When and where to touch, how to touch, and how deep to touch. Is touch becoming the most forgotten language?
Losing its essence and falling victim to misinterpretations, over time.
Or rather, must I ask simply, why do we perceive touch the way we do these days?
Talking about recent times of being surrounded by technology, I noticed over the past months, all the more during the 2020-21 lockdowns, that I felt the touch of gadgets aka Man Made Rulers more than a human’s touch. At the point of realisation, the deprivation felt like an inundating void.
Irrespective of the degree, the deprivation of touch reminded me of what happened within the orphanages in Romania during the Nicolae Ceausescu regime. Around the late 1980s, when communism ended an estimated 100,000 Romanian children were left and found in orphanages. This was the result of a pro-family 1966 policy Decree 770 which outlawed abortions and contraceptives, with few exceptions, to increase the population after World War II. The desired results were achieved but at terrible costs to women’s health and children.
When it comes to the science of touch it is the first sense to develop in the womb and reach maturity. The skin being the largest sensory organ of the body is sensitive to many different kinds of stimuli and helps connect with the environment more than the rest of our senses (sight, sound, smell, and taste).
Since parents were unable to care for many offsprings they were initially left in orphanages. It’s here where the cruelty of the regime became apparent. The children grew up without love, touch, food, or security – all essential for a healthy human mind and body.
Later in life, the children grew up having attachment disorders, cognitive delays, and problems in the development of gastrointestinal and immune systems. We know that it was because of lack of touch when in some cases volunteers came and provided 30 minutes of loving touch and it reversed the ruinous effects, but only if it occurred in the first two years of life. If the child was above two the problems would persist.
According to Tiffany Field, the head of Touch Research Institute in the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, who uses massage therapy to improve the clinical course of conditions like the development of premature infants, reducing pain, increasing attentiveness, depression, and immune functions. Her experiments showed that “the right kind can lower blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol (stress hormones) levels, stimulate the hippocampus (an area in the brain that is central to memory), and drive the release of a host of hormones and neuropeptides that are linked to positive and uplifting emotions.”
Another great example of the significance of physical contact is the experiment conducted by psychologist Harry Harlow in the 1950s. He put rhesus monkey babies in a cage alone for a while with no one around. Once he took them out, he placed two monkey mothers beside one another. One was made of wire holding a milk bottle and the other was built with soft and fluffy material but without a milk bottle. The majority of the monkey babies ended up choosing the fluffy mother. The importance was given to having body contact and closeness instead of being fed.
The relationship between our emotions and our bodily sensations is also clear, such as when David J. Linden, professor of neuroscience at John Hopkins University, explains why a shot soldier in battle may undergo less pain at the moment than a child getting vaccinated would – distraction vs anxiety. Our brain can increase or decrease the pain signals it receives through the spinal cord, which affects the amount of pain we feel in various situations.
Touch reliably conveys different emotions like facial and vocal expressions. I wonder what men not liking to be touched by men signify. It’s always brief; a handshake, or a pat on the back. Oh! and let’s not forget the once in a while hello and goodbye hugs. It sure may be subjective, yet it’s an area most men or women don’t feel bothered to discuss, thanks to certain norms that have started to feel comfortable to live by.
Even when it comes to a friendly hug, within the same sex or opposite, I’ve observed that the shoulders and chest in touch, legs, and butts out. In a way communicating to anyone within the line of sight that there’s nothing sexual happening. We’re working so hard to be seen as sexually neutral that we take no joy in these moments of a physical connection. Or if that’s not the direct/indirect concern then what is the discomfort about?
When it comes to tactile and Kamasutra, an ancient text that speaks of the art of living, the nature of love, and aspects of pleasure-oriented faculties of human life. Touch is of varied forms, each designed to arouse a distinctive sensation from the partner depending on her/his liking.
The text presents 26 forms of kissing, ranging from showing affection and respect to those during foreplay and sex. Other than playing with a human touch (forms of holding embraces, mutual massages and rubbing, pinching and biting, using fingers and hands to stimulate) Kamasutra recommends various aphrodisiacs to include in order to increase serenity, heighten or lower body temperature and sensitivity. And so did civilisations like Chinese, Egyptian, Roman, and Greek cultures believed that certain substances could provide an improved living pleasure, sexual or not.
No matter how small or big of a gesture in the act of tactile may be, it carries certain intent and values that one must pay attention to. Our perception of reality would be an abject experience without touch.
And, guess who uttered these words of wisdom, “To touch is to give life”.
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