Touch is the first sense to develop in the womb and the last sense to leave in old age. It is essential to the health and well being of human’s emotional, physical and mental development. It is so vital, in fact, that therapist and author Virginia Satir stated that human beings need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance and 12 hugs a day for growth.
A “Touch Phobic” Society
In today’s world, technology has reduced the amount of physical contact that people have with each other or daily basis. With automatic bank machines, ONLINE SHOPPING, internet, email and voice mail people can make appointments, dates or decisions without ever actually talking to or seeing another person. Those subtle contacts with others, once common on a daily basis are gone.
In addition, it is more common to hear about situations where touch has been used negatively or inappropriately. The news reports on child abuse cases, sexual harassment suits and rapes. Parents are teaching children to be wary of strangers, and to be selective in how and what to touch. Though this is beneficial to keep children safe, it has created a society that has become “touch phobic” where the simplest and most innocent touch can be easily misconstrued as sexual, or inappropriate.
Dr. Barnaby Barratt from Santa Barbara Consulting and Healing highlights in his article on Nurturing Touch that “affectional touch is highly beneficial so long as it is experienced as ‘appropriate’ to the situation, and does not impose greater intimacy than is desired, or is not part of some interpersonal ‘power play.’ Touching should neither be coercive nor manipulative. It should be purely giving, and never used as a means to an ends, for example, as a maneuver to get someone into unwanted sexual relations.”
Due to the overload of negative touch, society has become very guarded. When people are touched in any form it is often perceived as bad or inappropriate. Unfortunately, this change in perspective has denied people the simple opportunities to enhance their development and one of the key elements needed to thrive and grow.
Children and Touch
A child’s first and most important teacher is his sense of touch. It is the first sense he develops in the womb, and it begins to develop at only eight weeks. Babies need it to survive and grow, and this need remains with us throughout our lives.
In the 1940s, Doctor Fritz Talbot discovered on a visit to a children’s clinic that there is a strong connection between touch and babies ability to thrive. Babies that were being held, touched and mothered were thriving when all other medical possibilities had been exhausted.
This need for touch is especially true with premature babies. In one study, premature babies who received gentle daily massage thrived better and had a 50% more daily weight gains than those that were untouched. In addition, these babies had a more efficient metabolism and were released from the hospital six days earlier.
For young infants and toddlers, touch is a main source of learning about the world around them. They use their mouth and hands to explore and learn what things are and how things work. It is a key factor in their development as a child.
Benefits of Touch
The benefits of touch to a person’s health are phenomenal. Touch can reassure, relax and comfort. It reduces depression, anxiety, stress and physical pain; and can be healing. It increases the number of immune cells in the body, and has powerful affects on behavior and moods. Touch can be used as a form of alternative healing in the form of touch therapy.
In the video Touch: The Forgotten Sense produced by Max Films, a study was conducted where women who had been sexually abused were introduced to a good form of touch by receiving massage therapy. A masseuse of the same sex gave the massage, and this helped the women perceive touch as more positive. They also found that the massage reduced their stress level and depressed mood. This introduction of “safe touch” helped these women begin to become comfortable again with being touched.
In the same video, another study was conducted where researchers asked people who had spent no longer than 15 minutes in a library how they rated their experience in the library. People who had brushed hands “accidentally” with the planted librarian reported a more enjoyable time. In a similar study, people who were touched by their waitress, a brush of the hand, or a gentle touch on the shoulder, said they had a more enjoyable dining experience and left larger tips for the waitress as compared with those people who had no contact.
These studies also demonstrate that we don’t need to consciously notice the touch in order to reap the benefits. Of those that were touched in the library study, not all of the people remembered being touched, but still reported a more pleasant experience than those that weren’t touched at all. People use their sense of touch automatically and may take it for granted on a daily basis. Yet people really notice when there is a lack of it.
Positive Touch Benefits Everyone
Touch is vital to the positive health and development of all human beings, regardless of age. Humans need to touch and be touched, just like they need food and water. It is a way of communicating, lifting their spirits, and experiencing happiness in their lives. Without it, people experience sadness, loneliness and isolation. It is important to have this physical contact in people’s lives, yet in today’s society many people are removed from benefiting from it due to negative associations with touch or lack of someone to share touch with.
This is why people have started seeking other forms of human touch in their lives such as attending a Cuddle Party, going for a regular massage, or experiencing other forms of healthy touch.