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The Sentimental Allure (and Complicated Politics) of the Over-the-Pants Hand Job

“I look back on it with fondness in the sense that I look back on teenage sex stuff in general with some fondness, but there's no special fondness for that experience in particular."

by Maria Yagoda
Jun 30 2017, 6:06pm

Photo courtesy of the author

In a recent column, I mentioned the over-the-pants hand job, and one of several emails I received from random men said, "Btw I loved that you referenced the OTPHJ in your last one, those are my fav [winky face.]" I assumed he was kidding. Who could love a sex thing so unsatisfying you shouldn't legally be allowed to refer to it as a sex thing? Hand jobs alone have long been relegated to the eternally awkward category of teenage hookups, but OTPHJs hold a nostalgic, sentimental place in many of our hearts—even if most of haven't grabbed or been grabbed over cargo shorts since high school.

One friend told me that his first and last OTPHJ took place while watching Scary Movie 3 on a date with a girl. He was in 7 th grade, and it was one of his first sexual encounters, so he remembers it fondly. "It was pretty clumsy, as you'd expect," he said. "I was probably wearing something nuts like cargo shorts, which made it hard for her to get anything going. Also, she was using her left hand and was a righty. I returned the favor." Another man told me that he and his high school girlfriend partook in this genre of protected bathing suit-area play to avoid actually engaging with each other's parts. "My girlfriend and I wanted to touch each other, but were not yet ready to touch each other's actual genitals," he said.

In the realm of early sexual experiences, acts like OTPHJs can be the logical next step after making out. For teens who aren't quite ready to have sex, whether because they're scared about being bad at it or getting shamed by parents, their peers, or the Pope, grabbing at crotches without actually touching them seems like the safe, "moral" option, if not a sexually satisfying one. (Many women I've spoken with even had anal sex as teens as a workaround to avoid losing their virginities, which they believed only applied to vaginal, penetrative sex. Incredible.) "I look back on it with fondness in the sense that I look back on teenage sex stuff in general with some fondness, but there's no special fondness for that experience in particular," he added. I asked him if he thought an OTPHJ would ever come up for him again and he said, no, "but there's some over-the-pants touching as part of foreplay."

And it's true: Most people with penises I spoke with said they enjoyed a good over-the-pants dick rubbing as part of foreplay, because dick rubbing is dick rubbing is dick rubbing. "Longest 'OTPHJ' I ever had was probably like 30 seconds until the pants came off properly, as they're meant to in such situations," one man told me. "It was an escalation from cuddling."

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For some, OTPHJs can be a sexy, secretive thing to do in public places, like the hot sauce station at Taco Bell or the back row of a Megabus. Again, though, after you make it through your teenage years, they lose some luster. "I'd say the exhibitionism of getting off relatively covertly in public was the main thrill," one man told me, adding that that OTPHJs were a fixture in his early hookups with men, usually in cars. "Though now, I'd scoff if someone tried to offer me a dry rub after a date or at home."

All the conversations I had with people about "dry rubs" (craving BBQ now) ended up in pretty much the same place: asking the question, "Are hand jobs, in general, worthwhile?" Many straight women—myself included—don't feel inspired or empowered to do something for someone that he's been doing competently for decades. But it's complicated—I appreciate when a man uses his hands on me, even though I've been doing that very competently for decades. But I resent that, so often, these furtive, public sex acts—the larger umbrella under which OTPHJs fall—center the man as Receiver of Pleasure. Is the assumption that men are just always down for sex stuff, while women need to be, I don't know, taken to dinner first? I resent that, too. (I'm always down!) Many women I spoke to had complicated feelings about hand jobs in general—and not just because the favor is so rarely reciprocated.


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"I think hand jobs need to be left out of the bedroom and only in secluded or hidden public places where you want to feel like you're hiding it but being bad," a woman told me. "Because no one can do a handy better than the owner…so there's no point when you're alone in bed or home."

Another woman told me, "Hand jobs should be banned. 1000 percent." She said she'd much rather give a blow job, for example, which she knows she can execute to completion.

One queer woman I spoke with says she has administered an OTPHJ before—in the back of a cab, once. "I think I definitely get off a little bit on being an exhibitionist," she said. "In that moment, I was just knowing that I was getting someone off, and the driver had no idea, so there was something dangerous and exciting about it. Also, the fun power dynamic of knowing the person you're pleasing has to control herself, but you're doing everything in your power to drive them crazy."

"I don't think I've ever done that."

But this is a rare tale of a pleasurable OTPHJ; the absence of a dick, which is a bit harder to stimulate when cloaked in thick fabric, is an asset here. In fact, many people with penises told me they're too nervous to tell people to stop when they're giving them a bad hand job. The biggest, most recurring problem is the lack of moisture—which OTPHJs only exacerbate. "Girls don't get that they should just spit in their hand and not just sandpaper my dong off with their dry hands," one person told me.

A gay friend, who I'll call Jonathan, was shocked and confused when I asked him about OTPHJs. "You mean, like, my pants are on," he said over text, "and I'm getting a hand job thru the fabric?? Ummm, that's hilarious. I don't think I've ever done that. I always enjoy grinding against other guys when we're making out but it's like strictly foreplay. I don't know if I've ever even had like.... just hands all the way to finish. Never." (When I explained the phenomenon to him a bit more, he said, "Omg you are doing such important work I had no idea!!!" and I felt proud.)

There's something beautifully playful about the OTPHJ, transporting us to our earliest sexual encounters, which were, by all accounts, awful, but so god damn exciting. Though in a fantasy world, men and women would be pleasured under tables the exact same amount.

I don't know anything about the website Total Frat Move and I don't care to, but I do know that in an article written for the site in 2015 called "An Ode to the Over the Pants Hand Job," the anonymous author summarizes the act in a befittingly succinct and tragic way: "As far as sexual acts go, the OTPHJ is probably the least great feeling. It's like the Little Caesars of sexual contact: pretty terrible (relatively speaking), but still pretty good overall because she's hot, and you're ready."

Ah, romance.

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