Sensuality part 1: The Importance of Touch
an interview with Alison Rahn on Audio Chocolate, BayFM radio
Click on the link above to listen to Alison talking about the benefits of touch to our health and wellbeing as part of a 3 part series discussing Sensuality on BayFM 99.9, Thursdays at 2.30pm Aust EST.
Part 1: 18 Aug: The importance of TOUCH
Part 2: 1 Sept: Choosing a mate by SMELL & TASTE
Part 3: 15 Sept: SIGHT and SOUND
How often do you lovingly touch your partner, children, friends or family?
Have you ever wondered why people who don’t want to be touched seem unhappy or stressed?
Or why some cultures, no matter how poor, seem incredibly happy?
Our happiness is connected to the quality of touch in our lives.
Touch is the first of our five senses to develop. In fact, it develops when we are still in the womb. Scientists say the earlier a function develops, the more fundamental it is to life.
Touch is the most important of our five senses. It is the only sense we cannot survive without.
Human beings are incredibly adaptable. We can survive blindness, deafness, and the absence of taste or smell. But we cannot survive without touch. Touch is how we communicate with the world. Without it, we would severely burn or injure ourselves, without even knowing.
Touch is our first form of communication.
When we are born we have to rapidly adapt to bright light and deafening noise, and breathe air for the first time. It’s an overwhelming experience. However touch calms us. Our mother’s first touch communicates we are safe. It is our anchor in this strange new world. So the first role touch plays in our lives is to reduce stress.
Relaxed, caring touch always reduces stress. No matter how old we are.
Hugs, kisses, holding hands, close body contact, stroking of skin or hair ….. these all reduce our stress levels and bring us back into our body.
Sex is the highest form of touch we experience as adults because it’s where we have the most skin on skin contact.
When the touch we receive communicates we are cared for, the ‘feel good’ hormone, oxytocin, is released into our bloodstream. Oxytocin is responsible for feelings of wellbeing, emotional bonding, orgasm, and birth contractions.
The presence of oxytocin reduces the stress hormone, cortisol.
Whenever we feel any form of pleasure, oxytocin levels rise and our stress levels decrease.
When an infant is breastfed, the breast stimulation releases oxytocin into the mother’s bloodstream. Both mother and child get a dose, and both feel more bonded as a result.
Likewise, for the baby, the skin on skin contact with the mother stimulates the baby’s suckling response and normalises baby’s breathing (from shallow to deeper breathing).
Simultaneously, the oxytocin released into the mother’s bloodstream stimulates contractions, helps expel the placenta, reduce bleeding, and begin the process of reducing her uterus to it’s normal size. This release of oxytocin also initiates the secretion of breast milk.
You can see how mother and child are designed to nourish and support each other. In fact all human relationships involving loving touch provide this support. We are designed to touch and be touched. This keeps us healthy and reduces stress and disease.
Oxytocin triggers the contractions we experience during orgasm (and childbirth). So the more loving touch we receive during everyday life, as well as during foreplay, the stronger our orgasms.
During orgasm, the brain and body are flooded with feel-good chemicals (including oxytocin) which then increase our receptivity to more pleasure (and more orgasms) and make us feel more bonded with our partner.
The skin is the largest organ in our body. Skin cells evolve from the same embryonic cells as the central nervous system. You could say the skin is the exposed part of the nervous system. The skin and the nervous system have a shared purpose, to inform us about the world around us.
Cells in the outer layers of the skin replace themselves every 4 hours. Receptors in the skin register touch, heat, cold, moisture, pressure, pain and pleasure. Our skin sensitivity depends on the stimulation we receive, ie ‘use it or lose it’. Less stimulation requires less receptors.
There are approximately 5 million sensory receptors in the skin of an adult male, all crying out to be touched.
For all of us, the number of touch receptors in the skin reduces with age. At 3 years old we have approximately 80 touch receptors per square millimetre of skin. This reduces to 20 per mm2 as a young adult and 4 per mm2 in old age.
This says 2 things:
- our need for touch is highest in the first few years of life
- the less touch we receive, the less touch we are able to receive (because the body doesn’t waste energy continuing to create cells which are never used).
The opposite is also true. The more we expose our bodies to pleasure, the more pleasure pathways are created in the brain and nervous system.
Ever noticed your skin feels tingly during sex?
There is a relationship between touch and breathing. During sexual activity, deeper breathing washes carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the blood. This changes the ionic balance of body fluids, creating increased nerve excitability, felt as a tingling of the skin. So active breathing increases the pleasure we receive from touch.
Women are generally more responsive to touch than men and are much more dependant on touch for erotic arousal. Men are more visual.
It is well documented that relaxed people enjoy more frequent and enjoyable sexual activity.
Relaxation opens us up to receive pleasure. Pleasure stimulates the release of oxytocin.
Warm, physical contact (with feelings of intimacy and belonging) leads to:
•Higher oxytocin levels in men and women
•Lower blood cortisol in men and women
•Lower blood pressure in women
Men and women reporting greater partner support show higher oxytocin levels.
Higher oxytocin levels reduce stress, heart disease, and breast cancer risk.
So start lovingly touching your partner (without expectations) to improve your relationship and your health. Touch in a way that communicates you care.
Grewen KM et al (2005) Effects of Partner Support on Resting Oxytocin, Cortisol, Norepinephrine, and Blood Pressure Before and After Warm Partner Contact. Psychosomatic Medicine, 67
Insel TR et al (1998) Oxytocin, vasopressin, and the neuroendocrine basis of pair bond formation. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 449
Kiecolt-Glaser J & Newton T (2001) Marriage and health: his and hers. Psychology Bulletin, 127
Light KC, Grewen KM, Amico JA (2005) More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in pre-menopausal women. Biological Psychology, 69
Montagu A (1986) Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin (3rd ed.). New York, Harper & Row
Alison Rahn © Copyright 2011 www.alisonrahn.com.au