Risking Touch

“Touch has a memory.” John Keats

“What I like more than anything is the touch of a warm hand.” Marty Rubin

Last weekend, I led and participated in an event that most of my friends and family would consider “bizarre” and threatening by any stretch. Did I go to a sex party? No. Even more scary! (And no. I’ve never been to a sex party in case anyone’s wondering.) Ed and I joined five other people for an evening of non-sexual but intimate touch. Our group was comprised of people who have all attended workshops through the Human Awareness Institute, and have all experienced the profound gift of human touch that is offered with no agenda other than to share nurturing touch.

The evening consisted of a potluck, followed by a series of connective exercises. Participants shared openly about what’s going on in their lives; most exercises ended in some form of sweet stroking: face stroking with eyes open then closed, stroking head, ears, necks and arms. One exercise ended with each person in a group of three taking a turn being sandwich-hugged by their two partners for a full minute. Everyone was clothed. The evening ended with all of us in a cuddle pile, giving nurturing touch.

It’s amazing to witness such an event. People walk in with their street faces on, bodies tight, a bit stiff—and leave, looking 10 years younger, faces open and content, fully relaxed and 200% happier. The event I’ve just described may have many of you thinking, “Yep, she’s gone off the deep end,” or, “Holy crap, I’d NEVER go to something like that!” Years ago, I would have said the same thing. Touch, intimacy, hugging—all of it—terrified me. I’m so grateful that I’ve found my way to this place where I understand and treasure the value of nurturing touch. Because essentially, I found my way back to my own heart.

The transformative power of touch is profound, yet our culture—on the whole—does not value touch for many reasons.

First, many of us grew up in homes where our parents did not touch us very much at all, except for discipline. We might have been taught to keep our hands to ourselves, thus making it hard as we’ve grown up to recognize and appreciate touch. We may feel outright uncomfortable with touch just because we’ve never learned what nurturing touch feels like or that it is ok.

Second, most sex abuse survivors are suspicious of all touch, having learned that some touch can start innocently and morph into something entirely unwanted and invasive. In my own healing process, I had to learn the difference between barriers and boundaries, surrendering my barriers around touch and learning instead how to set and enforce boundaries. In this way, I learned to allow nurturing touch and decline or stop touch that did not feel right to me.

Third, on the whole, our society conflates touch with sex, so it can be challenging to touch without people feeling uncomfortable, unsure of the intent behind the touch. Thus, those of us who value touch and want to touch our friends and family, have to be meticulous in asking before we touch and in reading others’ comfort levels. As a sex abuse survivor, the last thing I want to do is to make anyone uncomfortable with touch!

Fourth, and linked to my third point, our culture teaches adults to get our touch needs met in the confines of our typically monogamous intimate relationships. This leaves unpartnered people with few options. And for many couples, touch sadly diminishes over time. We’re now seeing not just sexless marriages, but touchless marriages. It hurts just to write that! People in that situation are undoubtedly suffering from the lack of healing touch and intimacy.

In my next blog, I will explore the many health benefits of touch and ways for all of us to get more nurturing touch into our lives. In the meantime, think about your comfort level with touch. Consider a time where a simple touch or hug lifted your spirits. Is it time for you to open to the healing powers of touch? E-hugs all around!