Grinding: The New “Can I buy you a drink?”

disco queenHere’s the Wikipedia definition for grinding: “Grinding is a type of close partner dance where two or more dancers rub their bodies (especially the genitalia) against each other in a sexually suggestive manner. It has gained popularity at high school and middle school dances especially in the United States where there have been cases of administrators attempting to ban it due to its explicit nature and incidence involving injury.”

Grinding or “freaking” on the dance floor is completely divisive in the reaction it elicits. People under the age of 40 are well accustomed to it and accept it as a fairly normal variety of club dance. Older generations are horrified and find it grotesque and inappropriate. It’s classic culture clash. Siri Agrell in Canada’s The Globe and Mail (November 22, 2007)  says that, “a growing body of research has found that sexually explicit styles of dancing do not lead to casual sex. To those who study human sexuality, modern dance club culture is actually more indicative of an evolution in courtship.”

Agrell quotes Columbia University socio-medical sciences professor, Dr. Munoz-Laboy who says, “Participants in these dances are actually bound by “an elaborate set of cultural rules – a veritable etiquette of gendered scripts for appropriate male and female conduct.” In a study published this month in the journal Culture, Health & Sexuality, Dr. Munoz-Laboy wrote that, “young women are the gatekeepers of dancing boundaries in the hip-hop scene. Even though most dances in hip-hop clubs involve grinding … there are levels of physical closeness that men cannot cross.” This seems to accurately reflect your average club etiquette where grinding is OK but overly tactile (male or female) dancers often end up shunned, nursing a lonely beer outside.

Agrell notes that Kingston physician Jonathan Huber, 32, published a report called “Sexually Overt Approaches in Singles Bars” in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. In it, he states that grinding is simply part of a new script for twentysomething flirting and picking up.  “It’s the new ‘Can I buy you a drink?'”

Some would cite this as indisputable evidence that cultural norms since the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s have grown increasingly base and animalistic and that the answer to it all is a cultural clampdown of fundamentalist fervor. Others, like Huber, take a more anthropological approach to grinding and see this as a neutral evolution in social interaction.

“This is a complete reversal,” he said of the behaviour he observed in bars in Ottawa and Guelph, Ont., while doing his research. “The touching happens at the beginning and only do the other things flow after that. It’s sexually overt on paper, but the intent is not sexually overt.” (The Globe and Mail)

All of this said, it is hard to discount the views of cultural conservatives that are quick to claim that this kind of social interaction, whether or not it leads to sex, is not helpful if what you want is to find a quality romantic partner. Just because grinding is acceptable club behavior and may even be part of modern courtship doesn’t make it a substitute for coffee and conversation.  Fair point.  But understanding the ‘ins and outs’ of grinding will at least make you a savvier and perhaps less pervy addition to the dating marketplace.


Bjorn Karlman

65 thoughts on “Grinding: The New “Can I buy you a drink?””

  1. Nanette, thanks for the very thorough reflection… I agree with most of what you said. To clarify, my objective in this post was basically to describe a social phenomenon, not to make a serious value judgment. I am of the opinion that if both young and old have more information about current trends, they may be able to form more helpful attitudes and we may experience more tolerance and responsibility in society..

  2. Hey Bjorn,

    It’s very interesting to me that you should write about “grinding”. I’m from Trinidad & Tobago, and since I was a child, “grinding” was a popular, and sometimes the main formof dancing seen at parties everywhere. In fact, as far as I know, it is STILL the main form of dancing seen at clubs in Trinidad and especially during the Carnival season.

    Of course in Trinidad, there is also the manner of dancing called “wining”- where the person rotate their hips in an erotic manner- when two people “wine” on each other, it often turns into “grinding”.

    Now, I have not been to that many other Caribbean islands, but based on conversations I have had with Caribbean friends, they are well used to “wine” and “grind” as well. What I was surprised to find out is that grinding is now popular in the U.S. If those opposed to grining could only visis Trinidad & Tobago during Carnival, Lord alone knows what some of the critics would say! LOL

    Good article!


  3. ” If only those opposed to grinding could only visit Trinidad….”

    (Sorry, I forgot to check my spelling:)

  4. Leslie-ANN!!! How’s it going? Thanks a lot for the comments… and great to get some perspective from Trinidad & Tobago… I remember “wining” from my West Indian friends in the UK… And I could only IMAGINE what Carnival must be like over there… probably makes Vegas look tame…

    I would love to have you be a regular on this blog… let me know if you want to write a post, OK?

  5. If we are still talking about the mullets… they actually were pretty cool looking… had me converted after a few months of seeing them sported by EVERYONE

  6. Hey bjorn! long time no talk.

    so my take on grinding? well when I was younger it just seemed like an okay thing to do. Teasing boys was just fun and nothing would ever come of it because i was in jr. high or high school. The guys would jut go home extreemly frustrated but not have any kind of expectations.

    Today it’s a whole different world. in the few, very very few short years I have been out of highschool the sexualization of teenagers has intensified on t.v. and all kinds of media. while the exploitation of women has been around for quite some time it seems that it’s focus on younger and younger teenage women has gotten out of hand. So has the pressure on younger men to be more sexually aggressive and have expectations of women that previous generations didn’t have. at least that is what it seems like to me.

    While i still enjoy blues dancing which has a fair amount of griding, it is a differnt culture of people (the same people who do wholesome swing dancing) and know proper dance ettiquete.

    when i went to a club and went dancing..although i was NOT grinding some random guy grabbed my goods! that may have just been a passing groper. the point is the kind of guys who go to nightclubs to “grind” arent there to dance, they are there on the hunt! at least have the decency to buy me a couple of drinks BEFORE you try to grind on me cheapo! no shortcuts.

    ha ha… just kidding.

    grinding is NOT courting.. courting comes first not the other way around.

Comments are closed.