Redditor Herbert_W used to “have no strong feelings” when it came to holding hands with someone in public. But then he stumbled upon the debased smut circus that is r/handholding — a NSFW subreddit dedicated to “pure depravity,” where the No. 2 rule is “No nudity allowed. We’re not into that vanilla shit.”
Now that he lurks in a forum dedicated to the sinful act of clasping a partner’s palm in yours, Herbert_W “can understand why holding hands makes some people blush.” With nearly 31,000 subscribers and several new posts a day, r/handholding has a large, dedicated audience of sweaty-palmed kinksters. What is it about the subreddit that’s turning guys like Herbert_W into such sexual deviants?
The Origins of the Hand-Holding Meme
“R/handholding is a perfectly wholesome subreddit dedicated to the innocent yet intimate act of holding hands, which presents itself as a pit of depravity as a joke.”
That’s one of the subreddit’s top posters, GiruSatuku. He explains to me that treating hand-holding as a NSFW act is a meme whose origins lie deep in the archives of 4chan. The “depraved fetish” of hand-holding started on 4chan’s “Hentai/Alternative” board /d/.
“It was basically a joke thread like some of the other joke threads on that board, where instead of BDSM or other unconventional stuff, there was just wholesome, cute and consensual porn,” GiruSatuku explains. “Hand-holding was the safe-for-work extreme version of happy sex, and [it] made the thread stand out even more.”
Such 4chan handholding threads can be found archived here and here — but be warned they’re still NSFW. It is 4chan, after all, an actual den of sin, known for forums dedicated to anime, internet filth and far-right conspiracy theories.
“Remember that the common stereotype of a 4chan user is that they are a lonely virgin,” GiruSatuku adds. “So handholding is still a high level of physical contact with other people that they haven’t yet reached.”
GiruSatuku explains that since the meme started on a hentai board, that’s the reason most of r/handholding is images pulled from anime and manga.
R/Handholding Is More Highbrow
Compared to the anything-goes madhouse of 4chan, the subreddit r/handholding is considered a bit more whitewashed and moderated. Where a hand-holding thread on 4chan might delve into actual, non-ironic depravity, those on r/handholding consider themselves a bit more highbrow.
Describing the differences between the two, GiruSatuki explains that on the subreddit, “we [subscribers] keep the joke going as well as unironically enjoying the intimacy of handholding… we enjoy art of the intimacy of handholding and have fun viewing it as the zenith of degenerate pornography, even marking images as NSFW by default.”
For Herbert_W, r/handholding is about being “cute, but also darkly humorous.” It’s about how “changing the meaning of a commonly depicted act injects new meaning into existing stories,” he says, adding that the meme adds new implications to established anime storylines.
If two characters in an anime storyline were sharing a quiet, non-sexual moment of holding hands — suddenly pixelating the act changes the storyline: Now, they’re engaging in a depraved fuck session.
“The new implications often sit severely at odds with that which was originally intended,” Herbert_W explains. “This was my first encounter with the idea that hand-holding could be anything other than a simple and innocent form of physical contact, or a way to keep children from wandering off. It’s still not an idea that I’ve seen outside of that sub.”
R/Handholding Is Subversive Commentary on Our Puritanical Societal Norms…
Another top poster, u/YuriRedFox6969, adds that it’s how the sub “overplays the prudish nature of sexuality and sex” that turns ideas of sexual purity on its head.
“[The subreddit] takes hand-holding to the extreme by making fun of sexual purity and what’s considered to be depraved… it lays bare the absurdity of repressed sexuality that it is imposed by society that has arbitrary values on what is acceptable or not.”
…But It’s Also About Gawking at Cute Anime Girls
YuriRedFox6969 adds that simply being a fan of anime genre “Yuri,” aka “girls’ love,” informs a lot of the content on r/handholding: “I post cute adorable pictures of girls holding hands… it’s probably the most innocent forms of expressing love.”
Another top poster, u/HoloFan4Life, also says they love the subreddit “because you see tons of pictures of cute anime girls.” But beyond that, it’s how the sub treats “something innocent as more explicit than sex.”
“It’s a subreddit filled with smut and filth. It’s the most lewd, obscene act known to mankind that thousands of weebs enjoy because we’re a bunch of degenerates,” HoloFan4Life tells MEL. “I love posting there, as people play up the joke by pretending to be offended and acting like they’re going to call the police. It’s a lot of fun.”
Herbert_W says all the above may be true: It’s a wholesome place where people can pretend to be offended, while turning sexual norms upside-down, with cute anime girls sprinkled throughout as a bonus… but maybe it’s something more sinister.
Even if it’s a joke, Herbert_W says, certain things people say habitually “end up affecting the way that they think.” He continues: “Pretending that something is a fetish won’t make it actually a fetish, of course, but it does deepen people’s appreciation for it on some level.”
“Or…” Herbert_W ponders, “it’s actually a pit of depravity, masquerading as a wholesome subreddit whose depraved nature is feigned in jest… such that its true depraved nature will be overlooked. After all, the most convincing way to lie to is tell the truth and not be believed.”
But “there are kids on there,” he concludes, “so let’s hope for the former.”