The lack of, and necessity for, non-sexual touch is epidemic in the States and I imagine, much of the so-called civilized world. I didn’t get a lot of touch as a kid; my parents were not what I would call the “warm and fuzzy” types. Physical signs of affection were awkward and poo-pooed. Self-destructive habits like smoking and nail-biting, over-eating, and compulsive sex can all be linked to lack of sufficient touch in development, and I’ve battled with all of them. No great mystery as to why I got into the profession of touch.
“Researchers have found that the affectional touch climate in the subject’s family of origin is the major psychosocial variable related to a person’s current sexual attitude and behavior. Subjects who originated from physically affectionate families were more likely to enjoy pleasurable and more frequent experiences in the sexual-affectional aspects of their adult relationships. Adults who experienced rejection and touch deprivation in their childhood tend to treat their adult partners and their offspring in a similar manner.”
The straight up de facto is that touch is a biological NEED: babies die without it. So why would we grow up and be any different? We do not mature out of the need for human connection and touch. Ever.
I’ve been a licensed massage therapist for fifteen years and I give and receive a lot of touch. My massage therapist made a comment that stuck with me. She said ”society has done a good job at weening non-sexual touch out of our culture.” And at the cost of…? A healthy fucking culture maybe?!
Massage, hand-holding, and hugging have all been shown to decrease the stress hormone, cortisol. Not only that, touch releases the cuddle hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin promotes feelings of: devotion, trust, and bonding. Even just a little pleasant physical touch can increase our serotonin and dopamine levels and lead to greater emotional stability.
Therapeutic touch has been around for millennia and is found in the ancient cultures of: China, India, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Now our elders aspire to live as long as possible without assistance and our young adults are applauded for being out on their own. Touch is an ongoing, fundamental human necessity, yet sadly, the older we get, the more “out-of-touch” we become.
I was shocked to read in Randy Hoder’s recent article, entitled Kids Hurt By Litigious Society, that his son, a 16-year-old YMCA summer camp volunteer, was given the directive to not hug the kids. He was coached to side step any oncoming hugs and maneuver into a high-five. No 16 year-olds hugging 8 year-olds at camp? Really? I don’t know about you, but I find this troubling. Studies have shown a touch on the shoulder by a waitress to her customer can increase her tip and a student receiving a pat on the back by a teacher is more likely to participate in class. Don’t you think a hug by a camp counselor could positively shift the experience of a young camper who’s having a crap day? Unfortunately our touch-deprived, device-addicted, litigious society is really fucked up!
The only thing worse than being single and touch-starved is being in a relationship and being touch-starved. The desire for non-sexual touch comes up frequently in traditional partnerships with the women often wanting more connection. Many women state they would be more open to sex with their significant others if random acts of non-sexual touching were more frequent. So guys, if you want more nookie, make a habit of holding her hand and offer to rub her feet or shoulders. If foreplay included a fifteen minute massage I bet the statistics would shift in a heartbeat.
I’ve always had a fascination with soccer, not that I keep score, but because I get off on watching all the young men rub on each other. I find their passionate embraces refreshing. Yet it gnaws at a deep cultural hole in my heart for the good ol’ US of A. Americans tend to either sexualize or infantilize touch. Western, low-touch cultures place value on independence, separateness, and autonomy; while the Mediterranean and Latin cultures place a high emphasis on interpersonal physical touch. Even famously repressed Arab men kiss their friends and walk hand-in-hand down the street.
I believe sexual expression, including sensual and non-sensual touch, is necessary for the wellbeing of our species post-puberty. It is unethical for a society to deprive adults who are incapable of finding sexual expression the right to procure these services. (More about this in a future blog.) Touch and sensual touch are our birthright. Touch heals.
Find intentional and creative ways to touch those closest to you, including YOU. Hold hands, walk arm-in-arm, attend cuddle parties, discover a Karuna Session or get a massage. Offer a neck and shoulder rub or have a conga line massage party or a friendly foot-rub exchange. Find someone to snuggle up with on the couch while watching a movie and don’t forget to spoon. Really, it’s okay to ask, (unless your in YMCA summer camp)
Can I Get a Hug?