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Do Not Touch the Hips
Establishing Clear Boundaries

By Barrington H. Brennen, May 14, 2009, 2022



When relating to persons other than our spouses or romantic partners how much touching is appropriate?   Should we touch at all?   Are there areas of the body we should not touch?   The answer to these questions may vary from culture to culture.  However, it seems to be clear across cultures that unsolicited touching by strangers or colleagues is not acceptable. 


Too many women and men have not been taught that there should be boundaries for touching.  Hence, they allow any friend or sometime new acquaintances, to hold on to them, give them lingering hugs, or put their arms around their waists.  They are not aware that they are actually becoming a Public Leaning Post (p.l.p).  They are becoming too familiar and open, making themselves vulnerable to being treated with disrespect and being sexual harassed. 


It is inappropriate for a supervisor to lean over his female secretary, placing his hands on her shoulder, while he reviews her work.  It is equally inappropriate for supervisors to give lingering hugs on handshakes.  Gone is the respect of a descent, short handshake.  I encourage all readers to create a healthy distance between you and your pairs.  Create an “intimate space” around you where only certain individuals, by your permission, can get in.  That’s no kissing, lingering hugs, long handshakes, embraces, etc. 


In 1966, anthropologist Edward T. Hall introduced the term proxemics to describe set measurable distances between people as they interact.  He noted that there are four distances or spaces when we interact to people. 

  • There is the “Intimate distance” for embracing, touching or whispering. Close phase - less than 6 inches (15 cm) Far phase - 6 to 18 inches (15 - 45 cm).

  • There is the “Personal distance” for interactions among good friends. Close phase - 1.5 to 2.5 feet (45 - 75 cm) Far phase - 2.5 to 4 feet (75 - 120 cm). 

  • Then third, there is the “Social distance” for interactions among acquaintances. Close phase - 4 to 7 feet (1.2 - 2.1 m). Far phase - 7 to 12 feet (2.1 - 3.6 m). 

  • The final distance is Public distance used for public speaking.  Close phase - 12 to 25 feet (3.6 - 7.5 m). Far phase - 25 feet (7.5 m) or more. (Wikedpeida). Why would you allow someone in your “intimae space” when that person should not proceed beyond your “social space?” 



Whom should you let touch your hips?  The hips are very intimate parts of the body. Touching the hips give a clear message that you want something more.  If a woman allows that to happen she has given permission to someone to be in her “intimate space” who should perhaps not be allowed closer than her “personal space” (3 feet away), or “social space”   (4-7 feet away).    We get into trouble when are too free with touching.  It could even be the way the pastor shakes the parishioners’ hands at the door, or what kinds of kiss he give to the ladies in the church lobby. 


Boundaries for touching is about

  1. Respect.  Respecting the individual we are with, their wishes, etc.

  2. Emotional safety.  When someone cannot keep their hand to themselves people will not feel emotional safe around them

  3. Familiarity Avoid getting too close with non-romantic partners. Crossing boundaries can be dangerous.


We do not want to be cold and distant people.  We do not want to have an “avoidance society” of people who are afraid to become “intimate.”   However, we can learn to respect each other’s intimate space and avoid getting “too close” physically, yet remaining wonderful friends.   I have wonderful friends who I respect and love dearly.  But I will not invite them into my bathroom with me.


My dear wife Annick is a native of France. French people are known as the most romantic people in the world.  But it seems as though they respect “intimate space” better that most of us.  They normally greet friends and relative with a kiss, four kisses to be exact.  But these kisses are not on the lips, they are on the cheeks.   Only intimate partners (spouses, lovers) kiss on the checks. However, I have noticed in our country and in the United States of America that even social friends, who should not be closer than two feet, kiss on their lips.  This makes me feel uncomfortable when I see this.  


Let’s create healthy boundaries and keep our hands from performing inappropriate touching.




Barrington Brennen is a marriage and family therapist.  Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box CB-11045, or email to  question@soencouragement.org or call 1-242-327-1790 or visit the website www.soencouragement.org







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