Human touch is something I know we all need in our lives to survive. Whether that be hugs, kisses, caresses, flirtatious nudges or even a grope or two thrown in just for fun, physical intimacy has its importance in a relationship.
“There is a lot of research now about the importance of touch, the importance of human touch,” Jack Canfield, author and expert on the development of human potential said in an article on
He continued and said that children who are touched a lot until about the age of 12, are more likely to be friendly, more intimate, and “cuddly” than those who are not. Also, those children who do not receive such intimacy may be uncomfortable with physical intimacy later in their lives, and possibly become unable to make connections with other people
“Virginia Satir, one of the key family therapists of our time, said that we need to get four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance and 12 hugs a day for growth,” Canfield said.
So does this importance of human touch carry over into our adult, or semi-adult lives and relationships? How important is it to be physical with someone we are dating?
Ann Flescher, assistant director for multicultural and clinical services at the MSU Counseling Center said that physicality is as important as the individuals make it. “There are values and priorities that individual’s and couples place on physical and/or sexual relationships and on emotionally-intimate relationships,” Flescher said.
Naturally, one of the most physical things a couple can do is have sex.
“The importance of sex in a relationship depends on the individual’s involved and the meanings that they ascribe to the act of sex,” Flescher said. “For example, about 30 percent of sexually active college-age women do not experience an orgasm. However, many non-orgasmic women still value sex as they have come to understand the sexual act as very intimate and emotional.” Also, Flescher said that age and cultural norms play an important role in how people ascribe to the meaning of sex. For some, sex is purely physical and for others it is a sacred act..
“However, sexual intimacy does not necessarily translate in to closer emotional intimacy. Emotional closeness develops from getting to know someone over time and experience,” Flescher said. “Trust and caring grows as couples share and reveal who they are to each other. This can occur within a relationship that includes sex or where there is an absence of sex. Sex in itself does not bring emotional closeness.”
Nicole Szczepanski is a senior in the journalism program here at MSU, and on December 18, 2004, she will be marrying the man of her dreams, Peter Schilt, a 2003 graduate from the University of Michigan. (At least her last name will be easier to spell!) Her and Peter have decided to wait until marriage to have sex.
“Pete and I met in May 2003 at SpringHill Summer Camps in Evart, Mich.,” Szczepanski said. “SpringHill is a Christian camp, with a staff of approximately 800. Pete and I were just two of those people and each summer about 1,000 kids come each week. It’s huge!”
Szczepanksi said that at the beginning of their relationship, they drew many lines and boundaries, and although several have been crossed during the past year, they will not have sex until they are married.
“Believe me, it’s hard!” Szczepanski said. “I believe God designed sexual intimacy for our pleasure, not just procreation. However, I also believe it was designed to be experiences of the highest degree of pleasure and intimacy in the context of marriage.”
A relationship with little or no physical intimacy can have lasting effects on those who are involved in the relationship, according to Flescher.
“It depends on the person and the individual meanings (personal, spiritual, and cultural) they hold about physical interaction. People who are accustomed to, and desirous to, and desirous of physical displays of emotion, may struggle in relationships with little to no physicality,” Flescher said. “Those who need to maintain firm boundaries of physical relations may suffer in relationships where there is pressure to enter into physical interaction before they are ready.”
Furthermore, Flescher said that anytime a person acts in ways that are in opposition of one’s values, they are more likely to experience feelings of guilt and/or shame. “Excessive guilt can lead to anxiety or depression, as well as conflicts in a relationship and loss of trust,” Flescher said.
However, for the people in a relationship who are trying to steer away from “just sex”, Flescher suggests participating in other activities such as bowling or taking walks and talking.
“A growth experience may be going bowling because it’s allowing you to pay attention to how competitive or cooperative you are, reflecting on why, and then sharing that with your partner,” Flescher said. “Another method is to take turns planning intimacy-building dates and practicing giving up control without losing your personal boundaries.”
So the answer to the question of how important is physicality in a relationship is that it depends on the individuals involved in the relationship. To have a healthy, successful relationship, you should be with someone who wants the same level of intimacy as you do.
“Simple hugs, cuddling and massaging can allow for contact without sexual episodes,” Flescher said. “However, the boundaries around this contact need to be set beforehand and then respected by both partners.”
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and give someone a hug to show you care.

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