May 19 2010

The Power of Touch

By Mark Sisson
112 Comments

The largest organ on our body is the skin. Its protective layers guard our muscles, bones, internal organs, and ligaments, while its active function results in the most fundamental of our five senses – that of touch. For all our focus on maintaining optimal organ function through diet, exercise, and lifestyle, could it be that we’re neglecting the organ that figures most prominently in our daily, direct communion with the material world?

I know that it’s awfully easy for me to go several days without real, meaningful physical contact with another human when I’m on the road promoting the book or giving a talk. Oh, sure, there are handshakes and incidental shoulder brushes and maybe even the occasional fist bump, but it’s not the same. I miss my wife and kids. You can’t exactly hug total strangers (nor would you really want to) or even business associates. When I’m away from my family and close friends, I realize just how ubiquitous our self-made, imaginary personal bubbles have become. We all walk around with them. This world is getting more crowded every day, and yet we’re somehow able to maneuver through it without so much as touching a single person unless we’re crammed into a train or city street. And still, even in those situations, people are loathe to make contact with one another, even ocular, and we manage to avoid most of it.

Take the phrase “touchy feely,” for example. What imagery does it conjure? Positive? Its literal definition is “marked by or emphasizing physical closeness and emotional openness,” but the phrase originates as an epithet. Because language is an organic thing, a reflection of its users and their society, and because the phrase is exclusively uttered from a position of discomfort with the idea of touching or being touched, “touchy feely” arises from a society diametrically opposed to physical contact and touch. Men who can’t bring themselves to hug their fathers or male friends without feeling physically ill (or, worse, that they might “catch the gay”); young men and women unable to separate honest affection from sexual attention; kids who spend their formative years touching the cold hard plastic of an XBox controller or remote control without developing nary a scrape, bruise, or welt from physical contact with peers; entire families that text, chat, or email to communicate, even when living under the same roof – this is the legacy of our apparently social revulsion to touch and physical closeness.

It starts with infants, of course. Many babies, upon being born, are instantly whisked away for checkups, tests, and to “let the mother rest.” It seems odd that in that most crucial of windows, where the mother-child post-womb relationship is in its infancy, many kids don’t even get to see their mothers. Instead, they’re in some room with some stranger having weird things done to them.

The first sense infants develop in the womb is touch, and when they’re born, touch is the most pre-attuned sense, whereas stuff like sight and taste take months to fully develop. A just-born infant, I would argue, needs to be with its mother, needs to feel her warmth (and she the baby’s), needs to indulge the only viable sense available at the moment. I imagine that initial (and in the wild, unavoidable and inevitable) physical closeness between mammalian mother and mammalian child is the foundation for the rest of the child’s life. It sets the stage, so to speak. I’m reminded of that old cartoon trope, where a baby bird hatches and latches onto the first creature it sees as its mother, even if that creature is Sylvester the cat licking his chops. There’s probably some truth to that. A child’s born and, if nature has dictated, that child is in immediate intimate contact with mom. Maybe those first few moments are more crucial than we think. Maybe the lack of physical contact between newborn and new mother reverberates through life, setting the stage for an adult with a mild distaste for human touch. You populate half of society with folks who were never really touched as children, who never really learned the essential importance of touch, and maybe you get what we have now. I’m speculating here, of course.

But we do know that animals touch each other all the time. It’s the Primal way. Young monkeys and apes cling to mothers’ backs. Social grooming is a staple of many animals’ lives. It’s utilitarian, because not all animals can completely clean themselves (we’ve all got hard to reach places) alone, but it also reinforces social structure and interpersonal relationships. Older apes groom each other, and this grooming affects endorphin levels. Wolf packs sleep together. Kangaroo kids hang out in that famous pouch. Or how about pets? Dogs will nuzzle and lick their masters and cats will head butt you and curl up in your lap and meow until you relent and offer your hand. It’s almost like touch is a requirement of animals; they crave and need it.

Do we?

Well, we’re animals, too. I’m a firm believer in listening to our bodies and to our instincts. They exist for a reason, our instincts, and though we shouldn’t surrender completely to their rule, we can use them as subtle indications of what might work best. These instincts might be muted in us big brains, but we’re animals. If they – especially the mammals, like us – yearn for touch, maybe there’s something to it. Maybe we need it, too.

Besides, despite all the New Age talk of energy fields and the power of touch, we know that people who have loved ones to touch on a regular basis live longer, happier lives. People who have sex on a regular basis also live happier, longer lives. It’s not mystical or magical; it’s practical. You touch people and have sex when you’re comfortable and happy with the person you’re touching. Happy people are, ahem, happier. Happy people live longer, and even if they didn’t, they’re happy, and that’s arguably the whole point of sentient existence. You’ve heard of companion animals, right? They improve the health and longevity of their owners (PDF), especially the widows, supposedly because of the added companionship and touching/petting that goes on. There have been studies where lab rabbits respond positively to touch as well. A colleague recently shared this anecdote with me: lab rabbits with terminal cancer living on the bottom row of the cages live longer than rabbits with cancer who live in higher cages. The only difference between the top and bottom row rabbits being that lab assistants handled the rabbits in the bottom cages more during feeding. When you’re dying of terminal cancer in a metal cage, I’ll bet you begin to really look forward to those few seconds of chin scratches each day.

I will say that things seem to be changing. When you watch old episodes of “The Tonight Show,” it’s all handshakes between Johnny Carson and his guests. It’s very formal, whereas now the male guests typically hug the host. And in sports, ironically the most stereotypically hypermasculine arena, there’s a ton of physical contact between teammates. Butt slapping, high fives, chest bumps, team huddles – it’s all a huge display of men and women incredibly comfortable with the idea of physical touch. There was even a recent study (PDF) mentioned in ESPN Magazine that noted the prevalence of high fives and chest bumps and other physical contact in pro basketball. The Cleveland Cavaliers, holders of the best record in the NBA this season (though now trounced from the playoffs), touch each other more than any other team in the league, while the teams with losing records tend to touch less. Do they touch less because they’re losing, or do they lose because they touch less and lack cohesion? Who knows, but the scientists in the article theorized that the high rate of touch definitely has something to do with it.

Still, though, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We need to integrate touch into our lives, not in some formal, creepy way, like organizing community grooming or hugging sessions, but in a healthy, normal, organic manner. When your kid comes home bleeding and bleating from some mishap, try offering a hug instead of immediately going for the bandages and antiseptic. Hug your friend next time you see him or her. Massage your significant other, just for the heck of it. Ladies, randomly slip your hand under his shirt and scratch his back (trust me, we love it). Pet your dog/cat/rat/rabbit. When you meet someone, maybe try going for the double hand clasp, or even the medieval forearm clasp. Tousle some scruffy street urchin’s mop-head next time he’s hawking newspapers on the corner.

A dog trainer friend of mine taught me a cool trick once: when your dog is anxious, upset, or otherwise freaking out at something, pull on its neck scruff. This immediately soothes the animal, because it’s exactly what mother dogs do to pups – they carry them around by the scruff of their necks, and adult dogs still make that subconscious connection. I’m thinking the same holds true for humans. Why wouldn’t it? How do you console a grieving friend who’s just lost their father? You hug them. It’s your first reaction and theirs, too. They go for the hug to feel better and you open your arms. How do you soothe a crying child? With hugs and caressing. What changes between childhood and adulthood that renders this treatment ineffective? Why do we console a crying adult with nervous, awkward silence and averted eyes (or powerful medicine)? Those same physiological reactions that soothe the child might just play out in the adult, too. It’s not as if our hormones stop working or we stop enjoying the soothing touch of a loved one just because we have the ability to reproduce and legally drink alcohol.

It’s in these powerful, incredibly painful moments of trauma that we reconnect with our animal instincts and the walls of social grace or personal hang-ups come crashing down – and we relent to interpersonal touch. We submit, because its draw is inexorable and the relief it offers is instantaneous. There’s that famous saying, “No atheists in foxholes.” What about “No emotional stoics when personal tragedy strikes”? It doesn’t quite have the same easy grace about it, but I think it works.

We should work on touch, folks. We shouldn’t need tragedy to touch each other. We should give in to our Primal urge to touch as a way to connect with others in a meaningful way and to express joy, not just counteract misery.

Let me know what you think in the comment board and thanks for reading.

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112 thoughts on “The Power of Touch”

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  1. I think that most things that feel good (within reason!) have a tendency to be good or necessary on some level. We all like to be touched, so it doesn’t surprise me that it has health benefits!

    Petting a rat might not be within that “within reason” though…

  2. I’m not a hugger. I wasn’t raised that way. While it’s hard for me to do, I’m trying!

  3. Nice article Mark, very interesting about the teams that hugged, the teams that didn’t and their winning/losing ratios.

  4. Great article, thank you.

    “Tousle some scruffy street urchin’s mop-head next time he’s hawking newspapers on the corner.”

    Man, that tickles me just right.

    1. Getcha pape’ here! Baby born with two heads! ~must be from Brooklyn.

  5. Maybe that’s a big reason why many humans like pets so much. We can fulfill primal needs for touching and nurturing without the hassle of dealing with human social graces. For instance, it’s amazing how many ‘macho’ men will lapse into extreme levels of cutsy baby talk when they think they are alone with their pets! ;-P

  6. I agree with you here. We simply do not touch enough. When you are engaging in a hug with someone are you angry or stressed for that moment? Typically no. You feel a sense of relief and are able to put a smile on your face knowing that someone is there for you.

    All animals touch frequently and we are an animal. So, may we “touch” more through simple stuff like a hug or hand shake!

  7. I’m so glad you brought up the newborn/mother touch connection! I’ve been reading about it lately, and learned that infants are very awake for about 40 minutes after they are born, and then sleep for hours and hours after that. When infants are whisked away from their mothers for tests and procedures and whatever else gets done to them, it takes away one of the most important bonding times a mother has for the infant’s first entire day of life.

    I also have 4 dogs, and find it hilarious that if I’m not petting them, but my hand is otherwise unoccupied, they will all slowy shove their head under my hand to force me to pet them. At least I know what they want, dogs don’t give “hints” they just ask for what they need!

    1. We also brutally cut off parts of a infants genitals. Surely this has a lasting effect on our ability to bond.

    2. I totally agree, Brad. Our treatment of infants – from routine birth practices, to circumcision, to ‘crying it out’ is absolutely appalling.

  8. I live in Australia, but my family and I are in Greece on holiday (we have Greek heritage) What always amazes and moves me about Greece (or anywhere in the non-Anglo world) is the constant touching: between strangers, in service relationships, dissolving status/power relations, men embracing, women linking arms as they walk, low-key affection everywhere. My 4 yr old daughter is thriving on the hugs, kisses, hair-tousling and lap-holding. In the Anglo-Saxon world it is definitely something we need to re-learn.

  9. Great article! I am from Latvia, and when I came to US I was surprised that handshaking is not popular here. People greet each other by “What’s up”, and “How are you”, and handshaking is reserved for more formal occasions. In Latvia, and as well in Russia men always shake hands when greet each other. You handshake with your coworkers, your friends every day when you meet them that day first time.

  10. When you’re dying of terminal cancer in a metal cage, I’ll bet you begin to really look forward to those few seconds of chin scratches each day.

    This is quite possibly the saddest sentence I’ve ever read. It makes me want to go cuddle a bunny. 🙁

  11. There’s some really interesting research on the physiologically interactions between newborns and their mothers. Premature infants who spend more time in human contact and less in their cots (“kangaroo care”) do much, much better in terms of health and survival.

    Mothers in skin to skin contact with their newborns will adjust their body temperature to help the infants thermoregulate. Baby’s temp too low? Mom’s will shoot above baseline until the baby is warm enough, then drop back down. Pretty amazing stuff!

  12. I’ve got to say, I disagree: physical contact, especially with ‘gurrllls’ is desperately uncool.

    The first moments of physical contact in a romantic relationship are incredible, ‘electric’ but, as with static electricity, the more physical contact you have, the more that electricity disappears. So, if you are fortunate enough to fall in love again, I’d recommend never touching him/her, see if you can keep that electric feeling and not feel the need to replace true feelings (love!) with physical dependance and habit.

    As for casual hugging, in my experience, it’s always been the least cool people who hug casually; y’know, emo kids, drunk people, girls, aunties…

    But anyway, good post, but, before we start going crazy, hugging friends and relatives, we should ask ourselves, can you imagine Grok doing the same?

    1. Joking right? Tribal men and women do not have the modern hang ups about personal space that we do.

      Btw, the ‘electric feeling’ from touch is not true love, that is infatuation with a new thing. It has diminished returns because it’s not new any longer. When that infatuation fades and is replaced with dedication, appreciation, and loyalty… not becuase of meer personal gain, but for the person themselves. That is true love.

      Infatuation says, “I love you becuase you’re so good to me.”

      Love says, “I love you because you are you.” or better yet, simply, “I love you.”

      1. Yeah, I hear this argument a lot. But I would argue that your ‘infatuation'(my love) says, ‘I love you because I’m feeling exciting new, intense emotions’.

        Your ‘love’ says ‘I love you because you are a fantastic friend to me (I understand the value of dedication appreciation and loyalty too, I just don’t attribute it to love) and (in most situations) because we have sex.’

        I think your idea of love is synoynmous with friendship (sexual attraction is usually the difference), but, of course, this is just my subjective rambling, and its naive to talk about love objectively.

        As for the natural world/ tribal people argument, I confess I haven’t read much on this, but I would imagine that predatory adult mammals, even primates, would rarely have affectionate physical contact (I’ve seen a lot of nature documentaries with shockingly unaffectionate alpha males). If I’m wrong, please enlighten me.

        1. Friendship is the basis of love, a foundation. You build upon it, to deeper more intimate levels, the highest of which is the culmination of dedication, appreciation, and loyalty: love.

          There is no way to preserve infatuation, it is fleeting, with touch or without, the sparkle dims.

          However I loved my wife in the glint of newness it is only after that dies and I love her not for the ‘high’ but for herself that I can take any confidence in the trueness of that love. Hers for me or mine for her.

    2. The operative words in the first sentence of your post: disagree, desperate, uncool.

      The operative words in the first sentence of your second post: argument, argue.

      The “electric” buzz you feel from contact is your nervous system registering a violation of your personal space and comfort zone, and the clash of your negative energy with the other person’s positive energy, closing the circuit and creating a pulse of energy “flow”.

      Buddy, you are SOOOOO repressed! I suggest professional psychotherapy.

      Try being more aware of your negativism, try dropping the negative from your life, and try being a blessing to the people and world around you. You will live a longer, happier life.

      And don’t hug “casually”, hug because you feel it and mean it.

      And don’t hug anyone, especially me, until you fix this. I don’t want to get your negativism all over me.

      1. Haha, I agree. I’m not kinesthetic at all even though I was loved and cuddled as a child plenty, (smacked an aweful lot as well!) But dude, you have to feel like you want to hug someone out of pure love/friendship/respect/affection not just casually do it because you think its cool. Connect like I’m learning to do, even if it goes against your grain, but only if you feel it, not because you think you have to!!

  13. As someone who does massage and bodywork for hours each day, I can certainly testify to the profound affects that touch can have. It’s a form of communication that doesn’t need words, and can say much more than words could ever portray.

    I would say, for myself, having spent a lot of time refining the way I massage (or touch) has definitely helped me gain stronger, more stable relationships with others, my environment, and with myself. A blessing in disguise.

  14. Almost made me cry….. been single for a while, and touch is probably what I miss the most. It’s crucial.

    1. Agreed…..now I’m depressed. I have been single for about a year and agree that touch is something you miss when it’s not there.

      1. Ditto that. It’s hard being single. My freinds/family aren’t much of the touchging type.

        Now I want to go pet a bunny. I’ve been honestly thinking of getting a cat largely because of this issue.

    2. I agree. I’ve been single for a bit, and I’m always cuddling up to and petting my two dogs, because I miss the emotional connection that comes with physical contact with another person…

  15. What a beautiful post. I’m not a very huggy person and living in a large city, I understand wanting to avoid the touch of strangers. But, I definitely agree that more friendly touch would be a healthy advantage for everyone. We just need to get over this stigma.

  16. I am the father of three. A nurse suggested I hold my baby on my belly to raise their temperature rather than the little “oven bed”. I really enjoyed this and my little ones..”slept like a baby” all toasty warm.

  17. Mark,

    Great post..!
    As children we were told by our parents to involve most of our senses while eating. We were trained to always take our time to see our food, smell our food, taste our food and very importantly touch our food. This not only made eating a better experience but also inculcated a habit of good hygiene – we never forgot to wash our hands prior to a meal.
    Several hundred million people in Asia, eat with their fingers, to this date.
    Very often I throw ‘etiquette’ to the wind when encountered with a barbecued femur with good marrow and meat that would defeat a fork or knife.
    I grew up in South Asia, As late as the early seventies, babies were generally delivered at home by a midwife. (I was born that way as well) – As soon as the baby was born, the cord severed, he/she was placed stomach down on the Mothers abdomen for a good ten minutes. only after this ‘ritual’ was the mother allowed to pick up the baby and attempt to feed.
    Today, after reading your post, this is beginning to make sense.

  18. I work for a large company with mandatory learning & development courses. I signed up for a life-work balance course which turned out to be really hokey & not what I expected. I thought we’d learn about flex place & time policies but instead they told us to do yoga & make a spot at home to post personal affirmations. We ended the class by having to hug who was for most of us a stranger – whoever was sitting next to us. I walked away thinking the class had been a giant waste of time. That night I was filled with feelings of openness, compassion, patience & loving towards my family that I realized I just don’t usually experience at night, exhausted after a full days work. I think it was just from hugging one of my co-workers that I didn’t even know. It was kind of a revelation to me but admittedly I have not recreated or incorporated this into my daily life. Thanks for reminding us of the importance!

  19. This is by far the best post I’ve read on here, Mark. GREATNESS. I’ve been through one marriage, another serious long term un-married relationship and in each one, I was unsatisfied emotionally even though the friendship, money, and “things” were all there and satisfactory. I’m now married for the second time, and although I certainly and obviously didn’t marry the guy for money or stuff, after three years of marriage, we still touch, we still have that spark (the electricity that Zhuwawa says disappears). We still get butterflies in our stomachs just THINKING about when we touch each other. No, it doesn’t disappear if you’re with the right person, and it doesn’t change if you’re truly in love. Zhuwawa…maybe you should keep looking till you find the person you really love and who really loves you, then you won’t feel the need to deprive them of physical contact just so it’s more special each time you bless them with your touch.

    Physical touch is imperative to a happy and fulfilled life, in my opinion. And I agree with Eva – that need is fulfilled by a committed and loyal companion animal too. So many people who lose their partner are completely satisfied only living with their animals for the remainder of their lives! I know I would be perfectly happy just living with my three dogs and two cats if anything ever happens to my hubby!

    Thanks, Mark. Again, outstanding post.

    1. I agree. Mark, this is, I believe, the best piece you’ve ever written. It’s beautiful.

  20. Absolutely lovely, Mark. Thank you so much for the reminder. I work away from home for weeks at a time, and I really miss the casual touch – a hug, kiss, pat on the back, or just resting hands on knees. This helps me to appreciate those “little” things all the more! And I try my best to get a massage or two when I’m away, just to get some of that important basic loving touch.

    One thing I’ll say, as an energy healer, is that terming it as energy doesn’t have to be woo-woo; energy is as practical as matter. In fact, it’s the stuff that all matter is made up of – what could be more basic than that? 🙂

  21. What a great article! this is the first time i read something on this blog and this was an incredible and well written article.

  22. I absolutely love dogs, i pet mine daily!! I’ve heard that patients in hospitals that pet dogs for a while feel better while they are petting and holding the dog. Brings their blood pressure down and they feel more calm. Doesn’t this say alot in itself??? YES, It does!!! Dogs are good for emotions, your mind, and your soul, and your health…. I’d say it’s good for the dog too to be petted!!

  23. As a massage therapist and practitioner of reiki, I have empirically soon this in action, as well as having studied many of the ‘theories’ behind touch…

    Touch is connection, on the most primal level.

    Few things are this important to realize/

  24. My husband was deployed to Qatar for six months- four months after we got married. I am not a “touchy-feely” person unless you’re one of my bestest friends. We didn’t have kids, no pets, and I have never felt so alone.

    The lack of contact- not just sex, but just regular, affectionate contact and interaction with someone, was by far the hardest part of it to deal with.

    In retrospect, I probably should have found a decent massage therapist to offset things somewhat! At the time, I just kept accusing myself of “overthinking it.”

  25. I never made the connection before about animals needing to be touched, but it makes sense! That’s why I am a part of your primal movement, it just makes more sense than what we have been doing!

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting the same result!”

  26. As a clinical massage therapist, I relate, align and couldn’t agree more with this article. Well done, Mark!

  27. As a teacher, dog owner, health pursuer and relational person, I AGREE COMPLETELY and have a class of 1st graders, pleasant husband and a happy puppy to prove it. Great post!!

  28. I completely agree with and endorse this post! I am a “touchy-feely” guy, and proud of it. I love hugs, and will hug my friends, male or female, whenever I see them (unless they don’t like hugs, then I leave them alone). I also am in physical contact with my girlfriend (together 5 years now) a lot of the time when we’re together, just sitting on the couch with legs entangled, hugging, cuddling, etc., and I love to pick up my cats and just hold them against my chest whenever I come home–they like it too. My dog (a 50-lb mutt) will crawl into my lap and nuzzle/lick me whenever he has the chance. Touch is wonderful 🙂

  29. Great post Mark! The baby bit reminds me of how imperative sleeping with my babies seemed when they were tiny. I knew on some Grok level that they needed those hours of contact to feel safe and whole in the world. Even now they crawl into bed with us at night when they need it and I feel like it feeds all of our souls. I’m so enjoying your blog, your book and your work. Thanks for making a profound difference in the world.

  30. Great post – I witnessed the power of touch first-hand when my daughter was born 11 weeks premature – one of the most recommended therapies at the highest-care level hospitals is “kangaroo care.” This involves mother/father of the preemie holding their child skin-to-skin against their chest. I can’t speak for all cases, but in ours, it meant that our daughter got to come home a full month earlier than expected, and though I can’t prove it empirically, I am certain it helped her avoid a gamut of typical preemie-specific illnesses that most other babies in her NICU nursery fell victim to. Although my wife didn’t get that first touch directly out of the womb (again, emergency birth and then whisked to the NICU for respiration support – quite different from our plans for a natural childbirth) our kangaroo time was the best therapy available.

    Mark, perhaps a future article on the benefits of a natural childbirth for mother and child?

  31. I’m not much of a hugger, but Mark, if all the information I’m soaking in and applying here turns out to be true; and should our paths ever cross while your on the road and missing the family; I promise you a great big primal hug.

    Now if all this information doesn’t bring fitness and health; I will hunt you down and punch you in the nose for making me give up my beloved pizza and beer. Does that still count as touching? 🙂

  32. When I work with students, I always end each session with a strong handshake and a “good work today.” Whether at GPA or working with an individual one-on-one, I’ve found that organic expression through touch carries tremendous weight: I feel that I am able to make a more meaningful, lasting impression as a mentor that way. In the book, Primal Leadership, there is an entire section on how touch synchs our physiologies–invoking the energy concept–and I’ve learned through my leadership studies repeatedly that the threads in this essay are critically to working on any team effectively by building cohesion, trust, and empathy.

  33. This post really made me think. My husband had brain surgery a couple months ago and since that time I have rarely touched him other than to help him clean up. He just doesn’t like touching right now. I tried to kiss him, but he turned away. I really miss just sitting on the couch snuggled up with him and watching the telly. Now it’s like we’re just roommates sharing the same space. . . very sad indeed.

  34. I was chatting with a massage therapist in a town that is known for an older “retired” population. I asked her if she had a been able to develop a strong clientele with these demographics and she said “Absolutely.” Apparently, most of her clients were older adults, many of them widows or widowers. She said she knew that in many cases, getting a massage from her was the only time they were touched all week. I really took a lesson from that, and I always try to touch an older person when I speak with them. I’ll just put a hand on their shoulder or arm, or if I know them well, give them a little hug. Have you ever noticed when you take an elderly person’s hand, they don’t let go? They’ll hold you’re hand for an entire conversation if you let them. I’ve never had negative backlash or a misinterpretation of my action from a friendly touch…. at least not from an elderly person. Who knows what my co-workers would think if I started hugging them….. I guess a certain degree of judgement is required!

  35. This was very interesting to me. I am married to a Chinese national where a public show of affection is strongly discouraged toward the opposite sex. No hugging, kissing, etc.. What you see are many young men with arms around shoulders; ladies arm-in-arm and teen-agers the same. This union gave me a Chinese step-daughter. Very awkward for her as here this may indicate “gay”. My wife, too, refrains from touching her friends here although the same ethnicity. My wife has never hugged her father. As a result, I seldom hug my daughter. In my previous marriage and all my previous life there was much hugging. My first children and I may hug several times when saying good-bye even though we may see each other often. After 4 years of marriage my wife is now very affectionate with me even in public. Interestingly, she has an uncle more than 100 years old. He and his wife never touch. They don’t even like each other. My step-daughter now hugs all her friends and gets great grades in school.

    Jim

  36. This is a great life lesson as we are all connected. Our thoughts have an enormous impact on other people, so why should it be different with physical touch.

    You do exchange energy with people you touch. People giving massage knows this and are usually taking a cold shower after finishing their treatment to free themselves from unwanted energies that they might have taken on.

  37. Mark,
    This high fat diet is making my skin really oily.. I have oily skin already, but now I’m noticing more need to wash my face.. I read that fat, even good fat, does contribute to moisturizing skin from within (great for dry skin), but for oily skin, (& I live in Florida with massive humidity) the fats aren’t really working to my skins favor.. Avocado, nuts, olive oil are making me extremely oily.. I want my fats, but don’t want to be a greasy (ha..).. Please comment.. Also, a post on clear skin would be great..

    1. Interesting. I recently started following primal diet, and also noticed that my face is very oily. I have mild psoriasis, and my skin is very dry, so perhaps it is good for me.

  38. This was beautiful, Mark. You’re such a blessing to this world. Thank you for this article.

    I’m going to second Casey’s request for an article about ‘the benefits of natural childbirth for mother and baby’. I’m having my third baby, and he/she will be my second home birth. My first was a hospital birth and he was taken to the nursery for checks every few hours. My second was a home birth and the attention to bonding between my daughter and me was beyond words. I’m sure that baby checks in hospitals can be done while the mother holds her baby if she insists upon it and many of the routine things could wait a day or so, but the mom needs to be informed and prepared to request what is in the best interest of her baby and herself. Even if you plan a home birth or a birth at a birth center, it is always good to know what your rights are should a hospital birth be necessary. Have you seen the Business of Being Born by Rikki Lake?

  39. Yay! I love this post Mark! Thank you.

    I am Greek. I am a woman and I hug everyone. (It would be rude not to) I even kiss all my close girl friends. I am so happy that I can say it is part of my new primal life.

  40. This reminds me of Harry Harlow’s rhesus monkey experiments, where he took baby rhesus monkeys away from their mothers and gave them the option of two “surrogate mothers.” One was made of wire and was able to nurse the monkeys via a baby bottle, the other was made of cloth and provided no food.

    Without fail, the young monkeys went to the wire mother only for food and spent the rest of their time clinging to the cloth mother. It was documented on video as well, so if you search for “harry harlow monkey experiment” on YouTube, you’ll find some very interesting footage.

  41. My wife’s family are lacking in emotion and displays of affection. So she struggled for years to do the same. We have 2 children 5 and 8 and she really struggled at first (she still finds it hard) to display emotions, affection and this also follows on in the intimate side of our relationship. While being intimate with her is only a small part of our relationship I find it really hard because for me it feels like a rejection. I’m from the opposite end with a large family lots of physical contact with my brothers and parents., fighting, arguing, playing , happiness and loving , emotions letting rip good and bad.

  42. Affection is the second most important thing in our relationships, communication i would say is first. But affection is still a type of communicating.

    You should all check out Leo Buscaglia, dr. Hug.

  43. I absolutely agree – touching people is a necessary part of life. Where I work, we constantly touch – high fives, a pat on the back, simple things like that, and we all work together as a team wonderfully. Could be because of this?

  44. hey Mark 🙂
    love love love this post .. it makes complete and Absolute sense .. for those who think its difficult and the culture of social pressures dont permit , just start doing this n being polite n start the Touch 😛
    and u wil notice the feeling of ease will follow!!! 🙂
    dnt take my word for it , start it 🙂

    heres for u MARK … Big Long Warm HUG…

    the hug Mark , is to say Thank U 🙂
    for these articles , to say thank u for the human and animal touch to it , as it goes without saying we all need love affection n the healing touch , animal or human.
    Looking right at u Sir and saying thank u for all the efforts n the information out here …
    a tap of appreciation on ur Shoulder MARK …
    and im sure many more to come ur way 🙂
    ..
    Love n Hug n a big smile,
    Krushane 🙂

    .

  45. Thanks Mark, Awesome post, I actually got teary which is a HUGE feat for me..LOL..
    I kept my babies with me when they were born..Because I wanted to..they also slept with me and Hubby when they were very small..
    I come from a large, affectionately demonstrative family,(Portuguese) and as a result I hug and kiss everyone! I do sometimes get a raised eyebrow from someone more restrained pysically (hubby),,but, alas good friends get more love than old boyfriends, so no worries there!
    These days I am in the service industry, and it is VERY INNAPPROPRIATE (sp) to touch guests/clients/customers..and I have caught myself once or twice..perhaps a hand on the arm or shoulder to diffuse a situation, (the elderly love to touch me! And little kids, too!)Or we hit it off wonderfully…But it is NOT acceptable!
    Instead I love to kiss and hug my family, Friends, Pets, and sometimes people I have just met..Ever make a connection right away?
    I think chemistry is a HUGE indicator of how affection can manifest itself..I get great results with my current chiropractor, for example..and I did with his son also, but not the guy before that, that has a long term following of friends and family..And maybe I wont see my chiopractor for a year, but if I ran into him somewhere, I would hug him without hesitation, we have been very close in physical proximity many times!We are on the same page, so to speak..
    Keep up the great work, I cold go on about the importance of affection and touch, but there only so much space…lol

  46. May I give you a hug is one of the best questions you can ask anyone, including a business associate.

  47. I ave throughly enjoyed this website and all the articles that have been written. All I can say is that the more I hug people the better I getr to know them and myself as well. The more you hug the stronger the bond and trust between people.

  48. One of the reasons I got so emotional when reading this post, was it brought back the memory of my Grandmother’s last night on this Earth…I had the pleasure of “watching” her overnight in the hospital. She could no longer speak, was on a morphine drip, couldn’t eat, etc. Just waiting to die. So sad. I slid into her hospital bed with her and held her..(I am sure it went against hospital “rules”)..and had a long, one sided conversation with her. She died the next day. Im glad I had that time with her, and held her like she held me in my infancy so many times…the only thing left that she might have felt…a loving Touch. Miss you Memere..

  49. Awesome post! My wife and I had a home birth. It was the greatest experience of our lives. Our son was delivered by a midwife with some help from myself.
    5 seconds later he was on my wife’s breast and did not leave her chest for two hours. He is turning 3 tomorrow and was just weaned from breast feeding. We still “wear” him at times and of course, hold/hug/kiss him constantly.

  50. Don’t you guys think that overdoing the affection could lead to dependance etc. Especially with kids, constantly hugging a baby is a surefire way of ensuring that they never ‘grow up’ (arguably not a bad thing, until they hit school age).
    Loads of people, probably the people that a lot of you hug regularly *hate* being hugged, it makes them feel awkward, insecure and self conscious: imagine a hugely overweight or anorexic person gets a hug from Mark.
    If there is a language that only hugging can convey, I don’t think I understand it.
    Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the value of physical contact, and Mark’s article was excellent, but be aware that some people *really* don’t like it. I express my affection through casual violence, like a lot of animals, and kids; but it’s usually misunderstood, especially by girls (not to be too sexist, but that’s the general trend). Physical contact can easily be misunderstood, so, think twice before you hug someone, maybe, “would you prefer a hug/kiss/handshake/pat on the shoulder/aggressive choke/ punch to the arm?” would be a better question than, “can I give you a hug?”?

    1. ZhuWaWa, you have my sympathy. The pressures that adolescents face to conform to a peer group are higher at this time than any other.

      The good news is that it gets better in a few years – the constant categorizing who is “cool” (anyone you want to accept you), who is “uncool” (anyone you think they may dislike, like “emo kids” and “girls”) and monitoring how your own actions will be percieved by others will fade. You will find ways to express affection and friendship that neither make yourself uncomfortable nor frighten those who are less aggressive than you.

      Regarding your comment that a lot of people dislike being hugged, I agree with you. I am not overly demonstrative, and would prefer a handshake or a pat on the shoulder from all but the closest of my friends. (Can’t hug my husband enough, for some reason 😉

      But, I really don’t think that anyone here is suggesting that we all must hug everyone we see regardless of relationship or personal comfort levels. The point is simply that some level of human touch is something that humans do need, so maybe it something we should think about. You know, like avoiding sugar and getting a little sunlight.

      Regarding your comment that regular contact is “a sure-fire way of ensuring that [babies] never grow up,” you wouldn’t be quoting the “Conventional Wisdom” that holding or hugging a male child will make him homosexual, or make him a “mommy’s boy,” would you? If so – this is a site dedicated to challenging Conventional Wisdom, so don’t be surprised if you get challenged.

      If, on the other hand, you have access to peer-reviewed research that concludes that human contact is detrimental to the development of humans, please post the links/info.

  51. I used to think playing sports and drinking beer where the things you do to feel manly, but I’ll tell you what. Nothing has made me feel stronger and more manly than lying on the couch with my new born son sleeping on my chest…If stress takes yours off your life that feeling is giving me a few back.

  52. @Phil – I am like your wife, too. I feel really badly about the rejection my SO feels:( Touching does not come naturally for some people.

  53. I realized one day, years ago, that the beginning of my disconnection and isolation from people and life was when I got too big to pick up and play with.

    I remember watching jealously as my younger, smaller and cuter brother would be picked up and tossed around by men, and mostly women, HOT women too, BABES! that thought he was just the cutest 4 year old they had ever seen. I knew then that I was envious, but not why, or why it was happening.

    My pain may have been accentuated, exacerbated by the fact that just a few years previously my mom had unilaterally decided that we didn’t need my dad around as we grew up and so left him, which left the 3 of us with just her as our sole means of support, understanding and affection as we moved around the country every 3 years, even though my dad wasn’t pursuing her, or us for that matter.

    I spent the majority of my childhood living in fear of losing her and trying not to add to her burden of providing for us, but never had much of a personal relationship with her. There was not much conversation, no birds and bees life discussions and guidance, but plenty of discipline and ordering around. I think I looked too much like my dad than she was comfortable with.

    I think of those times whenever I find myself around someones kids, and I wonder if they ever feel the same, so I try to spread the attention and contact equally among them, reassure them of their value, importance and their place in their family and the world at large, and try not to favor one over the others. I just hope it’s enough to help their life to NOT turn out the way mine has, and I hope they grow up to have healthy nurturing relationships with others as they grow to adult and parenthood, when hopefully they’ll remember me and pass the love on to their kids, and so on.

    But yes, I agree with the others, I think this is the best thing you’ve ever written, it may turn out to be the single most important work of your entire life.

    I think you have HUGELY touched a vastly untouched nerve among people. I think this post and the response to it says a lot about the isolation many people feel they live their lives in, but mostly about you as a man, a writer, thinker, the care you have for others, us.

    I am happy and proud to know you and your site and your dedication to your life’s work.

    Thanks for all the positive value you have added to me and to the whole world.

    There walks among us a GREAT man and human being. His name is Mark Sisson.

  54. Great post! This reminds me of my family’s unique way of showing physical affection.

    Coming from a wrestling family, we tend to use the bear-hug or headlock to show how much we care!

    It’s amazing how powerful touch is, and how neglected it can be. Thanks for sharing.

  55. To ZhuWaWa: “Too much affection” does not cause dependency. It lets children feel secure and confident and not afraid to venture out and have new experiences.

  56. I love all the comments and how many of you are opening up your hearts by telling your own private story of your life and experiences with touch.

    There are so much wisdom and knowledge among you people and why are you not taking a step in the same direction as Mark, by helping 1000s of other people that are in the same situation but need guidance to get through their discomfort or struggle.

    Your experience and special knowledge might be exactly what people are looking for.

    Connect with your feelings and start writing about it. Get a FREE blog on wordpress.com or wordpress.org and help Mark spreading the word.

    I do this myself and reading this blog post just makes me even more motivated to continue my work.

    COME ON ALL OF YOU!
    Help to start making a difference in a world that needs it TODAY!

  57. This post reminds me of a situation I was in a little over a year ago. Another climber and I were involved in an accident that could have easily taken both of our lives, but somehow, miraculously, we both escaped without any severe injuries. After each of us checked that the other was ok (within reason), and getting to a safer area, my climbing partner said to me,
    “Do you want a hug?”
    “Nah,” I replied, “I’m okay.”
    “I could use a hug after what just happened.”
    And we hugged each other. Somehow, on some level beyond what I can really explain, the feeling of human contact was reassuring, that despite what had just happened, everything was gonna be ok.

    Now, I’m one of those people who definitely has and needs my personal space, and I would think it weird to hug most people (except my immediate family). Being hugged by someone who I’m not close to would probably make me feel weird. However, I have to wonder if this is something innate or a product of my upbringing in a society where touching is not considered normal.

  58. I think our primal tendencies would lead us towards more human contact – (hug a friend, handshake a new acquaintance). However with our technology based society life is becoming more and more impersonal every day. The way many children interact these days is very different from what I remember and continues to morph into something more impersonal with each generation. I think most of us learn to avoid touch (thinking it’s weird). I think we would all be better off if we could overcome this weird feeling.

  59. Thank you for writing such a great article Mark. We are SO separated from each other now a days. I have no close friends near me and I constantly crave real human contact. If I got a daily hug, I would be a much happier person.

    Have you heard of the Harlow studies? Basically a researcher took baby monkeys and isolated them from other monkeys. In some of their cages, he would put a wire “mother” with nipples for milk. In others, he put a furry “mother” with no milk. The babies preferred the furry mother over the wire mother even though the wire mother gave them sustenance. It just goes to show that we might have to re-evaluate the hierarchy of needs…

    1. oops, looks like Darrin already mentioned Harlow. Guess I should read the comments first!

  60. Beautiful post Mark 🙂 It always feels so good and relieving to wrap your arms around a friend. But the thing people miss today is the SQUEEZE! A real hug is not a pat pat, it is a grip and hold, like you mean it…makes a worold of difference to both of you 🙂
    *BIG Hug squeeze to all of you* 🙂

    1. BiG Squeeze HUG 🙂 to ALL & YoU love the Smiles too 🙂
      *HUG* 🙂

  61. My kids are far more touchy feeling than I was at their age but that was intentional on my part. Where I did not get a lot of positive physical contact I made it a point to do simple things like hold them a lot when they were infants and toddlers and let my hand touch their shoulder as I walked past them. Now I am in a massage therapy course and will soon be able to give other people the wonderful sensation of a positive touch.

  62. I think it’s odd that you didn’t even mention what happens to babies when they receive no physical touch at all. There’s the famous case of orphaned children in Romania–the orphanages were so full, and the staff so few, that not all the babies could be cared for properly. The ones that were fed and held survived and grew normally. The ones that were fed but never held died within a few months of birth. Apparently, physical touch is not just beneficial to human development, it’s an absolute necessity.

    There’s also the case (see http://bit.ly/71zo0 and http://bit.ly/9x0ZXU for more) of Danielle, the severely neglected girl who was found at the age of six in her mother’s run-down, filthy home, still drinking formula from a bottle, clothed in a very old diaper, and weighing just 43 lbs. Luckily, she was adopted by loving foster parents who brought her out of a near-infantile level of development so that she can now, smile, laugh and play, but she still cannot speak except for randomly uttered words every now and then—perhaps that part of her brain will never recover. In any case, the consequences of neglect are dire, but it’s amazing how basic touch, attention, and loving care can bring a child on the edge back from the brink.

  63. What a beautiful article. My marriage is a very affectionate and touchy-feely one. I actually do the “randomly slip your hand under his shirt and scratch his back” every day (waiting in line at the supermarket, standing at a concert..)
    My husband and I have found that when we touch/hug/have sex less during times of stress, we end up fighting and becoming more stressed.
    We make a conscious effort during hard times to show affection and it really does make a difference.
    I could be having the worst day in the world, but a loving hug from a friend or lover takes some of the weight off, without fail.

    Thanks for sharing, Mark!

  64. YES… Ok who has the resources to get out there and find research/create new research on how the current hunter/gatherer societies treat one another with regard to physical touch? Lets get some examples of our truly Paleo brothers and sisters!