Hands touching and physical touch photo by Shoeib Abolhassani

Physical touch: how important is it (even if it’s not your top Love Language)?

Love and Sex · 5 min read

The first time that my wife Lyn and I touched hands in a romantic fashion, I remember the rush of warmth that spread throughout my entire body. That spark of electricity caused my hair to stand on end and goose bumps to form over my arms. That small, simple brush of finger tips in Pret A Manger is still to this day is one of my most thrilling memories. 

What does science say about physical touch?

Touch is the first of our five senses that we develop as a newborn. Skin to skin touch of an infant has been proven as a necessary element for its neurological, physiological, and emotional development. A lack of touching slows growth for infants, similar to other sensory deprivation. 

Dr. David Linden, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, has authored multiple books about the science of touch and claims that touch is social glue’. We build bonds with one another through physical touch such as hugs, high fives, or even handshakes. Humans aren’t the only example of this either. Much of the animal world relies on touch to form emotional bonds with each other.

When we are touched by a loved one our body reacts with a release of the love hormone’ oxytocin, which is associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship-building. It’s often referred to as the love hormone’, because levels of oxytocin in the body increase during hugging and orgasm. Touching is also associated with a decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol, and increases in serotonin, the body’s natural antidepressant. 

In essence, the science tells us that touch is vital for wellbeing and relationships!

Touch and what it communicates

In the opening scene of Love Actually, Hugh Grant narrates how: when he gets gloomy with the state of the world, he thinks about the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport.’ While on screen we watch bright smiles leading to excited hugs and kisses, kids jumping into their grandparents arms, and the understated joy of being reunited with an old friend while greeting them with a warm embrace. Airports have long been a place filled with physical communication. A spinning hug at an airport terminal could communicate better than words how much you really missed someone, while tightly clasped hands start to slip apart over the threshold of the security line can communicate how deeply you want someone to stay. Physical touch is an incredible way to express whatever is in the depths of our hearts. 

Touching in today’s world…

In 2018 Tiffany Field, the director of the Touch Research Institute, conducted insightful experiments regarding touch and interestingly the lack thereof at airports in the modern world. Field found that the vast majority of people spent their time on their phones instead of touching or napping on each other like I’m sure we all have at one time or another. An ever increasingly digital world coupled with the growing fear of spreading disease or inappropriate social touching has brought about a decline in physical touch among us. 

Romantic relationships and the importance of touch

In a romantic relationship physical touch is irreplaceable. It is one of the 5 Love Languages, and a way we can express our love to our partner without spending money or speaking a word. As time passes in a relationship, touch can seem less important or less desired by one or both partners, but I assure you that it is no less required, and the science bears this out. It may not be the synaptic overload that the first graze of your elbows may have been, but skin to skin connection can never be substituted as a foundational part of romantic relationship even if it isn’t your top Love Language. 

If you and your partner are naturally touchy feely then great: celebrate, enjoy!

If there is less physical touch happening, then consider the benefits. Even if you feel less inclined to touching your partner you may find that by being intentional, spending some time touching — cuddling, stroking, massage etc — you may start to feel more positive and loving towards one another because of the release of hormones. You’re also likely to feel more inclined to touch because of the greater feeling of connectedness as a result of the hormonal changes. It’s a win win. 

SOME THOUGHTS TO REFLECT ON

How much do you and your partner touch? Do you play footsies in bed or hold hands while walking? Do you remember that first electric touch with your partner? 

If there is less physical touch happening: How do you feel about that? How do you think your partner feels?

Why not make some time to talk as a couple and consider making some small changes… 

…….

Toucan Together’s Loving Module gets beyond the cliches about love. Learn to speak each other’s Love Languages ®; explore how your experiences growing up influence the ways you give and receive love; and understand any barriers you may have. Part 2 helps create a conversation around intimacy, romance and passion to help you grow a thriving sex life. GET STARTED NOW | LOG IN

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