Humans have harnessed the power of physical touch for millennia. But surprisingly, only 19 percent of people consider physical touch as their love language. Meaning it comes behind words of affirmation, quality time, and acts of service, according to survey results. Touch forms a crucial part of many people’s relationships, whether those relationships are with other people or with themselves. Knowing your own body well enough to be able to guide a partner can take the power of touch to new levels.
We’re going to take a look at what is considered intimate touching before unpacking the four types of intimacy and why touch is so powerful.
What is intimate touching?
When we’re talking about intimate touching, we’re talking about touch that takes place between partners, lovers, or even with yourself. It can be intimate or sexual and can take many different forms depending on the relationship between the person doing the touching and the person being touched. Intimate touching can involve caressing, stroking, hugging, hand holding, and more. Each relationship will include different amounts and types of intimate touching, depending on how important the act is for everyone involved.
The interesting thing about intimate touch is that it’s one of the first ways you explore a new partner. Generally, before you go all in, you will spend time exploring their body in some way or another. We’re not necessarily talking about building tension over weeks of dates – if that’s your thing, then that’s cool – but it can also be simply touching your partner as you both get undressed. It can be building tension with your partner by exploring their body through their clothes while you’re out in public. Intimate touching means a lot of different things to different people, and it’s part of what makes it so unique.
What are the four types of intimacy?
If you mention intimacy, many people’s minds skip straight to sex. But there are lots of different forms of intimacy in relationships – whether they’re sexual or platonic. When you start to read about intimacy, you will usually come across a concept of there being four types of intimacy. So, what are these four types, and what do they mean? Let’s unpack what sexologist and psychotherapist Kristie Overstreet explained about intimacy when she spoke to Mind Body Green:
- Experiential intimacy – includes completing tasks together such as cooking a meal or building flat-pack furniture. It can also come from trying new things together: traveling together or deciding to train for a marathon together.
- Intellectual intimacy – you know that connected feeling you get after having a deep conversation with someone? That’s known as intellectual intimacy. It can come from working together to answer big questions about the universe or the meaning of life. But it can also come from smaller moments, such as discussing a book or article you both read.
- Emotional intimacy – comes from sharing thoughts or memories you wouldn’t share with everyone. For example, if you talk to someone about a childhood memory or how an argument with a family member made you feel. If the person you are speaking to listens and expresses understanding, you will experience emotional intimacy.
- Spiritual intimacy – in this case, spirituality doesn’t necessarily mean religious or spiritual beliefs. It can, but it doesn’t have to. It can also mean sharing your values and ideas about right and wrong. It can also be sharing a moment when you are both awestruck by something, like a beautiful starry night.
Why is touch so intimate?
Aside from a sense of closeness with your partner, the intimate feeling that touch produces can actually be explained by science. We have evolved to crave touch because it makes us feel good. It makes us feel connected and loved. But touch works in a really interesting way to produce those feelings: touch releases a hormone called Oxytocin. The hormone is responsible for creating a sense of well-being such as calm, improved social interactions, trust, decreased fear, and human bonding, according to a study published in 2019. Regular touching sessions (be it intimate or otherwise) helps reduce pain, lower your heart rate, and boost your immune system.A 2010 study found that our need for touch stems from how we evolved fighting predators: researcher Aikaterini Fotopoulou and colleagues studied touch reactions to find out why it feels good. They found that primates engage in “social touch” to establish bonds with other members of their tribe who will then work with them if they need to fight a predator: “if there’s a predator coming in, the [primates] that are touch buddies will defend each other and not the rest,” Fotopoulou said. In short, touch is a way of forming and securing bonds that not only feels great, it also helps us solidify links with the ones we love. “Giving pleasure is receiving pleasure,” Fotopoulou said, and honestly, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.