Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Touch, Affection, and Sex

With this post I am moving beyond our security needs to our needs for contact and connection with other people. I am going to start with the most basic, the physical connection that most people crave. I wrote a post about this last summer when I wrote about Love and Affection (7/28/09). In the post I discussed the work of James Prescott who documented the connections between violence and the lack of physical affection.

We all need touch/physical contact with others. My quote on last summer's post was Virginia Satir's statement that we need four hugs a day for survival and twelve hugs a day for growth. Which leads to the question of how many of us are lucky if we get any hugs?

We live in a touch phobic society. Touch is often used for violence, and this is a main reason for the social adversion to touch. Touching has to be done with care, communication, and permission in order to feel safe. As a result, it isn't done enough. I think most of us are starved for physical affection and real connection with others.

Advertisers prey on this lack of touch, affection, and connection to get us to buy stuff. I think that if we had more human contact we wouldn't need so many things in our lives.

There are many types of touching and physical affection and sex is one of them. We need nonsexual touch and we don't absolutely need sex (truly, if I had to choose I would take hugs over sex), but sex is a wonderful way of giving pleasure to another human being--one more creative way of touching someone else. Unfortunately, sex has too often been used with power rather than permission, leading to abuse of many kinds. Sex, as well as most other kinds of touching, needs to be approached with vulnerability--with asking permission and checking out what the other person needs. It needs to be combined with intimacy--but that is the subject of the next post.

Cuddle Parties--I have mixed feelings on this: on one hand it is a wonderful, nonsexual way to have physical contact with others and learn some skills around how to give caring, consensual touch, on the other hand I'm not happy that people charge for this since it seems another way to take advantage of the fact that pleasurable touch is such a scarce resource in this society; I only wish we could easily and freely give this to each other
George Downing, The Massage Book--Massage is a lovely way of using touch for healing and this book, first published in 1972, gives good advice on how to do it
Dottie Easton and Catherine Liszt, The Ethical Slut--While this book is a mainstay of the polyamory community, it has useful things to say to monogamous people as well; I think of it as a book on ethical sexuality that talks about how to be sexual in a way that treats others well
Linda Marks, Healing the War Between the Genders--While focusing on female/male relationships (and vice versa), the book has useful things to say about sexuality and touch in general; it includes a list of basic human needs that includes "nurturing, nonsexual touch and holding" as well as a mediation on this, as well as steps to work on a more "Integrated Sexuality"
Ashley Montagu, Touching:The Human Significance of the Skin--An anthropologist looks at the functions of skin and the necessity of our being touched; somewhat dry and academic, it also appears to be out of print, although available through libraries and used bookstores

Quote of the Day: "Sex really is a physical expression of a whole lot of stuff that has no physical existence: love and joy, deep emotion, intense closeness, profound connection, spiritual awareness, incredibly good feelings, sometimes even ecstasy." - Dottie Easton and Catherine Liszt


SoapBoxTech said...

I grew up with one parent who was emotionally and physically affectionate and one who was not. While I get along with them both I am certainly a lot closer with the former. The latter, my father, could be a case study for some of your points here.

Great post.

MoonRaven said...

Thanks. I think that it's hard for many people (particularly men) to be affectionate, given the way they were raised. North American society doesn't make it any easier--for any of us.

CrackerLilo said...

It's appalling to me when I hear the children in my life talk about how they can't hug each other or pat a classmate's back in class. It's just what you said--our society's becoming very touch-phobic. It really is such a basic need, that I wonder where these kids are going to get it fulfilled. Because they will try.

I learned from my younger cousins that there has been a movement afoot in the Assemblies of God and other conservative churches to keep kids from touching, too. That way, they don't have sex, and isn't that all God really wants for them? No hugs, no lint-picking, no kissing before the wedding day...if they could have shrink-wrapped those poor kids, they would have. (Google "Christian courtship" if you're interested.) One of my cousins felt very guilty about kissing a girl at the movies. He was a 14-year-old boy.

Fear is an awful thing. I'm grateful that I can touch pretty much all the time when I want (within reason, of course), and that my friends, male and female, will touch, too.

And "The Ethical Slut" was extremely helpful to me for the few years that I was in a poly relationship.

MoonRaven said...

Fear is an awful thing. If you have friends you can touch and hold and hug and who touch and hold and hug you, you are lucky indeed.

Thanks for the comment.

Robyn Coffman said...

I've been thinking about this subject more deeply since I read this post yesterday.

Thank you for provoking deeper thought...

MoonRaven said...

Thank you for thinking about this. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts when you want to share them.