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Dry Humping: The Good, the Bad and the Ridiculous

Jessica had left her Kia in a grocery store parking lot three blocks from where we met for dinner. An April thunderstorm dumped rain on Pittsburgh as we ate, and it didn’t let up afterward while we played darts at a nearby bar. It was our second date, and we hadn’t kissed yet. When Jessica accepted my offer to drive her to her car, I hoped to remedy that, though.

I wasn’t disappointed either. She kissed at an aggressive pace, lots of tongue and groping. I shifted into park, and she climbed over the center console. That’s more or less the moment when we began dry humping — the physical motion of sex, but according to Urban Dictionary, with clothes preventing our genitalia from touching.

Did I mention that we were in our mid-30s — in front of a Giant Eagle and in my beige Dodge Neon?

It was the second time I had dry-humped since starting to date again in February after a breakup. I didn’t cum either time, but I still felt embarrassed (and frustrated) afterward. I wanted to go further, but I didn’t: I was looking for something more meaningful than a casual hookup, and I’ve never had a serious girlfriend where sex happened before the fourth date. There are other second-base-level acts we could’ve done instead, but in each instance, the women — both of whom initiated the dry humping — had expressed similar desires to take things slowly.

Still, typically within our culture, dry humping is something to be ridiculed. Before this year, whenever I thought of the act, I thought of the funny dry-humping scene in Bad Teacher.

And when I saw Lady Bird, one of the biggest laughs occurred when the title character tells her best friend about losing her virginity, and then says, “I found when it happened that I really like dry humping more.”

We probably make fun of dry humping because culture warriors like former Senator Rick Santorum suggest that it could be an alternative to having premarital sex (which is why Justin Timberlake’s character in Bad Teacher prefers it to straight-up fucking). Or perhaps it’s because we associate it with adolescence. Morgan Kappler, a 22-year-old student at the University of Pittsburgh, says the words “dry humping” remind her of how boys at her high school would “just go up to a desk or a locker and hump it.” High school boys aren’t the only ones who think this is funny — so do the Kardashians and American Horror Story showrunner Ryan Murphy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpn5N1I1rKI

But if this is how we view dry humping in our society, what’s its role in dating? Were my experiences this spring unusual, or is dry humping something most adults do — at least during foreplay — but rarely talk about?

J. Dennis Fortenberry, an affiliated faculty member at the Kinsey Institute and chief of the division of adolescent medicine at Indiana University, says the latter is probably true, but he couldn’t say for certain due to insufficient data, primarily because experts have always counted it as a form of “petting.”

How could this be, though? “Cat Person,” the viral short story everyone talked about recently, had two dry humping sequences. Some of our favorite movie sex scenes are dry-humping sessions. Many guys who frequent strip clubs pay dancers to dry hump them. And grinding on a dance floor is basically dry humping.

It would seem to me then that dry humping’s importance should be concretely studied and defined. So I took it upon myself to investigate the good, the bad and the ridiculous in the ways of the completely, totally, fully NOT naked lambada.

The Good

1. It’s normal for toddlers to dry hump pillows, stuffed animals and even each other. Sometimes it’s natural instinct; other times they’re imitating something they saw. In both scenarios, however, it’s important to early development. “Human beings need those experiences to help shape their understanding of their own sexuality,” Fortenberry explains.

2. Dry humping is essential to sexual growth for teenagers. Fortenberry says it’s a way to build a “sexual repertoire” in terms of moves and identifying what they like and don’t like. In fact, for some, dry humping is how they experience their first orgasm.

3. It wasn’t necessarily my first orgasm, but it was how I experienced my first orgasm with a member of the opposite sex. It happened while parked behind a church when I was 16. That connection is why I went down a dry-humping rabbit hole after my date with Jessica. I remembered what it felt like to be a teenager. The awkwardness was comical, like when Jessica’s ass honked the car horn. We laughed for a moment, but then we drove a couple blocks away, moved into the backseat and continued writhing all over each other with our clothes on.

4. I was game for more dry humping because Jessica seemed really into it, and I was into her. But due to the lack of research, there’s no way to know if women enjoy dry humping more than men. That said, Shannon Chavez, a psychologist and sex therapist, explains that since most women can’t orgasm from penetration alone, it makes sense that they might like it more. “You’re coming into contact using friction with all of these particular areas of their anatomy that are going to trigger arousal,” she says.

5. Some women also might use dry humping as an audition. It may even present an opportunity to figure out if their date has a “boyfriend dick.” Kappler used it for both of these reasons when she began dating her boyfriend. “I was trying figure out if he was going to just sleep with me and then end it,” she says. An extreme example of this can be seen in Don Jon, when Scarlett Johansson’s character uses dry humping to get the title character, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, to commit to introducing her to his friends and family.

6. Dan Carroll, a 21-year-old Pitt student, doesn’t mind if dry humping is used as a “tryout,” but he prefers if it’s part of foreplay. “It’s enjoyable for a time, but then it’s kind of like, ‘All right, where to from here?’”

7. This male reaction — whatever it might be — is crucial, according to Kappler. In the past, guys have said to her, “I don’t dry hump. I just have sex.” Her boyfriend passed this test; however, he failed the size test. She worried he was too small from feeling his boner through jeans, but says she was pleasantly surprised when their relationship progressed.

8) Chavez says that women who decide dry humping is a test run for sex are probably more interested in how comfortable a man is with his body, similar to dancing. Fortenberry agrees, adding that when adults dry hump, it’s a chance to show off one’s moves: “Rather than seeing it as a sort of reversion to adolescents, I would see it as the use of a skill, one of familiarity.”

9) Christians need dry humping. It’s a way to “cheat” abstinence, like Santorum suggests, and for some, it’s how they discover orgasms.

The Bad

1. I didn’t jizz in my pants with Jessica because that shit is mortifying. On the surface, we seem to attach shame to dry humping because it’s sex without the best parts. But having to cum when our dick is pinned against the inside of our jeans is probably driving the embarrassment. It’s not just a messy proposition either. Fortenberry says cumming in your pants while dry humping could be seen as a form of premature ejaculation.

2. At least when talking about the past, I’m not ashamed to admit it: I blew my load dry humping in high school. The trickiest part back then was talking to my mom when I went home afterward, casually stretching my shirt over the stain on my jeans while I lied about my night.

3. Carroll claims he’s never experienced this, but he did say a boy ran off the dance floor at his senior prom and into the bathroom after grinding with a girl. “Everyone was pretty sure” he came in his pants, he says.

4. The shame attached to jizzing in your pants is so real that I found an online forum where a teenage girl asked strangers for help after her boyfriend started acting weird following their first dry-humping session.

5. The culture of embarrassment begins before nutting is possible. When toddlers are caught dry humping stuffed animals, some parents freak out. But Chavez says scolding can cause compulsive behavior, which often creates anxiety or discomfort around sexuality. “Any sort of shaming around behavior that makes you feel like you’re not normal or that you’re doing something wrong is definitely going to affect how a person feels emotionally and how their body responds physically to different types of sexual pleasure,” she explains.

6. My biggest gripe — beyond the fact that I got tired of the act pretty quickly — was that the friction really irritated my penis. Chafing is no fun — no matter the amount of dry humping involved. And that symbiotic relationship is impossible to untether.

7. All of which is to say: Your dick is gonna be irritated and chafed whenever you dry hump.

8. For Sydney Angelo, a 22-year-old server, dry humping is something straight people do, even though that’s not necessarily the case. As such, she “doesn’t get too much out of it” other than a few laughs. “If I do it, or if my girlfriend does, it’s taken as a joke.”

9. Nonconsensual dry humping is called frotteurism. This type of sexual assault usually occurs on crowded busses and trains, but director James Toback and journalist Mark Halperin have been accused of attacking women in this manner in the workplace as well.

The Ridiculous

1. Branding is everything, and the term “dry humping” is absurd. The current term evokes an image of sandpaper rubbing together, or of a dog smashing your leg. The word “hump” dates back to the 17th century, but dry humping is most likely a 20th century creation. Whatever its origins, its meaning is clear: “The term contains the idea that there’s something incomplete about it, undeveloped, infertile,” Fortenberry explains.

2. This might explain the asinine things my friends said to me after my date with Jessica. One claimed he would’ve refused to dry hump, while another criticized me for not “sealing the deal.” If I’d told them Jessica had given me a “lap dance,” however — which, for the record, is effectively the same thing (again, it’s all about branding) — they probably would’ve approved.

3. Online forums about dry humping are in a class of their own. My personal favorite thread: “Is dry humping a girl in the club alpha?” These two are pretty good, though, too: “What’s the point of dry humping?,” and “WTF is dry humping all about (Serious).”

4. Public displays of dry humping, like this one, are magnificent in their ridiculousness:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bCljeKfSjQ

5. After leaving the grocery store, I parked the Neon in front of a house on a dead-end street, and as Jessica and I rubbed our sweaty, fully clothed bodies together, the guy who lived there returned. His headlights lit up the cab, and we slid down as if we were naked. The man parked in his driveway and stood by his front door, staring for a minute. We called it a night after he entered the house. Jessica and I texted for a few more days, but her response times grew longer and longer until she just stopped. I was disappointed. The dry humping had made me thirsty for more.