The Hunger for Touch: Giving and Receiving Touch and Healing

The human being thrives on touch. An enormous amount of research has been done in recent years, on both human beings and animals, in regards to touch. The results show that lack of touch ("cutaneous deprivation") can lead, not only to emotional disturbances but also, to a lessened intellectual ability and physical growth, reduced sexual interest, and even a weakness of the immune system. There are, it seems, distinct biochemical differences between people who experience touch and those who do not.

Unfortunately, a large number of people go through life with very little tactile stimulation. Over the years in my clinical practice I've met many patients who have little experience of touch. The most worrisome aspect relates to self-examination for health reasons -- women need to check their breasts for cancer and men need to check for lumps that could indicate testicular cancer. Yet even for such necessary and innocent activities, I've heard patients say, "Lying there touching myself? I couldn't!"

The connection between sex and touch -- any touch -- is made early on by many people. The trouble starts when childhood sexuality is controlled by parental admonishments of "Don't touch yourself!" or "That's dirty". "Good girls don't let boys touch them" is said almost as often as "Big boys don't cry". Hugs from strangers, children must be told, are bad.

When Touch Is Associated with Guilt

In one way or another, touch can be associated with guilt early in life, and it often becomes acceptable only within the context of secure or "legitimate" sexual activity. This imprisoning of touch, within the context of sex, means that touch becomes a lead-in to it -- "I know when he wants sex because that's when he puts his arm around me". The end result of this situation is that often women agree to have sex only because they want touch. Sex is the only way they can get the warmth and closeness they need, and many surveys on this subject seem to point to the fact that female promiscuity isn't an insatiable desire for sex, but the hunger for touch.

The hunger for touch is a real human need. It can be difficult for men to admit their need because from the word go, they're told to be strong and in control and not to go running to mommy for comfort whenever there's any trouble. The association between weakness and cuddles can easily be transferred into the sexual relationship, so that when a woman attempts to have her hunger for touch satisfied in his arms, he thinks, "She's being pathetic". This apparent show of emotional weakness can be especially exasperating for a man who already feels that he is carrying more than his share of the relationship responsibilities. The woman, meanwhile, finds him cold and unresponsive.

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It is said that women have a better touch than men do, if only because it is so much more a part of their daily lives. But because so many people equate touch with sex, these same tactile women may refrain from touching their partners because it will be interpreted as a sexual advance. So for one reason or another, touch isn't always seen as an activity valid in its own right, a legitimate human need, but is instead seen as a means to an end.

The Cultural Traditions of Touching (or not touching)

The degree of tactile stimulation in a person's life is very much affected by two things: cultural tradition and family circumstances -- the general and the particular. In Japan, until very recently, touching in the street was thought very bad form; while in Italy everyone seems to be touching each other, from children to grannies. In most southern European countries the women walk arm in arm.

In Arab and Indian subcontinent countries, men walk holding hands, and mothers massage their babies and children on a regular, almost daily, basis, and are in their turn massaged by them. Only the other day I saw three generations of women from an Indian family stop for a minute at a London shop front so the granddaughter could massage her grandmother's apparently arthritic hand. Westerners tend to leave the massaging of grandma's arthritis to the physiotherapist.

Have You Lost Your Touch?

Babies carried in the slings that parents hitch around their chests, so the baby is held close, are far more secure when left with strangers than babies who are transported around in carriages or strollers are. Children are always craving to be touched and hugged, but because mothers and fathers are so often busy, the child often gets rejection instead -- "Don't bother me now." Yet the need remains, and becomes amplified so that some may be naughty only to get a slap because this touch is better than no touch at all!

Fortunately, a person who has "lost their touch" is not lost forever. Because I give my patients essential oil treatments to use at home, I often ask the question," Have you got someone to massage you -- your husband, perhaps?" And often the reply is, "Oh, no, we never touch," or "He never has" -- and some of these women and men have been married for thirty years or so. (And when was the last time you gave or received a massage?) Nevertheless, the patient very often finds the partner willing to take part in the treatment, and I hear enthusiastic reports: "He's got a lovely touch, you know." Soon they want to return the compliment and pleasure and start to massage their partner, and a whole new dimension of tactile experience is opened up.

The Sensuous Touch

When sexual energy between a couple is high, there's not such a need to "go all the way" because touch, as an activity in itself, can be a wholly satisfying experience, too. One might not always want to make love, especially after a long and tiring day, but when ten minutes of sensuous touch takes place, the same relaxing and satisfying feeling overtakes you and you fall into each other's arms, close and at one instead of grumpy and uptight.

It's crucial to allow yourself to accept that touching doesn't have to lead to sex. Just touch each other in the full knowledge that you're going to fall asleep in ten minutes' time. Caress each other gently, not forgetting the face and head -- kiss goodnight and go to sleep. Sweet dreams.

Three ten-minute touching-only sessions a week would save thousands of marriages and millions of dollars in psychiatrists' and doctors' fees. First of all, emotional tension is diffused and dispersed so no "bottling up" occurs. (It's not uncommon for a person to feel close to tears when touched after a long time alone.) Despite the facts that touch dissolves tension we rarely offer it to people whom are "stressed out" -- cuddles and sympathy are reserved for emotional upsets. If your partner comes home one day in a fury and starts to march around the house sounding off about the day's events, treat them with touch by all means, but make it gradual. Start by taking their hand and simply keep holding it; then stroke their arm. By this time they might have taken a deep sigh and, if you're near a chair, they may be eased into it. Gradually use touch to ease their stress -- great demonstrative, engulfing embraces at times of high stress can just cause an explosive reaction, so gently does it! We're all subjected to some degree of stress during the day and a ten minute touching session before sleep can really help to ease the burden.

The human organism is electric and needs grounding. The activity of the brain's ten billion nerve cells is mainly electrical, and they interact through the nervous system with the entire body, including the skin. The skin is, in fact, the largest organ of the body. When you gently stroke your lover, you're grounding their electromagnetic surplus energy, calming the nervous system, and helping to balance out the workings of the endocrine system.

Giving and Receiving Touch

With touching, it's as important to have someone who will receive as well as someone who will give -- you can't have one without the other. The recipient might look passive, but their energy can be very active. There are two ways to be passive -- with a tired listlessness, or with "focused awareness," as the ancient Indians would say. It's this second form of passivity that we're trying to aim for here -- a live receptivity, relaxed, breathing normally (not held), senses alive, and mentally allowing and encouraging energy flow through the body.

If you have difficulty in accepting passivity, you can console yourself with the knowledge that you'll be active when the roles are reversed. But if you find it difficult to accept touch from your lover, you may be in the wrong relationship! All lovers should, at least, be happily able to accept each other and each other's love.

With any form of touch, the most crucial aspect is the thought behind it. Touch is not universally innocent or well intentioned. Some people touch other people so that they have a surface against which to feel themselves. They aren't concerned about transmitting their love so much as using someone else to create sensation in their own fingertips so that they can love themselves. This is a tricky one, but you'll know it when you feel it.

There is also an invasive touch -- when someone makes physical contact to see "how far he or she can go". This is when it's necessary to state an objection to touch with "How dare you touch me!" or something equally definitive so the message gets across that they can't go any further. One doesn't linger over a touch with the boss because it would probably be interpreted as a sexual advance, and for the same reason, bosses avoid lingering touches of their staff. And a punch on the chin is another, more obvious, form of negative touch!

Infusing Touch with the Power of Thought and Healing

Just as negative thoughts behind a touch can be identified, so too can positive thoughts, which can then be put to good use. One can literally infuse touch with the power of thought. When you touch your lover, close your eyes perhaps, but in any event; think of your hands as an extension of your heart -- your love -- reaching right into their heart through the surface of their skin. Let go of any negative thoughts you may have had throughout the day toward your lover. Forget about disagreements, put them aside for now and concentrate on the positive -- giving love generously.

If you really concentrate and allow your natural energies and senses to be your guide, your loving touch will become a magnificent and surprising tool that can be incorporated into lovemaking. Touch shouldn't be a form of foreplay only, but an ongoing, energy-circulating, and stimulating tool, used to fan the fires of passion. Lovemaking is an obvious time to fully utilize the power of touch, if only because this is the only time most of us have our naked skin available, ready and willing. Why waste the chance of taking advantage of it?

Touch can be extremely effective on its own by simply using gentle, stroking movements with the palm and fingers of your hand. Incorporate the well-known erogenous zones of the body (bearing in mind that everyone is unique in this respect) including the neck, ears, shoulders, back, nipples, thighs, buttocks, the curve of the hips, the sides of the body, and not forgetting the feet. There are 72,000 nerve endings in each foot! Try gently stroking, massaging, or sucking the feet and toes. No, we're not trying to tickle the partner here; many people experience an exquisite sense of relaxation after a session of foot attention.

If we accept that touch can be a legitimate activity unrelated to sex, then we can really begin to explore its potential. Our society needs to recognize the beneficial effects touch has on the nervous system with the same readiness as it today pops tranquilizers and sleeping pills. Touch is an important human activity in its own right, crucial to our well-being and an absolute delight. So, let's get in touch!

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Scents and Scentuality: Essential Oils and Aromatherapy for Love, Romance, and Sex
by Valerie Ann Worwood.

book cover: Scents and Scentuality: Essential Oils and Aromatherapy for Love, Romance, and Sex by Valerie Ann Worwood.Fragrances and aromas have been used throughout time for love and seduction. Now modern science is discovering what lovers and the sunsually aware have always known -- that smell is a powerful stimulant that affects our emotions and our memories, our well-being, and even our destinies. "Scents and Sexuality" explores this little-known realm, showing how the potent and pure essential oils of nature can heighten the pleasure of daily life or enrich a romantic evening.

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About The Author

by Valerie Ann WorwoodValerie Ann Worwood, an aromatherapist to royalty and heads of state, teaches and conducts workshops around the world. She is an active member on the executive council of the International Federation of Aromatherapists and she runs her own clinic in England. She is the bestselling author of The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy which is widely considered to be the definitive reference book on aromatherapy.

She is also the author of The Fragrant Mind, Scents and Scentuality and Aromatherapy For The Healthy Child.