Monday, July 28, 2008

Love and Affection

In some of my earliest posts, I talked about how important love is. Being loving is fine, but it's also important that it's expressed.

I believe that affection, particularly physical affection, is an important way of telling people they are loved. And, while I can be an advocate for sexuality as a means for giving pleasure and affection to others, probably even more important are those physical but nonsexual means of showing affection: cuddling, snuggling, hugging, holding, holding hands, giving massages/backrubs/footrubs, and, of course, kissing. Nonphysical ways of showing affection are important as well: smiling at people and telling them you like them, or even saying "I love you".

The need for physical affection begins young.

James Prescott, a neuropsychologist formerly with the National Institute of Health, started his career by following the lead of primate experimenters such as Harry Harlow, who showed that monkeys raised without some type of physical connection (even such a minimal connection as clutching a cloth 'surrogate mother' as opposed to a metal wire one) became anxious and violent. He then turned to anthropological findings to see how much this need for affection applied to human beings. Dr. Prescott looked at the literature covering 49 different societies, and found that cultures which provided high levels of infant physical affection were very low in adult violence, and cultures which did not provide much infant physical affection were high in adult violence. There were a few cultures that didn't fit that picture but it turned out that all the high infant affection, high violence cultures punished premarital sex and all the low infant affection, low violence cultures permitted premarital sex. Prescott says that without the premarital sex factor the presence or absence of infant physical affection predicts adult violence 80% of the time, and when the premarital sex factor is included, the two variables are a 100% accurate predictor of adult violence. There is a whole website devoted to the work of James Prescott and other relevant literature entitled The Origins of Peace and Violence.

Other researchers support much of this. Tiffany Field, who has done a great deal of research on the need for infant touch and stimulation, also looked at studies that used massage with aggressive adolescents. According to her, this research suggests that touch and human contact reduced violent behavior in these teens.

I don't think it's an accident that our patriarchal, capitalist society, downplays physical affection. Lack of affection not only increases the likelihood of violence, it creates lonely, needy people who are prey for advertisers who use sexual motifs to suggest that their product will give you what you are missing (not to mention being prey to military recruiters). Imagine if we had all the affection and connection that we needed. Maybe we wouldn't need so much in the way of material goods. Maybe we wouldn't need heirarchies and domination. Maybe there would be a lot less violence in the world.

Reach out to someone. Let them know that you care. Give them a hug if they want it. Love and affection are revolutionary acts.

Next: Sex, affection, equality, and violence among the primates.

Quote of the day: "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth." - Virginia Satir
Word (or phrase) of the day: Geothermal
Hero(es) of the day: Phan Thị Kim Phúc

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