Touch Touch and More Touch
by Tracy Lee
Those of you who know me well know how much I love to touch. It brings me physical pleasure and emotional wellbeing. Here I will define what human contact is for me.
Comfort: Hugs are comfort: hello hugs, good-bye hugs, I’m-so-happy-for-you hugs, I’m sorry-you’re-sad hugs. Comfort is also putting a hand on a friend’s shoulder or reaching out to make contact with them lightly as they share a burden. As a woman this is easy me for. Men, you’ll have to share your thoughts.
Nurturing/belonging: Someone holding me, cuddling me, or caressing me lovingly. This contact sends me the message that you see me, you want to be with me, I belong, I am safe. I feel secure. I too can offer this type of touch to you for the same reasons.
Sexual/sensual: Touching to stimulate pleasure. I can make contact with you to stimulate you, I can touch you to stimulate me; you can touch me to stimulate you, you can touch me to stimulate me. Whee!! Look at all those dynamics!
Let’s look at how these definitions fit into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
I put comfort and nurturing/belonging human contact in the basic needs category. Cuddling and being held by someone I trust, I feel safe and secure. The warmth and rest that brings me also fit here. Wow! Looking at it that way makes human contact sound very important, and it definitely is to me. It helps me understand how to define myself. Human contact is a main component in making me feel safe, and it encourages me to rest.
Why are cuddling and cuddle parties so popular? I think because they are meeting our basic needs. Skilled cuddlers can develop the ability to feel greatly satisfied in this realm. The partner’s gender does not matter. What’s important is the feeling you gain from touch, not to mention the oxytocin high you can achieve. Sex does not need to be part of cuddling.
This means sensual/sexual touch falls higher up the triangle for me, under psychological needs. I have in the past ignored nurturing touch for the intensity and pleasure of sex, but it felt like something was missing. I was either unsatisfied, or satisfied in the moment but it faded away quickly, and I craved more. This is where I believe sexual addiction can start. We chase what we think we need and what feels really good, but it’s not what we actually need. You just keep eating the icing off the cake. Sure, it’s good, but there isn’t any substance.
I know some people feel that all types of touch fall into the psychological needs category. Touch is part of intimate relationships. Touch can come from friends. On the pyramid as defined above, where would you put touch?
What about when needs for touch in an intimate encounter are mismatched? Say you want sensual touch and your partner wants nurturing. Think of this as hiking or traveling with friends and family. You go at the pace of the slowest or most out-of-shape person. Otherwise you leave behind someone who may need support. It’s important to get basic needs met first. You may need to stay in nurturing mode for the whole encounter, and maybe the next one too. The slower person is building up stamina, getting in better shape, getting comfortable with you as a partner. After going slower for a while, your partner may feel ready to meet you at your level. It’s a tricky spot to navigate.
One of you may still feel unsatisfied. The two of you might negotiate so the person who needs nurturing human contact will receive that and the person who wants sensual contact will receive that, taking a turn for each of you to get what you desire. I highly recommend just continuing to touch, touch and human contact some more and find a good balance for both of you.
Define touch for yourself. You may come up with the same categories I did or you may find your own. How important is this type contact for you? How does it fit into your hierarchy?
Once you define your categories, practice with just one type of touch. Set an intention to try to avoid shifts into another category. If you slip up, giggle and laugh and return to the intention. Learn what each type of contact does for you. Do you feel safe? Are you calmer? Are you anxious? Breathless? Deeply satisfied? Craving more? Notice what you like in which situation. Practice makes perfect in every realm of learning. And when it comes to touch, oh boy, can it be fun! Be playful, experiment, and ENJOY!