On the Eroticism of Lesbian Hands

Lesbians have a thing for hands and it’s not just a sexual thing. Gay and lesbian people have been restricted in their public displays of affection. Still to this day, flagging yourself as homosexual in public can be a brave, but dangerous, act. Countless lesbians have discussed times they’ve been stalked by men (on foot or in their car), been yelled at, been asked invasive questions, been fetishized, or been looked at with disgust for holding their partners hand in front of others.

In saying that, there’s no denying that hands are often an important part of lesbian sex and that’s part of why we are so obsessed with them. There is a TikTok trend where lesbians post videos of their hands for each other’s pleasure:

This isn’t just a fetish, like some have for feet or elbows or whatever. Lesbian hands are as natural a part of lesbian sex as a penis is for most heterosexual couples.

Hand-holding as resistance

Nicole Phillip interviewed people in same-sex relationships about the homosexual experience of hand-holding in public for The New York Times. Evan, 28, said that the first time he held hands with another guy in public was when he was 27 years old. He “felt strongly enough about [him] to not be ashamed.” He said “I felt so in love that I didn’t care what anyone else thought. Regardless of the reasoning, I still get uncomfortable — but I give my partner a death grip as if to tell him, and the world, that I’m proud and I’m not letting go.”

Alison Knudson, 43, thinks back to 1996, the first time she held a woman’s hand in public. It was a natural reaction to the overwhelming feelings she had for her girlfriend, but she was quickly punished for it. She says, “I grabbed my girlfriend’s hand and was promptly threatened by an angry young man who fantasized in great detail about blowing my head off with a shotgun.”

While same-sex hand holding is erotic — it can be both exciting and dreadful — it’s also a political act of resistance. We know what may happen to us for doing it. For many people, including myself, that person must be worth the risk. My love for them must outweigh my fear. There’s a risk of becoming the object of the male gaze by touching hands in public. Even if the heterosexual association with hands might not be as blatantly sexual as it is for lesbian women, it’s understandable for lesbians to keep our sex lives private.

Hands are often featured in Jenna Gribbon’s art that depicts her and her girlfriend, Mackenzie, together. In Riding above ground, with you, Gribbon highlights the significance of same-sex hand-holding in public:

Oh, the eroticism!

Let’s get real: lesbians also love a woman’s hands because they’re handy (ha!) when it comes to sex. Whether it be romantic touch while watching movies together or full-blown sex, the eroticism is clear.

Art about lesbians, especially those set or written in more closeted times, makes hands the focal point. Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt (more commonly known as Carol since the release of the Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara adaptation) about a young photographer who falls in love with a rich, married older woman, expresses the significance of lesbian touch in homophobic times. Falling in love is one thing, but conveying that love when homosexuality is unspeakable is another.

In the novel, Therese watches Carol’s hands as they perform. Kristen Arnett writes for Electric Lit:

“Carol’s hands become the impetus for the erotic…[Therese] watches Carol’s hands like she might watch a barometer. By viewing what the hands do, she’s able to ascertain what is wanted from her. Do the hands coax? Are they pushing Therese away; are they standoffish and flighty? A fundamental element of eroticism is the tension of what might be. We understand Therese’s longing as it pertains specifically to Carol’s hands.”

Lesbian hands work as sexual organs. It’s impossible for heterosexual people to feel the same way about hands. For example, Jenna Gribbon’s artwork Erotic hand in public is subtly sexual; it’s a secret symbol subject to the lesbian or bisexual eye:

Lesbian hands get more erotic the more private the environment becomes. They beckon us to the bedroom. Or the kitchen counter top. Whichever you make it to first after the hands put you under their spell. There is an eroticism in public hand-holding for lesbians because it combats shame. It’s an act of pride, which brings the couple closer in many ways, including sexually.

Touch is important for most lovers, sure, but it is very significant for a lesbian, when you live in a society that tells you you’re supposed to be touched by a man. You’re not making the choice to be a lesbian, but you’re choosing to be true to your sexual orientation through the act of touch. You’re resisting the condemnation of what these hands want to do: whether that be hand-holding on the street or touching your partner during sex. Lesbians eroticize each other’s hands because they represent saying “yes!”

AJ Kelly

Contact AJ at [email protected] or view the rest of her work on

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