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May 1st, 2008 at 11:46 pm

Touching, sexual vs. non-sexual

These days the whole topic of “touching” is a touchy subject (cheesy pun intended!)  Now, certainly I recognize that there is an argument for our extremism.   In this current day and age, where priests have admitted to touching minors inappropriately, sexual harassment in the workplace is a common discussion, and convicted sex crime offenders can be tracked via a map on a website, it is no surprise that our boundaries in regards to touching are being put to the test.  At no other time in history have we been so aware of the affects of one human being touching another.  Unfortunately, the result is often an overcompensation, with questionable results.

Where do we draw the line?  Do we do away with touching altogether?  That’s the view of many schools, including Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, VA, who banned all touching (including hugs, holding hands, and high-fives) on campus last June, in an effort to curb violence and inappropriate behavior.  This is perhaps an extreme (but valid) example of how America’s Puritan roots still affect us today.  Americans in particular seem to have a unique definition of touch, which is often seen only within a sexual context.  I find it sad that we have to monitor ourselves to the point of disengagement.  I recall a previous male boss who admitted that he was deathly afraid that the slightest innocent behavior towards a female co-worker would be misconstrued as a sexual advance.  And I myself have dealt with the uncomfortable dynamics of being the “only woman” in a group of men (professionally, and personally.)  Touching in America is indeed precarious.

Not so in other countries and cultures.  I will share with you an example that I personally experienced.  Many years ago I visited Nairobi, Kenya (Africa).  While walking the local university campus with a Kenyan friend, I noticed that often times when there were two men walking along together, they were holding hands.  At first I thought, cool, a very forward-thinking campus that allows open affection between gay males.  However, when I commented on the hand-holding to my friend, he explained to me that it is common in Kenya (and Africa) for male friends to hold hands when walking together.  It is not seen as sexual any more than a handshake or pat on the back.  To an American this may be a very strange and difficult concept to digest, but it is second-nature to an African.  And in my opinion, it is beautiful.  Unfortunately, this would never ever work in America, or most other “Western” or “Caucasian” countries.  We have way too many deep-seeded associations with touch, sexuality, and sin.

And yet, no one can deny the positive effects of touch.  Whether it is hugging a friend in a time of need, a massage at a spa,  a healing hand at a church service, or a smack on the butt between football players, it is hard to deny the need of human beings to touch and be touched.  And this is just talking about non-sexual touching.

I realize this is a hotly debated subject, but I am of the opinion that sexual touch (when appropriate, and consensual) is just as necessary and positive.  Ancient cultures have long recognized the healing effects of sexual touch.  I find it ironic that American Christians in particular have come to view sexual touch as wrong and sinful.  I am getting into a subject for another post (religion and sex), but suffice it to say, it’s my opinion that touch in general, and sexual touch specifically is a positive force.

So, in doing research for this post, I came across some good information.  This webpage is very lengthy and academic, but has some great information and observations about human beings and touch, and is worth at least a skim, if not a complete read: To Touch Or Not To Touch.

However, I would like to leave this post with a positive vibe.  Here are two links having to do with folks who are in the business of hugging.  Yes, hugging.  They recognize the importance of a simple hug, and their purpose and cause are nothing short of inspirational.  Please check them out:

Hug Nation
Free Hugs Campaign

 

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