Monday, September 18, 2006

Your need for touch

"It has struck me that people who aren't getting enough sex are always very fascinated by it, even if the fascination takes the form of them being very very cross that other people are getting some."
- John Cleese, comedian

Good line, John.

When I was in high school, a common behind-the-back statement about a cranky person was "Well, she's (he's) not getting enough."

In the western world, where sex is in our faces on television, in movies, in video games, on billboards and flyers and on the sides of buses, we have been unknowingly taught to believe that an important component--some would say the most important component--of the life of each person, whether in a committed relationship or not, is a steady supply of sex.

Those who want something different, by unreasonable deduction, must be mentally unbalanced.

I say unreasonable because most of us miss out on an important component of our lives, one that often goes hand in hand with sex: touch. Specifically touch that moves over all or parts of our bodies.

Sex, as we know, is driven by hormones. Every species that reproduces by sexual means has some version of sexual need that is triggered by hormones.

Where does touch come into it? Loving touch is often the action by one human lover that turns on the hormone rush in the other prior to sex. But there's more.

Touch is a basic human need. Not quite at the level of nutrition and water as needs. More like our need for shelter. Our prehistoric ancestors lived for many millennia without the kinds of shelter we have today. But they still sought some for of shelter from the weather and from predators. They needed shelter.

Often they sought this huddled together, in trees, in a cave or behind a big rock. The slept touching each other, as big cats and many other non-human mammals do today, ones we think of as social animals.

Today the most touch that people get is from their bed partner, as they sleep. That touch, however, seems not sufficient to satisfy our need for touch.

We need a moving kind of touch. As we do when we pat a dog or cat. These pets do whatever they can to get us to pat them. Not because they are bored, but because they need to have moving touch.

We need that kind of touch too. Elderly people thrive better when they have a mate or a pet living with them that they touch frequently. Hospital and nursing home patients heal better when pets are introduced into their environment.

Those who are potentially suicidal--notably those who attempt suicide without intending to succeed (which constitutes a large majority of suicide attempts)--suffer from a severe lack of moving touch.

Ornery and angry people suffer from lack of sufficient moving touch. Unfortunately, by the time they reach this stage, they believe (have made themselves believe) that they don't need anybody, that they don't need touch. Even with the best coaching by a touch therapist or a mate, they never completely recover from that period of touch starvation.

They may also never be good at giving touch to a mate. Witness how many women complain that their husbands want sex, but seem clumsy or reluctant when it comes to being affectionate.

Children need touch perhaps more than anyone. Remember, they came into existence being totally surrounded by nine months of constant moving touch. Then there is separation. No wonder they cry.

Unlike pet cats and dogs, children often don't ask for touch, especially if they are not used to being touched (hugged, rubbed on the back, snuggled against) regularly by their parents or siblings. In this sense, cats and dogs are smarter than human children.

Any child up to the age of about 11 years can easily accept a new effort by a parent to engage in moving touch. After age 11, they tend to look for it in their peers and will likely want to avoid touch from their parents. Preadolescent and adolescent boys and girls find all sorts of way to touch each other, mostly for non-sexual reasons. Team sports are excellent examples of how kids satisfy their need for moving touch in socially acceptable ways.

It may not be sex that John Cleese's very, very cross people lack, but moving touch.

The loneliest people feel the greatest sense of need for the touch of another person. People get married to the wrong mates just to get moving touch on a regular basis.

Rapists may be driven not so much by the need for violence or for sex, but for the touch of another person.

No child who lacks sufficient moving touch will be happy, no matter what service the school provides or how many toys the parents give. The child will likely be no more than an average student, no matter what his intelligence. He may also have trouble with social relationships and have trouble reading.

Don't expect proof of this because it has not been studied. The evidence is only anecdotal at this point.

What is a massage therapist but a professional who makes people feel better with moving touch? Healing touch therapy does not involve actual touch, but the hands of the healer move close enough to the patient that body heat is exchanged. Reiki works because of the application of hands touching, not voodoo magic.

Touch is our most underrecognized need.

A smile is nice, even warming to another person. But find a way to touch them in a non-sexual and non-threatening way and you may make yourself a friend.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to put hands to use as healers.
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