being aggressive, violent, or causing a woman pain is a really loaded thing, because it happens all the time in horrible ways that are not about a woman's pleasure. Men are taught that they should never be violent towards women, and I can understand the cognitive difficulty with trying to be ok with hurting this woman you care for in front of you, even if she is asking for it. I get it. Or, I mean, I can understand it.
But that's not the only thing that men mean when they say that. Some of it is patronizing; I can't know what is good for me, and I don't know how such touch will affect me. This of course is crap, because if there's anything I am expert on above and beyond everyone else, it would be me. And what I like. So, dude, you don't need to protect me from shit. Cut that crap out.
But it's also the story we tell about these acts. These are big, sexual, violent or aggressive touches. These touches must be like rape. And since I have been raped, these should not be inflicted on me.
Gentlemen? Get the fuck over it, and do what I asked you to do. Submissive sex, or aggressive sex, is SO! NOT! RAPE! Because rape is about power and control over me, and not at all about my pleasure. I didn't ask to be raped. I am asking for this, and I want it to be all about my pleasure. There is NO RELATION between aggressive sex and rape. They are entirely different things. And if I want you to throw me on the bed and fuck me, I expect you to do so. I like pleasure, so get to it.
Ultimately for me, the acceptability of little, insidious coerced touches or aggressive, asked-for sex comes down to my consent, my control, my autonomy. No matter the touch, big, small, intimate, aggressive, soft, whatever, I want all my touches to be enthusiastically and freely given. So, maybe we need to decouple the touches from the current narratives, and reframe all touch as an issue about consent, mutual pleasure, autonomy, and agency. No touches are inherently better than any others. So then men can stop making me feel like I have to give access to my body in small ways so I am not an asshole, and I can get the awesome, hot sex I am asking for. Because seriously: I like pleasure, guys. Figure this out.