- Do you lovingly touch your partner, children, friends or family? Often?
- Ever wondered why people who recoil from touch seem unhappy or stressed?
- Or why some cultures, no matter how poor, seem incredibly happy?
While still in the womb, touch is the first of our five senses to develop. Touch is the most important of our five senses. It is the only sense we cannot survive without.
Humans are incredibly adaptable. We can survive blindness, deafness, and the absence of taste or smell. But we cannot survive without touch. Touch is how we give and receive communication. Without it, we would severely burn or injure ourselves, without even knowing.
When we’re born we rapidly adapt to bright light and deafening noise, and breathe air for the first time. Although it’s an overwhelming experience, touch calms us. Our mother’s touch communicates we’re safe. It anchors us in this strange new world. Stress reduction is the very first role touch plays in our lives. Relaxed, caring touch always reduces stress, no matter how old we are.
Hugs, kisses, holding hands, close body contact, stroking of skin or hair ….. these all reduce our stress levels and bring us back into our body.
Sex is the highest form of touch we experience as adults because it gives us the most skin on skin contact.
When we’re the touched in a way that communicates we are cared for, the ‘feel good’ hormone, oxytocin, is released into our bloodstream. Oxytocin is creates feelings of wellbeing, emotional bonding, orgasm, and birth contractions.
The presence of oxytocin reduces the stress hormone, cortisol. While experiencing any form of pleasure, oxytocin levels rise and stress levels decrease.
We are designed to touch and be touched, to keep us healthy and reduces stress and disease.
Oxytocin triggers orgasmic contractions. During orgasm, the brain and body are awash with feel-good chemicals (including Oxytocin) to increase our receptivity to more peasure (and more orgasms) and help us bond with our partner.
Our skin is our largest body organ. Receptors in the skin register touch, heat, cold, moisture, pressure, pain and pleasure. Our skin sensitivity depends on the stimulation we receive. The ‘use it or lose it’ principle applies. Skin cells replace themselves every 4 hours. Less stimulation means less receptors are replaced, making us less receptive to touch.
In an adult man there are approximately 5 million sensory receptors in the skin, all wanting to be touched.
For all of us, touch receptors in the skin reduce in number as we age. At age 3 we have approximately 80 touch receptors per square millimetre of skin. This reduces to 20 per mm2 as a young adult and 4 per mm2 in old age.
This says two things:
- our need for touch is highest in the first few years of life
- the less touch we receive, the less touch we are able to receive (because the body doesn’t waste energy continuing to create cells which are not used).
The opposite is also true. The more we expose our bodies to pleasure, the more pleasure pathways are created in the brain and nervous system.
There’s a relationship between breathing and touch. During sexual activity, deeper breathing clears carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the blood. You feel this as a tingling of the skin. Consequently, active breathing significantly increases the pleasure we receive from touch.
Women are generally more responsive to touch than men and are much more dependant on touch for erotic arousal, whereas men are generally more visual.
Also, research suggests that relaxed people enjoy more frequent and enjoyable sexual activity. Relaxation allows us to receive more pleasure.
So touch your partner lovingly (without expectations) to improve your relationship and your health. Touch in a way that communicates you care.
Rediscover the art of sensual touch with your partner – to refine your senses and become completely absorbed in what you are doing.
Set aside a night without interruption from children, television and visitors, and take the phone off the hook. Prepare a space in your bedroom or the lounge that you feel at home and comfortable in.
Set the mood with soft sensual music and invite your partner to lie down naked in a cosy nest. You’ll need some long delicate feathers. Make sure the room is warm.
Put your whole awareness into your fingertips and dissolve into your touching. For the receiver, dissolve your whole body in the experience of being touched.
This is not necessarily a prelude to lovemaking (although it can be), because it fulfils the desire for sensual touch independent of sex.
Create a mood of enjoyment rather than excitement, so your partner can relax and focus on the experience of receiving, letting go of any expectation or sexual goal.
Stroke your partner’s body gently with a feather, starting around the chest and moving up to the throat. Expand across the shoulders and down the arms, playing with areas such as the inside hollow of the elbow and between the fingers.
Then move very delicately and slowly from the area of your partner’s heart down their body to their feet, and finish by sweeping up from the heart to the head.
Play with curves, hollows and angles, and include any scarred or damaged areas of skin, giving these areas healing attention.
Touch feels more exquisite when it is lighter, finer, slower and continuous. So, take your time. Treat every part of your partner’s bare skin with loving care and attention, rather than focusing on the usual erogenous zones.
Then allow your fingertips to barely graze your partner’s flesh. Explore the hollows around the shoulders, behind the ears, the inside of the arms and behind the knees. Enjoy your lover’s toes. Other areas to explore are the palms and soles of feet, belly, the inside of the ear, the edge of the little finger, the inside of the thighs, buttocks, and the small of the back and the nipples.
Lastly, use your breathe to caress your lover’s body, blowing about an inch away from the skin.
Then it is time to swap roles and receive from your partner. Both the giving and receiving are important aspects of this process.
If you need further help with your sex life, we have Psychologists and a Sex Therapist in these centres:
To Check which of our Psychologists are closest to you, please use our Find our Psychologist Search box on the right hand side of the page.
Or contact us on 1300 830552
Grewen KM et al (2005) Effects of Partner Support on Resting Oxytocin, Cortisol, Norepinephrine, and Blood Pressure Before and After Warm Partner Contact. Psychosomatic Medicine, 67
Insel TR et al (1998) Oxytocin, vasopressin, and the neuroendocrine basis of pair bond formation. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 449
Kiecolt-Glaser J & Newton T (2001) Marriage and health: his and hers. Psychology Bulletin, 127
Light KC, Grewen KM, Amico JA (2005) More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in pre-menopausal women. Biological Psychology, 69
Montagu A (1986) Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin (3rd ed.). New York, Harper & Row