Touch Me—Not There!

How to be sensual without necessarily being sexual

About fifty years ago John Bowlby, author of Attachment, showed that we humans need something more than just food, water, oxygen, and physical shelter. He discovered that we could, as infants, receive all of those things and yet waste away without one other essential nurturing element: touch. Babies who were not cuddled sank into depressive states, quit eating, and died. And we never grow out of the desire and requirement for physical contact. Of course there are cultural and family differences as to how touch and affection are given, but the basic need persists.

My families of origin were both touchers (on Mother's Irish Kincannon side) and non-touchers (on Dad's Scottish McBurney side). Give me the touchers any day. I love a good Mediterranean festival. The Greeks and Italians ignore any non-verbal boundaries and kiss and hug you into surrender. I'm glad that trait was somehow transmitted over to those Kincannons and then to me. I'm suspicious that it was not just genetic but also contagious 'cause Dad couldn't keep his hands off Mother.

However, Dad's behavior may have been a different matter altogether. It's no question that even "non-toucher" men are driven by another inner force: sex. The concept might be more solemnly expressed as a drive for procreation, but let's face it, that usually has little to do with it. And that's where the conflict arises. The need for touch and cuddling survives childhood but gets waylaid by testosterone in adolescent males, who never recover. Often I hear from wives, "I'd like for my husband to just hold me, but it will never stop there. Once he starts any touching, it's going to end up in the bedroom." (I would deny that emphatically. Lovemaking can happen on the couch in the living room, in the back seat of the car, or on the floor of the family room. A bed is not essential. My wife, Melissa, would say emphatically that it doesn't take touch at all. Any look, sexy movement, or seductive dress is equally dangerous. A trench coat is deadly.)

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May 25

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