You were probably able to feel yourself even before your mother could! Just three weeks after you were conceived you began to develop the first of your five senses – touch.
So how come this most essential of our senses is the one that so many of us – as adults – seem to have lost touch with?
Communication through sensation
Sensation – perhaps more than any other sense – is our body’s way of communicating important information to us. Recent research has revealed that people can not only identify, with startling accuracy, emotions – such as anger, love, gratitude, and compassion – from a single touch by a stranger they cannot see, but they can differentiate between those kinds of touch, something people haven’t done as well in studies of facial and vocal communication.
The science of touch
The science is indisputable and shows that touch is a vital part of staying healthy – from weight to stress: In premature infants those who received just three 15-minute sessions of touch therapy each day for 5-10 days gained 47 percent more weight than those who’d received standard medical treatment.
And adults in a brain scanner, anticipating a painful blast of white noise, showed heightened brain activity in regions associated with threat and stress. But those whose romantic partner stroked their arm while they waited didn’t show this reaction at all. Touch had turned off the threat switch.
At every stage of our lives basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress, and activates the vagus nerve which is intimately connected to our emotional response.
Touch and sex
Touch is also, of course, an integral part of how we experience sex. Essentially how it works is that sensation stimulation triggers the release of oxytocin (sometimes known as ‘the love hormone’)… enough of this triggers the release of dopamine (something most of us more often get from stimulants such as caffeine), and this is ultimately what allows us to enter arousal.
But this is where – in our technology-driven Western culture – the problems begin. In a world where even most conversations are now virtual we are becoming increasingly disconnected from any opportunities to experience touch which is non-sexual.
In fact, as sexologist Dr Betty Martin points out: for the majority of us touch has become so inextricably linked with sex that it’s often hard to separate sensation for its own sake. Something which – for those of us who feel challenged by intimacy or sexual expression – can lead to a vicious cycle of touch-deprivation!
Getting back in touch with yourself
When was the last time you experienced lingering touch and simply enjoyed the sensation for its own sake, without feeling like you ought to be reciprocating or responding in some way – erotic or otherwise?
Don’t despair, it’s easy to start getting back in touch with yourself. Simply spend 10 minutes a day gently caressing your bare skin – if you feel shy or silly start with something straightforward like your cheeks or your arms (although once you feel the benefits of that oxytocin tingle I’m betting you might want to get your whole body involved!) Or try my 3-minute sensate focus meditation and you’ll really be feeling yourself in no time….
To paraphrase the hit song: when you think about it, you’ll touch yourself!
24 May, Forest Row, East Sussex. With Michael Dresser & Sarah Davies. What does consent look and feel like on a dancefloor? A 1-day exploration for those who love to dance and are interested in the dynamics that can arise when we dance in a group with people.
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If you’re feeling overwhelmed the Wheel Of Consent can provide a great framework for helping you look at how you make decisions about what you do or don’t agree to – and why.