In a previous post, I mentioned how often, especially for men, touch can be linked up in their bodies with sex. In our current society, unfortunately, we have a disordered relationship to touch. When we are tiny children, if we are lucky, our parents and other caregivers touch us all the time. We are carried, cuddled, rocked and patted. But as we get older, we are touched less and less. I remember very well when my father stopped carrying me in to bed when I would fall asleep in the car on the way home. It felt like a terrible loss. And in many of today’s schools, children aren’t allowed to hug each other, and teachers mustn’t touch the children at all if they can help it.
Once kids hit puberty, it’s true that touch can become complicated. A whole new dimension is added to what touch might mean. But prohibiting kids from touching altogether doesn’t allow them to develop the appropriate judgment and boundaries for determining what kind of touch feels safe and right to them, from whom, and at what time.
And once people are adults, the relationship with touch shifts yet again. Women more often have access to casual, friendly touch with other women, but some do not, and as people get older and separate into isolated, nuclear family units, cuddle piles of friends tend to disappear, if they ever existed. For men, this tends to be even more true: from puberty onward, or even earlier, boys are taught to tamp down sensitivity, to be tough, to not seek or need affection, and to play sports – the team variants of which are the only allowable outlet for men to touch each other. (Have you ever watched a football game on TV and seen the incredible amount of butt-patting and hugging that goes on in addition to the tackling?) As a large proportion of men and women enter exclusive relationships, get married, and have kids, their only source of loving touch comes in one of two ways: through intimate contact with their partner, or through loving contact with their small children – in the most literal way, a natural extension of that sexuality.
Never mind all of the incredible health benefits touch has been shown to have. Even without the research, it’s fairly obvious: we are tribal monkeys at root, and what we do constantly to feel safe, comfortable, and right with ourselves and each other is to touch. And the fact that our culture is so disconnected from that says volumes about our current sicknesses, pathologies and screwed-up behaviors as a society.
So it’s not at all surprising that when some people reach the table – whether it’s with a massage therapist, an energy healer, or a Rubenfeld Synergist, the loving, nonjudgmental touch they receive often triggers sexual feelings. After all, there aren’t a lot of other contexts for receiving gentle, loving touch as an adult. For women, this can be terrifying: a married woman may feel that she is being unfaithful, or that she is having inappropriate feelings, or that the healer is touching her inappropriately. For men, it can be terrifying, too, or they – more often – may turn to inappropriate expressions of those feelings toward the healer. For anyone, it can be confusing, can arouse feelings of shame or guilt or both, or can tap into memories of sexual abuse or incest. For all of these reasons, touch can be like a match to dynamite, and treating it with the utmost respect is vital to the success of any treatment involving touch.
The truth continues, though, that what has happened to the body remains in the body, and must be healed in the body, as well. Whatever trauma, abuse, neglect, memory, feeling, or story resides in the person I am touching, that thing must be eventually brought forth, and the trauma decoupled from the experience of receiving loving, non-sexual touch. Unfortunately or not, the only cure for that is the touch itself: receiving, acclimating, and learning, little by little, that touch can be okay, that touch can be relaxing, that touch can be loving without it being about sex, that touch doesn’t have to demand anything from you, lead to anything else, hurt you, arouse you, wound you. That you own your body, and that you can decide when and how it is touched, and by whom.
That decoupling may also be called a kind of re-pairing: taking apart allows for another kind of putting together, so that a client can pair up touch and love, touch and solace, touch and peace, instead of touch and pain, touch and sex, touch and demands. Giving clients more options for how they might experience touch is incredibly healing, and opens up more options in their lives as well.