I have an aversion to being touched, and it is hurting my relationships

Question

I am having difficulty with physical touch and intimacy. How can I overcome this so I can be happy in a romantic relationship and allow my partner to enjoy the cuddles and snuggles and casual touch that so many furs in the fandom seem to love so much? I avoid getting close to people right now because I don't want them to feel rejected when I recoil from their touch. I feel isolated and depressed, because I do want a romantic relationship.

Received vis Skype (name withheld)

Answer

Having problems enjoying physical touch and intimacy can be incredibly debilitating, particularly within the context of romantic and/or sexual relationships. This is a problem I have a lot of personal experience with, actually — my first girlfriend (a very cute catgirl who wore a tail to high school every day) had a history of physical abuse, having been removed from her birth parents’ home and placed in foster care before being adopted. This history of abuse left her incredibly skittish about being touched, and she would flinch and recoil any time I attempted to touch her, even if just casually on the shoulder. This all was a major source of stress and conflict in the early stages of our relationship; however, we were able to work through it.

The key to working through our issues was good communication and taking things slow. My girlfriend did me a huge favor in telling me that she had issues with physical intimacy and being touched right from the start, which prevented me from accidentally overstepping her boundaries and making her feel incredibly uncomfortable with a warm embrace. Over time, my girlfriend expressed to me that she would like to work with me to be more comfortable with being touched, and I told her we’d go at her pace and not rush into anything. I offered to place my touch under her control. I’d only touch her if she asked me to, and in the specific places and specific ways she asked for. We proceeded this way until she became more used to and comfortable with my touch. After a while, we checked in with each other about our comfort levels, and we decided to shift to an arrangement in which I could initiate a touch, but only if I asked first. Once my girlfriend’s comfort grew even further, over a period of a few months, we had another check in conversation, and we agreed that  I could touch her spontaneously without permission, but that she could still say no or decline to be touched whenever she liked, without being afraid I’d interpret this as rejection or a slight of some kind. From that point on, we remained comfortable with physical touch and intimacy until our relationship ended. What I think was essential in making things work was empowering my girlfriend by putting her in control and giving her the authority to say no in a context free from judgement or over-interpretation of her actions. In this way, she was able to build confidence and comfort with me at her own pace, without feeling any pressure or guilt from me. Hopefully, this vignette from my own relationship history is somewhat helpful to you.

Regardless of whether the experience I described ends up being applicable in your situation, it’s important to think a bit more carefully about why it is you are feeling this way. It’s always tempting to jump to solutions, but a fuller appreciation of the problem can make finding a solution much, much easier. I’d ask you to perform some introspection to determine what the source of your fear or aversion to physical touch and intimacy is — once the fear is named and acknowledged, it will automatically begin to lose its power over you. From there, you can begin to work through it.

In some cases, a fear of being touched can be culturally based. If you were raised to believe that being touched by another person of the same sex or of the opposite sex is taboo, it can be very difficult to overcome those feelings. Again, take it slow, and communicate with any prospective relationship partners so they know where you’re coming from and don’t take your aversion to being touched personally.

In other cases, a fear of being touched can be based in a fear that you lack competence in physical intimacy. If this is the case, start slowly and be honest with your partner, telling him or her that you aren’t very sure of yourself in the intimacy arena and that you hope they’ll take the lead until you’re feeling more confident. Anyone who really cares about you and wants to build a relationship with you should be sympathetic to your request and be willing to take things slowly with you.

In still other cases, such as my first girlfriend’s case, an aversion to being touched can be rooted in a history of physical abuse. If you have a history of abuse, working through that trauma may be difficult to do on your own. Don’t be afraid to seek help; consider talking to a councilor, therapist, psychologist, or clinical social worker about your issues. These types of mental health professionals will be more than happy to listen to your concerns and help you unpack the traumatic experiences you have had. In my girlfriend’s case, the combination of therapy and having a supportive partner was key.

Therapy can also be helpful if your aversion to being touched is a component of autism-spectrum disorder. Autistic individuals are frequently uncomfortable with being touched and with physical intimacy in general. Although research in this area is not particularly good, anecdotal evidence suggests autistic individuals tend to be more uncomfortable with light touch and caresses than with firmer touch, and that unexpected touches are more uncomfortable than expected ones. If you suspect autism-spectrum disorder may be contributing to your touch aversion, talk with your doctor and consider seeking help from an occupational therapist.

If after thinking things over and performing this introspection you’d like to ask any follow up questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us via our contact page. Best of luck to you.

 

 

Viro the Science Collie

Viro Science Collie is a PhD virologist and medical writer, experienced in teaching, technical communication, and writing for the public. He has been active in the furry community since 2012 and has been happily and ethically non-monogamous for much of that time. His interests include non-traditional relationship structures, technology, biological science, and tennis.