I’ve been thinking about this post for a LONG time. Finally here it is, touch and it’s importance to us adults and the science of why it is good. I’ve relied heavily on the references at the bottom (ie cut and paste plagiarism) so be sure to check them out if you want further reading.
As well as the normal escort bookings I do less sexual and non sexual bookings too, cuddling, massage, sensation play and so on. And I adore being touched and caressed and massaged. Sometime I feel that sex, while it is wonderful in it’s own right, is an adult way of experiencing touch and connection. On a neurobiological level though there are different mechanisms at play, touch is a lot about the hormone oxytocin and sex is a more complex mix of oxytocin, dopamine and vasopressin for example. Maybe its more on a cultural level that sex plays this role.
“To touch can be to give life” Michelangelo
Touch is our primary non-verbal way of conveying intimate emotions and as such essential for our physical and emotional wellbeing. Whether a strong handshake, an encouraging pat on the back, a sensual caress, a nudge for attention, a tender kiss, or a gentle brush of the shoulder, physical contact can convey a vitality and immediacy at times more powerful than language. Interpersonal touch provides the most emotional of our tactile experiences. That said, in many situations in the Western world, interpersonal touch can be actively discouraged, often due to the threat of potential litigation or changing public attitudes. Of course this isn’t licence to going about and groping strangers! As any traveler who starts to feel somewhat claustrophobic in an overcrowded train would be able to understand, interpersonal touch does not always have a positive emotional impact. But I think we are losing the art of knowing when touch is welcomed.
What touch can do?
Touch activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. There are studies showing that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. Basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassionate response, and a simple touch can trigger release of oxytocin.
Interpersonal touch is the most commonly used method of comforting and an instrument in nursing care. For example, patients who were touched by a nurse during preoperative instructions experienced lower subjective and objective stress levels, than people who were not. At a physiological and psychological level, mediated affective touch on the forearm can reduce heart rate of participants that experienced a sad event. Touching patients with Alzheimer’s disease can have huge effects on getting them to relax, make emotional connections with others, and reduce their symptoms of depression.
Touch can be combined with other forms of communication to boost their impact. When staff who were caring for elderly people combined their verbal encouragement to eat with tactile contact, they consumed more calories and protein with the positive effects lasting for up to 5 days. And touch can have tangible benefits. A study of NBA basketball teams whose players touch each other more (backslaps and high fives for example) win more games.
What is happening?
Stimulating the pressure receptors in the skin lowers stress hormones. At the same time, warm touch stimulates release of oxytocin, which enhances a sense of trust and attachment. Oxytocin is a hormone that has been implicated in mammalian bonding behaviors and has many studies on the relationship between it’s levels and touch. It is now believed to help with illness recovery, life length, addiction recovery, depression recovery and anxiety prevention as well. Women who report having received more hugs from their partners in the past have been shown to have higher levels of oxytocin and significantly lower blood pressure levels than those women who do not have much of a history of being hugged much by their partners
Recent research has shown that certain parts of the brain, such as the orbitofrontal cortex, respond specifically to ‘pleasant touch’, such as the feel of velvet on the skin and that there are certain classes of tactile receptors in the skin exist only in the haired skin but not in the skin of the hands, or the soles of the feet.
Studies have demonstrated that we have an ability to decode emotions by touch alone. It seems we come equipped with an ability to send and receive emotional signals solely by touch. Participants communicated eight distinct emotions—anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness—with accuracy rates as high as 78 percent.
There are several theories on why interpersonal touch should have such a powerful effect on people. One is that it may be due to cognitive interpretational factors. The receiver of touch perceives or assumes that the person touching them likes and trusts them. Another theory is that the normal association between touch and stress reduction in early childhood may result in a positive response to being touched in later life. We’re never touched as much as when we’re children, which is when our comfort level with physical contact, and with physical closeness in general develops.
Also the positive effects of interpersonal touch in increasing compliance or connection may also relate to receptors in the human skin that appear to code for pleasant touch giving a neural connection between the situation and pleasant sensations elicited by the touch.
The release of oxytocin also helps explain our propensity for self-caressing, tings like flipping our hair, rubbing our hands, hugging ourselves, massaging our foreheads, rubbing our hands, or stroking our necks, which we do hundreds of times each day as a calming mechanism. Evidence supports this by showing self-massage has been shown to slow the heart rate and lower the level of the stress hormone cortisol.
When we’re the ones initiating contact, we may reap all the same benefits as those we’re touching. A person giving a massage experiences as great a reduction in stress hormones as the person on the receiving end. How many of us enjoy giving a massage as much as receiving? I can hear a lot of heads nodding 🙂