Touch and Intimacy – We All Need It

Sometimes it’s not all about sex, even in the online world. Intimacy might be just a euphemism for sex for some people, but in reality it’s a lot deeper than just physical satiation.

In my last article I talked about my views on what makes good and bad sex, and right up there in the domain of ‘ídeal’ is that feeling of connection, when someone ‘gets you’, perhaps understands you or at least is willing to try.

Connection can be purely physical too – pheromones that sing when you are together, kissing that melts your tight little corners of fear or apathy, or that oozy feeling of togetherness even in silence, skin to skin.

Perhaps there is no easy way to define human connection – whether it be emotional, cerebral, horndog lustful or sublimely spiritual. Maybe these are all part of the same wonder that is life?

The search for connection, whether or not it is clearly articulated, is common to most people online dating. It’s a sad and depressing fact of modern life that many people simply do not have regular touch in their lives, or the touch they experience has become perfunctory or superficial. It no longer lights their fire, makes them feel alive or desired.

There is a popular view that singles enjoy incredible sex with a variety of partners. “The reality is that many [single] people go for long stretches of time without having sex,” Rachel Hills, author of The Sex Myth says.

When I first separated from my ex, I had a year as a newly single person trying to get my head around my altered life and make it work as a revised family of three with my two children, who live with me full time. I didn’t give a second thought to meeting someone new and my days were full of the distractions of a busy life, satisfying intellectual work through my writing projects, the day job (also enjoyable) and the pleasures of friendship – as well as those indescribable joys of my ex-husband being wonderfully absent.

With only the (welcome) touch of my friends and children to soothe me, I soon realised how touch starved I was. This certainly affected my early liaisons with men I met online. Like a purring kitten, my unashamed and vocal reactions to being touched and to touching were partly amusing to me and my mate, and partly embarrassing. In this story, and this one, I mention my reactions to being touched again by a new man, after two decades of being monogamous

Give me touch

Not long after I met my last long-term partner, we shared Freya Watson’s article, The Power of Touch, and he wholeheartedly agreed. He recognised the value that I brought to him in my touch and the intimacy between us that was not purely sexual, but included elements of kindness, tolerance, acceptance, sensuality and gratitude. It was a very special time, that first year, when I lowered my defences and rediscovered intimacy with a new partner who was half my age and of a different generation. It speaks volumes about the power of touch, intimacy and connection to build bridges and bring people together.

I learned, partly through him and also through other strong heart connections, that touch is healing; it is nourishing to our souls in the same way that food is to our bodies – and it is deeply human.

“Touch is the first sense we acquire and the secret weapon in many a successful relationship,” writes Rick Chillot in Psychology Today (March 2013). He quotes DePauw University psychologist Matthew Hertenstein in his article, who says, “This is a touch-phobic society. We’re not used to touching strangers, or even our friends, necessarily.”

Chillot says that during childhood we learn about touch and its ability to soothe – sadly, childhood is the peak time for touch in most of our lives. Our comfort level with being touched also develops then, and our instincts to touch or our desire to be touched are thought to be largely determined by our environment (the nurture argument).

“By the time we’re adults, most of us have learned that touching tends to raise the stakes, particularly when it comes to a sense of connectivity,” writes Chillot. Touch can be a bonding opportunity between parent and child, between friends or lovers. Oxytocin levels rise, heart rates go down – and best of all, the benefits are mutual. Hertenstein says, “You can’t touch without being touched. A lot of those same beneficial physiological consequences happen to…the person doing the touching.”

It goes both ways

Perhaps because of this very beneficial nature, touch is a fundamental way that we foster and communicate intimacy in romantic relationships.

“One paper proposed a sequence of 12 behaviors of increasing intimacy that couples generally follow,” says Chillot. “After the first three (eye-to-body contact, eye-to-eye contact, and speaking), the remaining nine involve touching (starting with holding hands, then kissing, and eventually sexual intimacy).”

Touch does not typically continue to escalate, though, with research showing that the amount of touching between couples rises at the beginning of a relationship, peaks somewhere early in a partnership, and then tapers off.

“While couples who are satisfied with each other do tend to touch more, the true indicator of a healthy long-term bond is not how often your partner touches you but how often he or she touches you in response to your touch,” Chillot explains.

“The stronger the reciprocity, the more likely someone is to report emotional intimacy and satisfaction with the relationship. As with many things in relationships, satisfaction is as much about what we do for our partner as about what we’re getting.”

In Why a Lover’s Touch Is So Powerful Aaron Ben-Zeev says that touch plays a crucial role in generating and enhancing love. “Touch is critical for children’s growth, development, and health, as well as for adults’ physical and mental wellbeing,” he writes. The ‘touch hunger’ in many western societies like Australia, America and Britain is fast becoming the norm.

Freya Watson writes “It was two in the morning and I was awake again, tossing and turning under the quilt with a restless yearning. My body has been used to being held, loved, stroked and pleasured, and it was suffering withdrawal symptoms…It wasn’t sex I was after – it was loving touch.” (Elephant Journal April 2013)

The search for intimacy is not always about sex, whether or not people allow themselves to realise it. The search for sex, however, can also be plain and simple – the search for newness, for novelty, for exploratory, primal or risky sex. The desire to ‘ramp up’ our sex lives may be behind a lot of infidelity. More on the hot topic of infidelity in a later article.

One interesting statistic is that in 2014, 68% of single men and 57% of single women said they wanted more sex. They would like sex two or three times a week. ( Presents The 4th Annual Singles In America Study: Sex And Singles)

Betina Arndt is an Australian writer who has explored on many occasions how differences in sexual drive or desire can influence the success (or otherwise) of a partnership. (See ‘High Fidelity’ Inquirer The Australian January 2015, )

Neil Bartlett, who writes for The Guardian, says in Your Sexual Fantasies: The Results Are In, “a lot of people complain that work leaves them too little time for sex. Others are very specifically angry about the influence of porn on young men. Disappointment, frustration and confusion are universal and multi-gendered…

“My own advice to my younger self… would be simple: when we have sex, we’re not looking for plumbing – but for meaning.”

For me, intimacy as opposed to this new technology-enabled ‘false intimacy,’ is fundamental to my search for a partner or partners. Intimacy or meaningful connection, is a key theme in every experience I write about on this journey.

I don’t just desire intimacy through sex, although sex as a spectrum of romantic intimacy is pretty damn special, if not the ultimate expression of sensation, lust and emotion.

I also value intimacy generated through simple, everyday touch – the brush of a hand, a stroking of my face, a hand on my knee or the back of my neck, a sensual massage, a hug or a long embrace.

I’d love to read your thoughts on the value of intimacy versus sex in your life, and if one or the other is missing, how that makes you feel. It’s worth remembering that we’re not weak for needing touch and intimacy – we are only human.


47 thoughts on “Touch and Intimacy – We All Need It

  1. I couldn’t agree more with this. One of the things I frequently say to my wife is, “You’re good for what ails me.” I tell her that when we are snuggled, hugging, touching, not when having sex. She melts me, no matter how stressed I may be from the day. And it’s the touch, and touching her, that does that. 😊

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Totally agree. Just met up with someone who is there for me. In 23 years since my brother was killed I can go to ‘professional’ after ‘professional’ and it just isn’t on their radar why or I could still have a tear in my eye and be ok.
    It puts them in a fantasy realm. Granted I could rip their arms off at the shoulder though I never would as perhaps I was brought up better than them, I just don’t know why it can be rocket science albeit on a hobby basis for some people to touch or laugh.
    The last time I ever saw my brother he hugged me and said he loved me and I am the only person who wasn’t too busy for him or didn’t want something from him. Medical people have done their darndest to keep me from connecting though now enough people have figured it out

    Liked by 2 people

  3. There is something so soothing and calming having someone just hold you or stroke you.
    One of my favorite parts of sex is the after glow when I have me head on his chest and his hands are slowly stroking or tickling my lower back.
    Im not a touchy feely person in general but it was the one thing I miss the most about not having a partner to come home to… I have a dog who gives a great cuddle but that’s about it!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. It’s not as simple as that, but yes, it can contribute. So can anxiety, a history of poor sleep, alcohol abuse, living alone/under stimulated, and lack of daily touch. My Mum (who has been diagnosed with the onset of it) ticks all those boxes I’m afraid

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Reading this reminded me of a leadership training I went on when my boys were at that younger hug mom all day stage. From Friday morning when I said goodbye to Sunday evening when I returned home, I’d not been hugged. (Handshakes are very sterile.) I was an emotional basket case! When I got back and held my boys, it was then I realized what I’d been needing. Just to be affirmed as someone needed in a hug.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I enjoyed reading this and agree with what you say, as you probably would have suspected. I had a surprisingly emotional response to it though which I need to think about for a while. I do wonder if, like myself, a person is touch starved throughout their childhood – does this create a bottomless pit of need which can never be filled? I could quite happily accept hugs all day long and probably never feel complete.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes I thought you might. The bottomless pit of need is a good analogy and that may be true for some people. For others, if they are touch deprived in childhood that goes to the heart of attachment issues (the first 3 years especially), and attachment issues affect not only your emotional development but also your whole brain development. Have you read much on attachment theory, pioneered by John Bowlby. I will send you a link to a book I have been looking to read, thanks to the inspiration of G from Bone and Silver. In the latter scenario, people are never comfortable with touch and shy away from it, also having great trouble relating to people, feeling and showing empathy and forming/sustaining relationships. Attachment and touch are crucial for human babies and children.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a copy of Bowlby’s book ‘Attachment’ on the shelf next to me as I write. Next to it is Paul Gilbert’s ‘The compassionate mind’ which I would heartily recommend. Both were suggested to me by my therapist. I think she was both happy with my interest in the therapeutic process and frustrated that I kept trying to intellectualise the whole thing instead of just trusting it!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Agreed. Thankfully my therapist encouraged my interest whilst still keeping therapy on track. But I still feel it would not have taken over a year if I had not tried to deconstruct everything!

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Very relevant. I’m writing a blog on this at a moment. I’ve met a guy online and we have long talks about touch and intimacy that goes beyond sex. If we ever met it’s going to be explosive, putting the sex aside. I think more than anything this is what I currently crave most. Touch, sensation, intimacy that isn’t about ‘getting banged’. It’s essential. I think it’s why I love massage so much in any sense of the act. It sets of relaxation reactions in my body I don’t get from anything else. Great stuff. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. “It’s worth remembering that we’re not weak for needing touch and intimacy – we are only human.”

    I need to remind myself that sometimes. That it’s okay to say actually, I kind of need you to hold me right now. I used to think cuddling and wanting to hold someone’s hand and kisses on the cheek/forehead whatever were all signs of an intimacy I didn’t want. It can be, it can be signs on an attraction and connection on a deeper level, or it can be the building of a relationship, or a sign of something you just needed in that moment.

    At the same time, if I’m pissed off at a situation, and if someone’s response is, aw, let me give you a hug, I will just want to set their skin on fire if they try. *shrug* It can come and go.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. How did I miss this post???!

    I agree with everything you’ve said. I was touch-deprived for so long in my marriage and I’m still catching up on filling that empty basket 3.5 years later. My body craves touch.

    As I recently experienced with Dulce, I was shocked to find that I cannot fully enjoy sex unless there is touch and intimacy as well. Post-sex snuggles are the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I agree. There is a world of difference between ‘just sex’ and physical/emotional intimacy with someone you actually care about. Glad you found this post – it’s been one of my most popular. It’s a good twin with the post about good and bad sex.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. (posted this in the wrong place initially)

    The content and choice of topics for this post is most perspicacious.

    I had to be taught by others who are more gifted in this form of communication; I was always more visual, and had know Idea I was missing 99% of the what touch was all about.

    It blew me away when well into adulthood, I realized that touching can do much of what words or paint can do; and, can get closer to someone’s heart, repair disconnection and convey love and appreciation in ways nothing else can, closer to the person.

    Thank you for a most thoughtful, and thought provoking post.This is a very

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ahh yes! I realised I had become a person who was a self described ‘not super huggy person’ – ie felt weird being hugged by people I didn’t really know well, and didn’t really like even accidentally touching people on public transport or even on the couch with a friend or family member. I realised that I had such little touch in my life that whatever touch I did receive meant so much more – so I was more guarded about it. I’m tryna be more free about it in a platonic sense.

    I also realised midway through this year that my desires for physical intimacy were clouding my desires for romantic partnership – would be on a date with a dude with whom there was no potential but still wanted to pash him or hold his hand. So I explored physical connection through a site that was just for that and found it liberating and confidence boosting. I mean, the real kicker is when you have intimacy borne not just of physical vulnerability but emotional as well, but I aint hanging around waiting for that.

    Anyway super long reply soz, just catching up on posts and loving reading your thoughts again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks DD and I’m always happy to hear your thoughts. Do you feel like naming the site you mentioned? I’m curious, and it’s great that you found something to meet your needs. I did have a stint on various NSA-type sites, and I think I even wrote a post or two about it! The first time around I found the men to be more polite and less inclined to think they could just hook up sight unseen, compared with your average guy on a ‘dating’ site. It was pretty mind blowing at the time. Of course the dating world changes constantly, and I found that going back onto an app I’d hated earlier was very beneficial in terms of a different type of clientele. Good luck and I hope you’ll be posting in 2020 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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