Touch, for humans can mean a lot of things. It is a way to hurt, to heal and to comfort while sharing our deepest feelings without uttering a single word. Physical touch is a huge part of our pleasure experience, so we geeked out on the science.
The science of touch.
One of our five senses, touch develops as early as the 7th week of gestation. We know that loss of this sense is extremely rare which points to an evolutionary hierarchical sorting of our senses, putting touch at the top!
We are able to perceive touch because the millions of sensory receptors in our skin (and deeper) allows our brains via the spinal cord to register touch, pressure, pain and temperature feeding neurological information on the safety of our surroundings.
But wait, there’s so much more!
The Meissner’s corpuscles is another type of receptor that picks up light touch and these make certain areas of the body such as genitals, lips and nipples ultra sensitive to touch. If we were to look at a sensory map of the brain, these areas would appear much larger than they are in real life as the brain registers sensations in these areas most considerably.
In contrast Paccinian corpuscles are receptors that sit deep in our skin and they sense pressure and changes in vibration.
Although the science of touch is fascinating, the definition that
I feel therefore I am.
While we experience the world through touch and we in turn leave our own mark on the world there is also a sense of self that is reinforced with these exchanges. It could be said that the sense of touch, provides us a foundation for “awareness of ourselves as individuals, separated from the external world.”
The value of touch.
In the fields of psychology and cognitive neuroscience it has been highlighted that touch is a very powerful sensory modality. Touch has been proven to be crucial for the brain development of babies and their ability to create bonds with their caregivers.
Touch keeps us connected and is vital to our survival as a species. It reminds us that we are not alone and are cared for. Sadly however, though we are more connected than ever through technology, in person connection is waning and loneliness has now been classified as a hazard to human health.
This lack of “being in touch” is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and premature death by up to 50%. Frighteningly almost half of adults in the USA say they have frequent feelings of loneliness, while millennials share that they are the most lonely and depressed generation. Researchers believe that touch deprivation could be among the reasons to blame for this.
Touch is not only sexual.
While solitude can be healthy, isolation can be detrimental to our mental health; hence programs such as introducing toddlers or therapy chickens to nursing homes for the elderly proving to be effective. Easing agitated patience’s who are living with memory loss and helping to improve overall wellbeing.
We know that cuddling releases oxytocin, a naturally occurring chemical that allows us to develop trust for other people as well as the feeling of being cared for and in love. Just like when we experience sexual pleasure, non-sexual touch such as hand holding can also induce oxytocin and other feel good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters contribute to feelings of happiness and pleasure. They are also vital for regulating our bodies on a neurological level and largely contribute to our overall wellbeing.
There has even been research to show that touch can be used as a tool for convey empathy which results in a painkilling effect and so creates an inter-personal synchronization that attributes to our social development as a species!
We know that sexual touch is an important part of the human experience and some believe it to be a human right. Touching Base, an advocacy organisation focusing on the right of disabled people and sex workers, have fought to raise awareness of the importance of sexual touch for differently abled people by connecting these often marginalised groups together.
Focusing on this human need for intimacy, desire and touch they believe that all people have an “intrinsic right to sexual expression. This right enables people to develop relationships…explore and express their sexuality and achieve intimacy”.
Here are some tips to increase touch in your daily life.
No time for sex? No problem!
20 seconds is the magic number for oxytocin levels to increase from consistent hugging. If you want to reconnect with a lover after a spat or touch base during a busy day, a long hug is proven to help us reconnect. Long “warm hugs” have been proven to lower your blood pressure, reduce anxiety and make us feel loved.
Massage is a great way to relax and receive the healing benefits of a skilful persons touch. Stimulation of our skins touch receptors help to reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels; decreasing stress. Massage therapy has also been linked to an increase in empathy and a decrease in violent behaviour among adolescents.Another option that may be more cost effective is dry brushing. This self-soothing wellness practise helps to energise our bodies and increase blood circulation giving us an overall feeling of wellbeing.
Doing it with friends.
Hand holding, patting on the back, stroking on the arm. Non-sexual touch helps to strengthen our platonic relationships. Team sports may also be a great way to do this if you are not a naturally “touchy” person in your friendships. A simple high five can show appreciate and communicate a sense of bonding.
You know we’re fans of self-touch! There are many links to masturbation with better overall health, satisfaction and self-esteem. Self-touch allows us to develop a vocabulary for what we like sexually in order to have more satisfying relationships with others.
Thanks to the broad range of pleasure products available, masturbation isn’t limited to penetrative stimulation. It is a chance to enjoy your individual erogenous zones.
Good partner sex is so much more than penetration. Prolonging different types of touch before intercourse or as an alternative to it, allows us to broaden our experience sexually and takes away the expectation that sex should always result in orgasm. Exploring the pleasure potential of the entire vulva before or instead of penetration is a great way to do this.