We all know that a soothing touch from your partner is pleasant. But few of us ever realize the immense benefits of human touch for our relationships.
Does it matter where we are touched, and how often?
As a recent study reveals, it does indeed.
The online study asked people aged 20 to 40 years to answer a question “Where do you prefer to be touched by your partner” and name one or several body parts.
As you would expect, the results show major differences between men and women in regard to their tactile preferences.
The biggest surprise?
Most of us have the same favorite body part that craves touch.
These are the top 3 places where we like to be caressed by our partner:
- Legs & thighs
- Head & hair
Before we tell you more about the results, let’s look at why human touch is so important for cultivating a thriving relationship.
Why is touch important?
Touching others and being touched are fundamental modes of human interaction that are instrumental to our health and well-being.
Many studies have proven that humans need touch, particularly in childhood, almost as much as they need food and water. There are numerous benefits of human touch: from stress-relief to an improved mood and even pain reduction.
Humans have two touch systems – the factual (discriminative) and emotional. The latter is mediated by a very different set of sensors and nerve fibers, and it conveys information much more slowly. These could include a hug from a friend, mother’s touch to a child, or intimate contact between partners. They all activate the parts of the brain that are crucial for socially-bonding touch.
Today, when online communication seems to substitute face-to-face interaction, touching does not lose its importance. At the same time, we see that our lives become increasingly touch-free, as we can communicate and receive many services digitally.
Researchers have even coined a term ‘skin hunger’, which is a state of being touch-deprived and longing for physical human contact. Depression and health issues, both physical and mental, can often be the effects of ‘skin hunger’, most severely felt by seniors, prisoners, and other people who lead solitary lives.
It’s not surprising that movements related to the power of touching like Reiki or the Japanese healing art Jin Shin Jyutsu become more and more popular. Many people are even seeking “professional touchers” such as physical therapists or chiropractors, possibly to fill the void of affectionate touch by a fellow person.
To find out where we prefer to be touched, the couples clothing brand Be-With conducted an anonymous online survey. They asked people aged 20 to 40 years – 53% women and 47% men – to answer a question “Where do you prefer to be touched by your partner” and name one or several body parts.
Survey results: Where we like to be touched by our partner
#1: The Back
It turned out that the majority – 64% of women and 50% of men – prefer to be caressed on their back.
The good news is that the back is one of the easiest body parts to be touched, as it can be done anywhere and anytime. In fact, most of us are okay even with friends and colleagues touching our backs occasionally.
But why does a caring back-stroke by your partner produce a strikingly different sensation than a friendly pat on the back from a colleague?
The reason why intimate back strokes and romantic touching, in general, are so powerful lies in the release of oxytocin – commonly known as the love hormone.
As oxytocin levels increase during hugging and making love, there is a greater amount of it being produced among people who are in a relationships (both casual and longterm) than in those who are single.
There’s also an age-old (and less romantic) explanation why most of us love when someone scratches our back. It turns out, back scratching used to be a grooming need – a favor done to our ancestors by their loved ones. With time, it evolved into a social, and even mating, function.
#2: The Neck
The neck is a peculiar spot – entirely visible and open to the public, yet at the same time, it is a very intimate area. As a study of 1,368 Europeans showed people are more reluctant to strangers, acquaintances, or even distant relatives touching their neck.
It all changes when it’s our intimate partner who’s doing the touching; then, the feeling is very special. The survey reflects this with 55% women and 39% of men admitting to like it when their neck is caressed by their significant other. No wonder since the neck area has a high concentration of light-touch receptors that go wild for gentle kisses and even a light tickle of breath.
It seems that the greater the pleasure incurred by touching a specific area of the body, the more selectively we allow other people to touch it.
The Runners-Up: Arms, Legs, Head, and Shoulders
The next most preferred areas for women to be touched are legs & thighs (25%), closely followed by shoulders (23%).
As for men, the head & hair area gets the bronze medal with 20% respondents, while arms and legs take the 4th and 5th place with 15% of guys loving to be touched there.
Interestingly, only 8% of women claim to love when their arms are touched. Maybe we are not aware of the secret erogenous zones that our arms and legs hide – for example, the inner wrist, feet and the spot behind the knee. However, even caressing the more “popular” zones like the upper thigh or the arm can spark a warm feeling between partners.
What about…down there?
As we go lower, the greater differences begin. When it comes to our most sacred zones, 15% of men give preference to being touched ‘down there’ while only 2% of women do.
Why are we so different in this?
The differences between how men and women perceive the delicate matter of intimacy are the subject of many books and studies. One of the reasons might be that for women, their private parts are reserved for only the most intimate of moments when they have chosen to let down their barriers.
Men, on the other hand, generally have gotten acquainted with their intimate areas sooner, since early childhood and thus tend to be more open about them or even associate them with emotional and physical pride.
Still, the survey reveals that, contrary to how men are commonly portrayed, their private parts are by far not their most preferred touching zone.
Intimate touching vs. Non-Intimate touching
The above survey results indicate that for couples, touching that represents companionship and support that matters even more than touching the intimate areas that have the greatest potential to bring pleasure.
However, we are not going to deny that sexual intimacy is crucial for cultivating a strong and long-lasting relationship.
What’s essential here is not limiting touches to intimate play only.
While every other magazine cover seems to scream of intercourse and push some sort of “relationship agenda” on us, it’s surprising how little we talk about the importance of non-sexual physical affection.
For example, studies have found that affectionate physical behavior like hugging can reduce blood pressure and lower reactions to stressful life events.
When you are in a relationship, touching begins to have an even more profound impact. Those who have been in relationships will remember those months of being in love when eye contact in combination with touch stirred up the butterflies in the stomach. If you had even the slightest doubt about the romantic attitude of the person beside you, the “accidental” hand-touching had the power to remove it altogether.
As the relationship matures, the importance of touching grows and diversifies. For example, daily cuddling can strengthen the relationship and enhance love, which are probably some of the most important benefits of human touch.
Also, relationships in which physical affection is prioritized lead to less fighting. Even if you do find yourself in a conflict, it can be easier solved with touching; if the couple shows signs of physical affection like hugging and cuddling while they’re experiencing problems, they are likely to resolve their conflict sooner.
The Benefits of Human Touch for Your Relationship
In the never-ending rush through life, work, and other chores, a simple gesture like a hug or a touch can go a long way to benefit a relationship.
And it can work the other way around too; lack of physical proximity can make you grow apart.
For some couples, it comes naturally. Others might need to make a concerted effort. If you would like to introduce more touching into your relationship, you can agree to experiment with a more-touch-policy for a month and see how you’re feeling. Or, try touch-encouraging products or accessories like a cuddle mattress or couples’ clothing with secret openings for touching.
If you’re experiencing relationship strife, try the simple act of human touch to bring the spark back.
Featured photo credit: Christiana Rivers via unsplash.com