Posted by Fellana Randall, LMFT
“The body is the purest, most primal tool we have for communicating.”
~Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity
Now that spring has officially arrived and we’re fully into what has been known in the dating scene as “Spring fling,” it makes us want to be out on the beach in the warm sun with a cold drink and getting noticed. With multiple outdoors activities, it’s been observed that many people, whether attached or unattached, actively seek out others, specifically, during this time for comfort, connection and fun. Not to mention, this season we see ourselves and others in sundresses, shorts, bikinis and swim trunks. These repeated reminders of what may be lacking in an individual’s life can lead to feelings of pain and emptiness. Insecurity causes individuals to question whether their life is filled with enough love. Sex is usually the first thing affected when the emotional bond is shaken in a committed relationship. Partners losing their connection don’t feel enough emotional safety with each other to effectively communicate affection for one another.
Regardless of what a person’s love language may be, physical touch is a timeless, innate need for human beings. Skin is the largest sense organ. Touch combines two vital drives, sex and the human need to be held and acknowledged by a significant other. Skin to skin contact is the language of sex and the language of attachment. Touch arouses, while it also soothes. Touch is an essential need throughout life, from infancy well into late adulthood, and until the time of death. Touch is so key that when infants suffer from a lack of holding and caressing by caregivers, their brain growth and development actually slows, and infants have died as a result of limited physical contact. Primates are set apart from other animals by affectionate face-to-face sex, allowing the most vulnerable surfaces of the body to be openly exposed and connected. From birth, boys are held for shorter periods and caressed less often than girls. Children are often taught early on by adults to keep their hands off of their bodies, causing innocent curiosity to turn into lasting shame. In adulthood, men seem to be less responsive to tender touch than women, but men crave it just as much as women. Many men tend to not ask for tender touch, either due to cultural conditioning or lack of skill in asking for tender touch.
Too often, adults want to be held due to a yearning for emotional connection, but it seems more acceptable to ask for sex. The fear of being perceived as weak or needy is overwhelming, so it’s safer to mask the desire for tender touch with sexual excitement. Partners tend to fall into patterns of sex that reinforce negative cycles for their bond. When engaging in sex to simply reduce sexual tension, it causes the other partner to feel objectified. Or, when engaging in sex to seek reassuring feelings of validation, it causes the sexual experience to be driven by anxiety, which puts an inordinate amount of stress and tension on an act that should ideally be pleasurable and reinforcing any initial feelings of sadness, anxiety, loneliness, anger, or fear. These partners become so preoccupied with sex because it feels like the only place tender touch is felt. However, partners can’t be suspicious of one another and turned on at the same time. No safe bond, no safe sex, and with no sex, no bond.
Getting physical mobilizes oxytocin, generating positive feelings. When our sexual system is activated, we’re open to intimacy, and as a result, self-disclosure increases between partners. Shared information increases our ability to understand the world through one another’s eyes, and supports partners joining, or remaining joined for a shared identity as a couple. The more partners can learn to combine tender touch with emotional accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement, the more it will deepen the bond as well as create a space for more satisfying emotional connection and sexual intimacy.
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