My heart and prayers extend to all of us at this time of major risk and transformation. May we act with the consciousness that we all need to constrict our movement in the physical world and increase our inseparable self- and collective care. May we use this time to delve more deeply within, to be more present, and to do what we can to be a resource to others.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about in recent days is touch. Specifically, the kind that is not initiated as a prelude to sex. The latter gets mega play in the media of all genres and in our conversations, and I’d like to highlight the balm of affectionate touch in this piece. I arrived here after listening to some of my family, friends and clients express sadness and a sense of loss in no longer being able to hug friends, cared-for colleagues and in some cases, family. Governor Cuomo of New York mentioned it today in his press conference, “It is not natural,” he said, referring to the way he greeted his adult daughter, who has recently come home temporarily. It was not the way he usually does. I’m glad he validated this aspect of the adjustments we are having to make, sharing his own experience.
Hugs, massages, a hand around a shoulder or the back of the neck. a kiss on the cheek, temple or forehead or a gentle repetitive stroke across the back. These are some of the powerful ways we connect, console, love and heal others through physical touch. We are sensual beings, our skin filled with receptors to take in the feel and energy of touch. When someone I know has suffered the loss of a loved one, I use my hands and arms more than words, which feel so hollow at these times. Some of us are more at ease and desirous of touch and touching than others, akin to other individual differences we have. There is also the matter of the quality of the touch, and certainly, those whose bodies have been violated may have an ambivalent or triggering response to touch. We cannot presume to touch people willy nilly, even in ‘regular’ times. Touch can also lie. Same as words. Be a pretense. Nor is touch the only way to convey affection or connect to others, but it is one whose value is often overlooked.
The provisos notwithstanding, touch, as a genuine expression of affection, is magnificent.
I do not know the state of research in regard to adults on this, but I believe we need it to thrive. In the case of infants and young children, it is well-documented that touch is crucial for their development and for forming attachments. Skin to skin contact between mothers and newborns has long been shown to have benefits for both infants and mothers and is reflected in practices of OB delivery rooms and neonatal pediatric units.
Shortly after my son was delivered by an emergency Caesarean section, back in the ’80s, my body began to shake uncontrollably. I had no control over it. Nor did the comforting efforts of my husband at the time. After doctors assessed my son and cleaned away the fluids on his body, they brought him back. Laid him on my upper abdomen and chest. My body calmed almost immediately. Pure magic, the shaking stopped entirely.
We all live in different circumstances — alone, with and without partners, children or parents; in our own homes or those of others, and some live in shelters. Those of us living with others are likely as affectionate with them as we’ve been before COVID19 unless they’ve been diagnosed with it or are symptomatic. I imagine this to be true even in shelters, excluding the strangers who may share the space. I’m unaware of any guidelines on this. There may be others, who in their own homes with family, may do as Gov. Cuomo did. For those who are living alone and avoiding in-person contact with family members and friends, or those limiting touch with family inside our homes out of great caution, the experience of touch, giving and receiving it, has plummeted. The absence may be subtle, slow to build, and hard to pinpoint. There is no thermometer to register it. It may show up as part of feelings of isolation, loneliness or irritability.
Perhaps this is a time to consider self-touch, a word that likely brings forward the words self-pleasuring or masturbation, terms that still give off uncomfortable vibrations to many of us, despite all the efforts to normalize them. As I said earlier, I feel no need to advocate for sexual pleasure, well-covered as it is, whether it occurs singularly or with others. But perhaps stroking our own shoulders, rubbing or massaging our faces, feet, and arms, and crossing them over our chest, grabbing our shoulders or back and squeezing them tight with our hands, can be included in our self-care rituals of breathwork, yoga, dancing, and others. Self-care, self-touch does not replace anything. It is a thing unto itself, an affirmation all its own.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this!