Human touch is something we all need in our lives to survive. Whether it be hugs, kisses, caresses, flirtatious nudges or even a grope or two thrown in just for fun, physical intimacy plays an important role in relationships.
“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 Beststeps.com.
He continued to say 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 given this attention. 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, a key family therapist 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 lives and relationships? How important is it to be physical with someone we are dating?
According to Dr. Tawa Sina, a training director and psychologist at the MSU Counseling Center, physicality is as important as the individuals make it. “There are values and priorities that individuals and couples place on physical and/or sexual relationships and on emotionally-intimate relationships,” Sina said.
Naturally, one of the most physical things a couple can do is have sexual intercourse.
“The importance of sex in a relationship depends on the individuals involved and the meanings that they ascribe to the act of sex,” Sina 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, Sina said that age and cultural norms play an important role in how people define sex. For some, sex is purely physical, and for others it is a sacred act.
However, Ann Flescher, assistant director of multicultural and clinical services at the MSU Counseling Center said that sexual intimacy does not necessarily translate into closer emotional intimacy. “Trust and caring grow as couples share and reveal who they are to each other,” Flescher said. “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, a journalism senior, will be marrying “the man of her dreams” on December 18, 2004, Peter Schilt, a 2003 graduate from the University of Michigan. The couple met in May at a Christian summer camp, and they have decided to wait until marriage to have sex.
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 still have lasting effects on those who are involved in the relationship, Flescher said.
According to Rosalyn Davis, a counselor at the counseling center, it depends on the person and the individual meanings (personal, spiritual and cultural) they hold about physical interacion. “People who are desirous to, and desirous of physical displays of emotion, may struggle in relationships with little to no physicality,” Davis 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, Sina 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,” Sina said.
On that note, for the people in a relationship who are trying to steer away from “just sex”, Sina 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,” Sina 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 that 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,” Davis said. “However, the boundaries around this contact need to be set beforehand and then respected by both partners.”
So don’t feel guilty about your urge to touch and be touched. It’s good for you.
Aparna Echempati contributed to this report.