Get Real! I Want to Be Held, But That Doesn’t Happen

Heather Corinna

You are entitled to all kinds of relationships and a sex life that are uniquely about who you are, what you want and need, and where your unique body and mind are at any given time.

earthworm asks:

I am
in the predicament of wanting a man to hold me but suspecting that I
have not yet mastered my ability to honor my boundaries. When I have
asked men to just hold me, they never keep their word, and after
becoming turned on from the contact, I lose the will to turn down their
advances. These men have had partners, or condemned monogamous
relationships, and so sex complicates things emotionally.

Also, all my sexually active life I have been dealing with what my
gynecologist recently characterized as vaginismus. So even though I get
turned on while cuddling, my vagina rejects a man’s penis. I have to do
anal and/or oral, which increasingly fails to completely satisfy the
man nor me. Afterward I tend to feel inadequate, used, and defective,
especially if I don’t hear from the man again. Not to sound cliché but
I need human contact! Masturbation doesn’t offer the comfort and
security of relaxing in a man’s arms. Maybe I should just ask a female
friend to hold me. But the same thing could happen with her. I am
almost 23 years old. How do I learn to exercise self restraint, so this
cycle will end?

Heather replies:

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like to focus this on the three primary issues you brought up here:
your need for basic physical affection, your problem with upholding
your own boundaries, and your ideas about how without intercourse, the
sex you or anyone else are having cannot possibly satisfy either of you.

On all of those issues, I want to make this very clear: You are
entitled to all kinds of relationships and a sex life that are uniquely
about who you are, what you want and need, and the way your unique body
and mind is at any given time.

You make clear you need more basic physical affection than you are
getting, and that right now, a need to simply be held is very big for
you. You are entitled to pursue that need, and entitled to have it met
by others with whom you enter into, or are already in, relationships
with. You are also entitled to pursuing what kinds of sex you enjoy
when you feel aroused if and when you truly feel that desire and feel
right in a given relationship to do so, and not just because someone
else is going there, or because you’re turned on. Mind, what you can’t
figure is a given, and what you are not entitled to, is any given
person sharing your same needs, your same level of need, or wanting the
same things you do.

If you keep finding that this need isn’t being met, and that the
relationships you are having keep being very discordant in terms of
what you want and what someone else does, it’s likely that some of why
that is is a lack of enough communication about your needs, a
confidence in your needs being completely valid, and enough time before
getting close to someone in order for you to get a better sense of who
they really are, and if you two really mesh. I suspect you might also
be impacted by feeling a need for "normalcy," if you have the idea that
it’s normal to just give over to sex when someone else wants it.

I think it’s safe to say that holding someone and be held by someone
is often a very intimate thing, and something that tends to often come
from real care, love and compassion. Many of us don’t want to
intimately hold someone we don’t really care for, nor do we often have
the same experience of that kind of intimacy without an existing
intimacy and depth of feeling. While we certainly might find that now
and then in our lives, we can find people who can and want to provide
that without knowing us very well, out of a simple love and compassion
for people in general, out of the kind of primate-urge many people have
to have that kind of basic bonding, I’d say that more times than not,
when it comes to being held platonically, that’s something we’re going
to find happens most with very longtime friends, family and romantic or
sexual partners who we have been with for some time.

I also can’t help but wonder if, perhaps, you aren’t dismissing your
own needs and boundaries because you feel like if you do, you might
still get what you actually want. If you think that might be the case,
or some of what is going on, I’d very plainly suggest you realize that
simply isn’t likely to happen. In other words, if someone says they
know you just want to be held, agrees they will just hold you, but then
starts in with the sex, it’s very clear they’re being as dismissive of
your boundaries as you are, and also aren’t either particularly
interested in the need you have for cuddles, or just want something
else entirely.

I hear you say, too, that being held by a man offers you security,
but since that has not been your experience, I’d also just caution you
to be sure you are tempering your ideals or fantasies with reality.
That isn’t to say, by all means, that being held by someone who loves
us cannot or does not leave us feeling safe and loved: it often does.
But I also think that bit about the "someone who loves us," is
important: often, we can’t get those feelings of safety and security
just due to that physical contact alone. Much like I think you’re doing
with your ideas about intercourse, I think you’re doing with this, in
terms of it seeming like you are looking for the physical activity itself to provide things that are really about what someone is bringing
to any given activity. With anything like this, it’s usually not about
what we do, but about how we and others do it, and why we do it.

What I’m suggesting is that getting held alone is not likely to have
you feel the kind of security you imagine it will if you are not
already feeling that safety and security from the person holding you,
overall, whether that person is holding you or not. It’s not so much
just that the being held isn’t what you’re getting, but that you are
not yet in or accessing the kind of relationships which contain both
that real intimacy, and that real care, or the capacity for those

I’d like to insert another statement, which I think you’d benefit from making into an affirmation for yourself: You are not inadequate, used or defective.

What I gather you are right now is someone who is not having her
needs met, and who appears to feel that because one kind of sex — of
many, many kinds of sex — is not doable for her she’s screwed, and
someone who seems to keep connecting with partners with different wants
and needs than hers. Not better wants and needs, not worse wants and
needs, just different ones. None of this means anything at all is wrong
with you, nor that you are problematic or broken in some way. It just
means the folks you have been trying to connect with don’t seem to want
what you do (and, I suspect, are also picking up the vibe that you
don’t have the best boundaries), and you seem to be stuck in a lot of
push-me-pull-me with people where one or both of you know what the
other’s wants and needs are, and that they are likely not harmonious,
but keep trying to make them so. Not a recipe for the good stuff, that.

I’d also like to challenge your idea that were intercourse an
option, everyone would suddenly feel satisfied. While yes, a majority
of heterosexual men feel that way about intercourse, only a minority of
women do. I’m not going to go too in-depth here because we have a lot
of information about that already at the site. If you want to find out
more about that, I’d suggest having a read here:The Great No-Orgasm-from-Intercourse Conundrum.

Obviously, when something is unavailable to you, and other things
aren’t working, it can be pretty easy to leap to the conclusion that if
you only had that something, it’d all be better. But in this case, as
in many others, my feeling is that just would not be the case. If all
other kinds of sex are not feeling satisfying to you and yours, it
strikes me as very unlikely that intercourse would magically remedy
that. In fact, both my personal and professional experience is that
most of the time, if the other stuff sucks, it’s all going to suck.
It’s not like the dynamics which exist in all other kinds of sex — and
it tends to be interpersonal dynamics and our own sense of our
sexuality that most influence how good or poor sex is between people,
far more so than what activities are being done and what techniques
employed — are not going to show up with intercourse.

There is no one kind of great sex life. There is only the sex life
that best fits our own personal sexuality, our minds, our unique
bodies, our hearts.

There is no one kind of body which can experience good sex, nor
bodies which cannot: it’s all about finding out who we are, how we
work, what feels good to us, and pursuing those things, as well as
letting go of any hangups or conditioning that — falsely, and often
with a not-so-great personal or cultural agenda — tells us sex is
one-size-fits-all rather than a uniquely designed and very personal
expression of something incredibly diverse. There is nothing you "have"
to do sexually, either. What you should be doing are whatever
activities you WANT to do — when any partners also share that want —
and nothing else. I think the kinds of sex you are having, and which
your body is capable of having, would feel a whole lot better to you in
different kinds of relationships, with different people, and in a
different mindset: in other words, I don’t suspect it’s the activities
that are the problem, but the dynamics and context of them, which
certainly includes feeling incapable of having or asserting limits and

One of the things that tends to make it hardest for us to assert our
boundaries and require ourselves and others to stick to them is feeling
like they are not valid, or that we are not worthy of having them met.
Sometimes, we might also feel like we have to make deals or concessions
we don’t want to in order to deserve having them met. While you can
certainly get some help and support — and should — in setting and
keeping to your boundaries, this is something that is mostly about you.
If you don’t take your boundaries seriously, it’s going to be mighty
tough for anyone else to. If you don’t present them as perfectly valid,
sovereign, and never apologize for them (or present them as you being
faulty in some way), you can’t expect others to necessarily see them
that way. It doesn’t sound to me like you are at that point yet in
terms of your own perspective, so you’re going to have to do some work
for yourself to get to that place, ideally before you do more dating.

This is what I think you may need, and what I think will best meet
your needs. I’d say that even if I’m wrong in all of these suggestions,
it’s at least worth a try.

1. I feel that it is probably a good idea for you, if you are
going to keep dating, to take things very slow, and to do some talking
with someone you are starting to feel close to in advance about your
needs — primarily about the import of being held, feeling safe and not
getting close if someone is going to blow you off — about what does
and doesn’t work for your body — that intercourse is, for now and who
knows how long, not an option — and about what your previous
experiences have been like in terms of people not honoring their
agreements to respect those needs and about your own troubles with
boundaries. I recognize some of that is heavy, personal stuff, but it
seems to me that it might be wise not for you not to get physical with
someone else until you feel close enough to talk about those things.
I’d also suggest you consider friends-first relationships, where you
develop a core of friendship with someone to some degree before you go
to a romantic or sexual place.

Additionally, it strikes me as wise to take some time to figure out
what you really want sexually. I hear you say you just want to be held,
but I also hear you say that you become aroused by other activities
when they happen instead and "lose the will" to refuse sex. Is this
really about not being able to have boundaries, or is this about you
perhaps also wanting some kinds of sex in addition to being
held (just perhaps on your terms, rather than when someone has promised
to do something else)? I can’t tell by reading, so if you’re not sure
yourself, I’d check in on that and get some clarity.

2. I feel that you need to make sure you are weeding out
people who are not emotionally available to you the very moment you
discover or suspect that they are not. I think you need a very hard
limit on this.

One big part of healthy relationships as well as relationships that
can contain the kind of physical affection you are looking for is both
people being emotionally available to the others. For instance, men who
talk a blue streak about how horrendous monogamy is? Monogamy is not
right for or wanted by everyone, but usually those who know that about
themselves and are healthy people don’t need to demonize it either:
those who go nuts doing that often do so to justify why all they want
is sex. Men who already have partners? From the sounds of things, even
if some of them have fully honest, negotiated open relationships,
that’s not the right thing for you right now. And I think we can agree
that men who already have partners and are flat-out cheating are not a
good choice for anyone. All these kinds of folks are also folks who
probably are not likely to honor your boundaries or who want what you

The long and the short of it? Hold out for the good guys, for people
who really feel — over time — to be in a real alignment with you, and
for people who are both emotionally available and earnestly interested
in being emotionally available to you. Ditch the toxic folks,
the boys-living-in-grown-mens-bodies. You say you crave feeling safe
and relaxed, so that means you need to be choosing people with whom you
feel safe and relaxed in general, way before anyone is getting
physically intimate. I’d suggest also taking some time to look at how
you think of yourself before you start seeking out partnership again.
So, so often, our own sense of worth has a LOT to do with who we pursue
and get involved with. If we think we’re substandard, our standards for
others tend to be just as low.

3. I think you would benefit — and this is usually suggested
with vaginismus in conjunction with physical therapies, anyway — from
some talk therapy: about your vaginismus, the feelings it seems to be
leaving you with, and also about your sexuality in general. When I hear
you say things like, "I have to do anal or oral," some of what I hear
is you giving voice to feeling like given kinds of sex are required
from you, rather than things you earnestly WANT to do, physically and
emotionally, for yourself as well as others. You’d hardly be the first
woman with vaginismus to be voicing and feeling some of the things that
you are, so this is not unfamiliar terrain to therapists who work with
clients with vaginismus or other vulval pain disorders. As well, I
think that some talk therapy, over time, with a good counselor might
help you to find tools to have a sexual and romantic life in better
alignment with your needs, and help with what I think may also be some
self-esteem issues.

4. Lastly, we absolutely CAN ask friends and family to hold
us. By no means is that something we can only ask of a romantic or
sexual partner, or which will only feel beneficial to us when coming
from a sexual or romantic partner. Again, a need for basic physical
contact and affection is a very basic human need: nearly everyone has
that need, and it is not something unusual about you. Maslow’s
hierarchy of needs puts the need for basic affection and safety before
the need for sexual intimacy, and that makes a whole lot of sense.

The idea that anyone who would be physically close to you would
automatically go to sex — or that you would with them — strikes me as
very faulty. Given your experiences, I can certainly understand why
you’d have some issues with trust in that department, but I do think
that has a lot to do with who you are choosing to ask for that from, in
what context and what you might feel you "owe" someone who experiences
sexual feelings while holding you. So, by all means, ask a female
friend or family member if they will hold you when you need to be held:
chances are quite good someone close to you will understand that need,
say yes, and not push or dismiss your boundaries. I also think it might
be good for you to understand that need for affection and basic
creature-contact as not just being about romantic relationships, and to
experience that need not only actually being met, but being met with
people where you don’t have to worry about maintaining your own
boundaries when it comes to sex because they just aren’t interested in
sex with you.

Another option for you to get the kind of contact you want, too, is
through bodywork. If you can swing the expense, a regular massage might
be something that helps meet your needs a lot, and where you can also
feel very secure when it comes to things not going to a sexual place.
As a side bonus, massages help out a lot with managing stress, and can
also help with body image issues, which are probably something you
struggle with just from the vaginismus.

I think any and all of those places would be great places for you to
start, and I wish you the best in getting to a better place with
yourself, your sexuality. Here are a few more links which might give
you some more groundwork for that:

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