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Asking for what you really, really want and need, especially if it falls outside of what’s considered social norms, can feel frightening, embarrassing, intimidating. Even articulating it can feel clumsy and awkward.

I’m a touchy-feely, huggy, kissy person. I feel cut-off and emptier than I’d like if I don’t get regular hugs, hand-holding, cuddling, and kissing. It’s not about sex, it’s about feeling close and connected to the people in my life, expressing my affection for them, reaffirming that we’re not alone in this world. Also, I really like kissing. Kissing is fun. But I’m shy, I worry a lot about rejection, I like to respect people’s boundaries, and our society has some pretty strong stories that we buy into when it comes to physical connection and intimacy. Being direct and forward about “I’d like it if we cuddled” or “I’d really like to kiss you” is generally seen as an attempt to initiate some kind of sexual activity. If you’re a woman and you’re not trying to initiate sex, you’re a tease. If you’re a man and you’re not trying to initiate sex, you’re either lying–because all men are driven by sex, right?–or you’re a wuss for not being driven by sex. These are rotten, damaging stories that our society tells us. But they’re deeply ingrained.

So if you don’t want to swallow and hide your feelings, your wants, your needs, then how do you ask for physically intimacy with friends while making it clear that you’re not looking for sex? I guess you just do it and accept that you’re going to feel uncomfortable, scared, embarrassed, and vulnerable. You’re going to get some rejection, which isn’t fun. You might even scare some people away, which is distressing. But you might also get what you ask for, which is pretty cool.

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