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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Non-sexual Touch

I've been researching this for a few months. It was an assignment Therapist gave me before he left. It's something very difficult for me to read about. I don't like the importance I assign to the topic as it applies to my life. I don't like my need for it. I don't like to even think about it. However, as is my custom, I have finished the task and am posting my research and my conclusions about its application to me.

Lesley Karen Lobell, MA (Specializing in Relationships Therapy):

"Many people are afraid of their need for physical closeness. They fear their need to be touched, and try to deny it. Many people think that, other than with a lover, to demonstrate or receive physical affection is a sign of weakness.

"Many people", so this is not exclusively my fear. And I am afraid of it. I don't like it. Apparently my perception that this need is a sign of weakness is not uncommon either.

"Physical contact is a prerequisite both for a healthy individual, and for a fulfilling, mature, loving relationship with a partner.

Okay, and I understand that in context with my relationship with Darrin. However, I don't seem to be able to comprehend that same need outside my marriage. But perhaps this comment is exclusively aimed at couples who are sexually intimate, and I'm fallaciously globalizing it to include close friendships which have no sexual component.

"Our bodies require touch: it relieves stress; it makes us happier and healthier. In our fast-paced lives, however, we often forget the importance of giving and receiving affection through physical touch. We deprive ourselves of this very basic need."

I've never felt that touch was a requirement. Because I don't like to be touched unless I deeply trust the individual from whom that touch comes, it's difficult for me to assign importance to physical affection. Perhaps that's one reason why I feel incredible stress when the need for non-sexual touch asserts itself.

John Gray, PhD

"As children, both boys and girls want to be cuddled. When boys hit puberty, the desire for sexual contact becomes stronger than for non-sexual contact. Women, on the other hand, may never lose that strong need to be held."

Not exactly a hopeful statement for me to read. Somewhere inside me, there is a desire to fill the need for non-sexual touch in one installment, say that it's done, and never feel the need again. I'm guessing that's not how it works.

Linda Marks, MSM

"When people are touch-deprived, they become numb to the fundamental need to touch and be touched. They become touch-phobic, holding a hypervigilant tension in their bodies, keeping others at an emotional distance, operating from the head for protection while disconnected from the body and heart."

Yes, I can certainly see how that can happen. More than that, I submit myself as living proof.

Sarah (found on a blog):

"With old friends, a physical relationship can spring up. It’s acceptable to give girlfriends hugs, backrubs, stroke their hair. Once a relationship has been founded, physical gestures are not as surprising. But it takes extreme trust before this level of a relationship is reached. Many people never even find a friend like this. They simply go through life at arm’s length, trying to connect through words. Is this physicality necessary for a society so intellectually advanced as ours?"

Naturally, given my orientation and the fact that I'm married, there are probably times when the above mentioned contact is inappropriate. Perhaps that explains why I'm more comfortable allowing/seeking touch from men, specifically SSA men. I don't know. I find this confusing.

Aline Zoldbrod Ph.D:

"The benefits of receiving good touch are lifelong and profound. Children who are appropriately and lovingly touched will feel profoundly loved; they will feel they deserve only good things; they will grow up to experience their body as attractive; they will feel lovable; they will grow up to be able to self soothe; their self esteem will be higher; they will feel safe in the world; and they will feel comfortable expressing their own loving feelings to others through touching. Memories of good parental touch last every minute of a child's life, and these visceral, tactile memories of being so cared for can be called up during times of loneliness, stress, or illness.

Wow. I could go on for hours. I'll just say, I was not a child who received appropriate, loving touch as I should have. I did not experience, and still struggle with:
1. Feeling profoundly loved--by anyone.
2. Feeling I deserve good things.
3. Caring about my body (as shown by my need to use self-harm and my eating disorder).
4. Feeling lovable.
5. Ability to self-soothe (again, I resort to running, overwork, etc.).
6. Self-esteem (this is tricky--I know who I am and what I'm good at, but my self-esteem falters when I try to apply it to how others perceive me).
7. Being safe.
8. Expressing love through touch (if you've had a moment of prolonged touch with me, I trust you and love you very much).
I have extremely few memories of good parental touch. This is something I find incredibly regrettable.

"While you can take courses in massage, (even in erotic massage….), there aren't any courses to teach you how to touch your children as they go through different developmental phases and ages. Yet what could be a better legacy to leave your kids? The simple pleasure of routinely being gently bathed, splashing and having water play, then being tucked into bed, hugged and kissed by a mother or a father is more powerful than a million dollar inheritance.

I have nothing to add to this. I can't change my past.

"My own memories of good times with my parents are heavily weighted to times of verbal and physical affection, and they are vivid. My mother generously linked verbal praise and touch. I recall standing in my house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a teenager, wearing a new pale blue flocked dress which set off my green eyes. I was preparing to go out on a date. My mom came up, faced me, took me in her arms, hugged me, and said, "Oh, my angel child." My mom is dead, yet that 40 year old memory still vibrates with feeling. And I always feel beautiful in that color. My father expressed love more by touch than by words. He and I had a ritual of back scratching which lasted throughout our lives. He woke me up for school by scratching my back for years and years. One of my last memories of him, when he was dying of cancer, is lying next to him in bed and scratching his back. The association of back-scratching with love and pleasure and connection permeates my life, and is now a part of my relationship with spouse, friends, and my kids.

Again, nothing to say, except that she was incredibly blessed, in my opinion.

"If you came from a neglectful or abusive home, it can be painful to get in touch with what you didn't have. But it can be a growth point, a way of opening yourself up to feeling more. Think about ways to reach out physically, and pick one which doesn't intimidate you. Handholding, for instance. Then just try it. And even if it feels awkward at first, feel good about yourself for persevering."

Okay, I have a phobia about touching hands. It takes a lot for me to do that, and I'll even avoid a handshake, if possible. It's not about germs or cleanliness. It just seems to be something that I can share only with a person I truly love. In reference to that paragraph, as a whole, I have to say, I am trying. It's a slow process. It takes me a very long time to build the trust necessary to allow someone to touch me, and it takes even longer for me to want to reciprocate that touch. Hugging is not included in this. A hug lasts just a few seconds, and there is relatively no skin-to-skin contact (I love clothes), so I'm able to give the impression that touch has no impact on me when I meet people, since I will usually offer a hug over a handshake.

During a moment when I shared touch with a friend recently, my hand brushed his jaw/cheek. I am interested in how vividly I can recall the sensation. Skin contact is still something I have to steel myself to allow. The aversion comes not because it is distasteful, but because it inspires fear. In the above example, I did not move my hand, but allowed the contact to persist--waiting, I suppose, for the fear to subside, which it did. Perhaps there is hope for me after all.

I suppose to someone who feels less stress in learning about this topic, I seem neurotic and odd. I'm sure they're probably right. I wish I could discuss this with Therapist. I miss him.


  1. Thanks for this post, Sam.

    Yeah, that's all I'll say.

  2. I don't think this seems odd. You're not the only one who feels weird about non-sexual touch. I can't say I do, but I know my mom does. Someone with the kind of experiences you've had would obviously have feelings like this. If I've read correctly, most of the time when you were little, if someone was touching you it was a horribly bad thing. That seems pretty normal for all touch to be scary after that. It sounds like you're really making some improvements though. I hope you're able to get as much of it as you need.