The Power Of Touch: The Crucial Role Of Physical Intimacy In Relationships
September 11, 2014 by Justin Lehmiller
One of the keys to a healthy, long-term relationship is maintaining physical intimacy. I’m not just talking about sex, though—for many reasons, non-sexual physical intimacy is just as important. For one thing, touch is a form of communication. It can reveal everything from your partner’s current mood state to their stress level. In addition, touch stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone involved in feelings of bondedness. Touch can therefore bring you closer to your partner both physically and psychologically.
Touch is so vital for relationship success that it has become a cornerstone of most sex therapy programs for couples. Masters and Johnson, the founders of the modern sex therapy movement, recognized this nearly a half-century ago, which is how sensate focus (a couple’s exercise that involves promoting relaxation through non-sexual touch) came to be a standard therapeutic technique . It may surprise you to learn that many sexual problems can be solved through this kind of touch alone, without the need for any medication or psychotherapy. For sexual problems that result from stress, anxiety, or a lack of communication, touch can not only serve as a powerful remedy, but it can also make it less likely that such problems will emerge or become serious in the first place.
Unfortunately, many people find that the amount of touch in their relationship declines over time, which can sow the seeds of discontent and contribute to sexual difficulties. So what can you do if you find this happening in your own relationship? Take a cue from the science and find a way to interject more touch into your love life. How? There are many ways to do this, but my go-to advice for a good starting point is typically massage—but not the kind where you make an appointment at the spa, rather, I’m talking about a massage that you give with your own hands.
However, a lot of people don’t know how to give massages particularly well. For example, some people press too hard or in the wrong area, which has the potential to be irritating instead of relaxing. So, consider learning some massage techniques before you begin—trust me, your partner will thank you.
For a crash course in massage technique, let me offer my own personal recommendation: Melt: Massage for Couples. It is a three-part video series designed for couples to learn at home and practice over a sequence of date nights. The video segments are short, informative, and tastefully done, with the techniques taught by Australian massage therapist Denis Merkas. Not only are they easy to learn, but they are intended to make sure that you hit the right spots.
One of the things I like about Melt is that it builds on a lot of the fundamentals of sensate focus: setting aside some quality time to concentrate only on each other, replacing feelings of stress and anxiety with relaxation through mutual touch, and communicating with your partner about what feels good.
To be perfectly clear, we’re not talking about an erotic massage program here, and the Melt videos are definitely PG. However, the resulting relaxation and increased physical intimacy certainly have the potential to spark sexual desire (a “happy ending” joke would have just been too easy here).
If you’re interested in learning more about the Melt video series, check it out here. Happy massaging!
For more articles on sexual difficulties and their treatment, click here.
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 Masters, W., & Johnson, V. (1970). Human sexual inadequacy. Boston: Little, Brown.
Image Credit: Denis Merkas
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Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >