Sunday, August 17, 2008

Touch/Physical Intimacy

One form of intimacy as described in the Topic on Intimacy is physical intimacy. This expression of intimacy is sometimes referred to as touch intimacy or touch needs. The overlap between sexual intimacy and touch intimacy leads to significant confusion. It is important to ask in any given encounter what my intimacy needs are. And, specifically, what my touch needs are. Perhaps in a particular encounter you may be trying to get your touch needs met rather than sexual needs.

In this topic, the goal is to review healthy touch, and identify how you get these needs met. Some classic social psychology research has suggested that the failure to receive touch can have severe negative health, social and emotional impact on a person. The types of touch exists on a continuum. On the unhealthy end, exploitive touch is manipulative, forced, or unwanted. Nurturing touch is healthy and is expressive of a relationship. Touching someone is one way of reaching out and affirming them or being affirmed. And in fact, unhealthy touch is the opposite. It can be a way to express hurt, anger, or fear. Somewhere in the middle the grey area of touch occurs. In this confusing center are experiences of touch that appears healthy but leaves a person unsure about the intent. It may be the hug that includes a brush against breasts, buttocks or genitalia. Or the kiss that goes on too long. In moving toward sexual health, it is important to recognize healthy and unhealthy touch and to identify ways to get your touch needs met. You may also want to review the topic on sexual exploitation which describes forms of extreme unhealthy touch.

In developing ways to get your touch needs meet, it is also important to be clear about your motivation. In reviewing your sex history, how many times have you engaged in sexual contact when what you were looking for probably simply affirmation through touch? Perhaps there have been times when someone has said “hold” me but the encounter became unexpectedly sexual.

In the modern American Culture, there is a significant cultural barrier to touch. So much of the messages about touch actually sexualizes touch. Two guys holding hands is seen as a gay couple rather than two friend together s as in many Middle Eastern cultures. The misunderstanding of touch raises significant problems regarding sexual harassment claims. I’m not judging any particular claims as right/wrong, but in sexualizing touch, our culture has deprived us of healthy ways to get healthy needs met in appropriate ways.

The cultural fear of touch is often internalized in our lives. As a result, we may misinterpret the messages of another person. There are also gender differences. For many women, touch is culturally encouraged where as for men, touch is discouraged. The typical woman has a better understanding of touch needs than the typical man. This misunderstanding can lead to miscommunication, conflicts, and resentments in both sexual relationships as well as social and emotional relationships.

No comments:

Post a Comment