You’re in the movie theater, and it’s dark, and you’ve got one hand in the popcorn and one hand on your man’s leg. Is this wrong? How about at a dinner party with friends? In a pew at church? Magazines, etiquette books, and blogs constantly debate the positives and negatives of public displays of affection (PDA), but I was more curious about the opinion of the average Jane on the street.
Given our country’s Puritanical rep, you might expect a lot of “Get a room!” reactions to questions about the appropriateness of inner thigh touching in public. Jackie*, a 38 year old from Florida, had a more pragmatic response. “I don’t see anything wrong with it. If someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to look.”
While Jackie didn’t change her answer for context, many of the gals I questioned felt the location mattered. Priscilla, a 23 year old from São Paulo, Brazil, replied: “At informal environments like parks, movie theatres, cafés et cetera, I think it’s alright to touch your man on the inner thigh. But, if the couple is sharing a sofa, while having tea with someone’s aunt– maybe not so much.”
Another issue that arose, no pun intended, was just what was meant by “inner thigh”. Or as my friend Poule joked, “Is ‘inner thigh’ a euphemism for ‘scrotum’?”
Danielle from North Bay, Ontario, linked the appropriateness to hand placement. “If your hand is three inches down from his crotch and your hand is just resting there, then I see no problem with that. However, if your hand is pretty much groping his crotch in every way imaginable, then yeah, it’s inappropriate.”
Julianne Bentley, a sex writer and life coach, agreed. “Going for the goodies is pretty much always inappropriate in public, but a hand on the leg can be quite innocent.”
Intent also mattered to these gals. “As long as it’s just that affectionate gesture, I have no problem with it,” said Beth, a 34 year old from Atlanta. “If it’s the start of, for lack of a better term, hanky panky, then no dice.” Mags, an editor from Philadelphia, felt the same: “Affection is okay; foreplay is not.”
Florida native Katie felt this was another case of context, however. “For instance, if you and your partner are attending a small gathering of friends…touching his thigh and making eye contact to show that you want to get busy when you get home…now, that’s just fun!”
So, is inner thigh touching more than just a prelude to sex? Mags felt grabbing your man’s leg could be “…a gesture of comfort, attention, affection, and reassurance.”
Brenda, a 39 year old from LA, considered it “both flirtatious and a subtle sign of possession.”
Jackie, a gal from Scotland who’s been married for 16 years, considered thigh touching a very good thing. “I am actually delighted that after so long with one person, I still want to touch him. Thinking about it now, there [is possibly] a touch of possessiveness in it — ‘this is mine!'”
Berlin native Karina, however, felt it wasn’t anything to fuss over. “My hand on his inner thigh is an affectionate gesture, nothing more. There are other ways to show possessiveness.”
What about the people not involved in the PDA? Miss Manners herself is all for affectionate PDA, but clarifies: “The activity that we are really discussing involves two people concentrating intently on each other and ignoring those around them. And ignoring people is rude.”
Martha, a 44 year old mother of two from the UK, agrees. “Your freedom to swing your arm stops where my nose starts. So, if you are in public, mixed company including strangers, older people, teenagers, anyone at all who might be made to feel uncomfortable, then to me it is common sense that you behave appropriately.”
Martha also brings up another important party in this situation–the owner of that delectable inner thigh. “He still has a right not to be pawed if he is not in the mood, or if there’s been any anger or upset, or if there’s something in your action which he finds aggressive or disrespectful.”
Marguerite Salmon, a marriage and family therapist, urges couples to discuss the whole idea of PDA to avoid misunderstandings. “Ask them exactly which actions make them cringe, as well as which situations.” As we see above, different people have different ideas of what is acceptable and where.
And while the guy may not mind a bit of touching or groping, not all women go for it. I did receive a few unequivocal “no” answers about inner thigh-touching. Teri, who’s been married for 19 years, wrestled with the context issue: “I’m trying to think how the opportunity would present itself. In a dark movie theater, who’s going to see? At a dinner party under the table, still not appropriate but again, who’s gonna see? But I’ll still stick with ‘no’.”
Roxy, an artist from New York who’s been married for over 23 years, was adamant about the surroundings. “In a place of worship, a big absolute NO. At the kid’s soccer game, on the bleachers, another NO.” She was open to a bit of affection on dates for two, however. “As long as it isn’t something so probing that it will make your man jump out of a seat — and as long as it is kept as a discreet, gentle, brief, but a sexy reminder that you love him — why not?”
The overall consensus? Pay attention to where you are, and who you are with. Consider the guy’s feelings. And if you’re in a very public setting, keep the thigh touching to a mere affectionate pat, and save the groping for at home or the back of a taxi. Scratch that–taxi canoodling is probably a whole ‘nother can of etiquette worms!
*Some names have been changed, according to individual requests.