Three Kinds of Touch

“We all crave ‘parental’ touch, no matter how much or how little we received as children.”

There’s a cartoon of a man sitting at a desk with a phone in each hand, saying “I put you on hold. You put me on hold. Everyone is put on hold, but nobody feels held.”

Touch (holding and being held) is now widely recognized as being vital for good health – whether physical or mental. Touching releases endorphins (and a host of other mood-elevating compounds), apparently wards off a variety of catastrophic illnesses (according to statistics), and it can bring joy to relationships. We say it can bring joy, because touch can often be used inappropriately, and needs to be clearly understood. We have come up with three major categories of touch. If you take the time to understand these three very distinct forms of touch, your relationship with your partner will benefit greatly.

First, there is “parent” touch. This is the communication of father or mother love. On the giving end, it is the feeling of holding a child in safe, protective, nurturing arms. There is nothing wanted in return. The reward is the joy of nurturing a child, whether an actual child or the inner child of the one we’re holding.

This may make perfect sense to you, yet it is not often easy to put into practice. We hear many people complain in our counseling sessions and workshops that their partner doesn’t know how to hold them other than sexually. And it’s not just women who feel this. We learn from early childhood that touch equals sex. Movies, TV, billboards, magazines, even comic books often visually convey this untruth. But touch does not equal sex, and this first kind of touch is an example. On the receiving end, we all crave “parental” touch, no matter how much or how little we received as children. We all thrive on being held in a nurturing yet clearly non-sexual way. Intimate love relationships often fail because of the lack of this kind of touch. Please take this to heart, and put it into practice.

The second form of touch is “child” touch. A child touches to explore, to learn, to play, as well as to love. When we are touched by a baby or a child, it feels delightful. Here, too, there can be so much confusion. A child is not a sexually-developed being. If a child’s touch feels erotic, it is our own misunderstanding of physical delight due to events in our growing up (again, all the confusion about touch equaling sex). Learn to delight non-sexually in a child’s touch, and in the touch coming from the inner child of those we love. Learn to touch as a child, which is all about playing with the ones we love. Way too few couples play with one another. When is the last time you tickled one another without trying to dominate, control or win – but just for the delight of playing? How about dancing for fun rather than as a precursor to sex?

Finally, the third kind of touch is “adult” touch. And yes, you may be breathing a sigh of relief, here is where sex belongs, as well as nurturing parental touch and playful exploring child touch. In other words, adult touch is really a conglomerate of all three kinds of touch. The most ecstatic sensual touch between two adults will include elements of parental nurturing as well as childlike play and exploration. We need to emphasize that, before there can be healthy adult touch, there needs to be enough healthy expression of parent and child touch. Without this, sex may be used as the only way to give or receive nurturing, exploration or play. And sex will never be enough – will never fill the void that can only be filled by pure parental or childlike touching. We have seen countless couples stuck in unfulfilled sexual relationships. Sex has become boring, predictable, lifeless, or at worst, frustrating or physically or emotionally painful. We are not saying that all sexual problems will be corrected by practicing enough parent and child non-sexual touch. We are saying that learning these other two forms of touch will greatly enhance your sexual relationship. But remember, practice the parent and child touching separate from times of adult sexual touch, not as foreplay or as a way to seduce one another. It won’t work. Rather, set aside time with your loved one to practice non-sexual parent and child touching and holding. Learn the joy of holding and being held.

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