Have you ever stopped your desire to cuddle or show an intimate gesture to someone? Have you ever found yourself feeling uneasy hugging someone whose sex is different than yours? Why is it that we just cuddle and touch people that we are close to? Where is the barrier between human intimacy and hedonism? How important is cuddling others for your health? What are the benefits of creating a society where physical touch is well welcome and appreciated?
My experience with human intimacy
Back in August I attended a Non-Violent Communication camp up in Norfolk, a community of individuals of all ages who practise compassion in their communication. I spent one week with 85 people living together in the same space. And every day I would experience some sort of intimate touch with someone new there – hugging, cuddling or kissing. A physical approach which felt very natural – as if connecting this way was actually my “default” state of being – the one I am here to experience.
Back in the city, things “have come back to normal” and I´ve become a stranger to others again. People walk in the streets cuddling their phones instead, and – maybe – escaping from any kind of human interaction. Human approach to “strangers” seems to be labelled as inappropriate, impolite or even invasive by many unconscious minds, and sex and intimacy are sold generally as hedonism almost in every street of the city.
Wait a moment… So… What´s going on here? What´s the difference between my experience in the camp and how I live my life in London?
What´s the root of such beliefs? Why do we seem to avoid human touch? Why is intimacy labelled as sexual approach? Why is it intrusive to speak to people in the street? Are we consciously running away from human connection? Or, is there something else beyond this social behaviour?
Well, in my opinion, we are all wired for physical connection. And we live in a world whose hearts are hungry for a more loving and intimate way to interact with each other. What´s stopping us for getting closer is just fear – the only emotion that can paralyse us from what we truly are. But let´s have a look at the benefits of touching first.
How cuddling can heal your heart
Science has proven that human touch has a measurable positive impact on our physical and emotional health, enhancing our happiness and preventing us from many cardiovascular diseases, one of the biggest causes of death nowadays. It does also have an extraordinary impact on emotional diseases such as depression, anxiety or stress. In this list we can see how heart diseases and suicide are included within the major causes of death according to the World Health Organization.
Sad but true, our hearts are suffering, emotionally and physically. But the good news is that there´s something we can do about it.
In a seminar about science I attended last May, presented by the wonderful human being and scientist David Hamilton, we did study the tremendous positive impact that adopting a kind behaviour – including cuddling and touching others – have on people´s long term health and happiness.
David puts these benefits in a simple way:
“Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body. Of recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure). The key is that acts of kindness can produce oxytocin and therefore kindness can be said to be cardioprotective.”
Thus, when we gently touch someone, as a pure act of kindness, the body produces an important number of oxytocin hormones, the so-called ‘hormones of love’, which have countless benefits for our cardiovascular and immune systems. So, apart from ‘feeling good” after giving or receiving a cuddle, oxytocin hormone looks after our blood vessels and reduces blood pressure in our body.
Here´s a graphic he uses to explain this:
The positive impact of human touch has also been scientifically demonstrated in children. One example is the research for the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP), which tracked the growth of children adopted internationally from Romanian Orphanages. The study shows how the lack of physical touch in kids aged 24 months or less would represent a deceleration in their physical growth in comparison with the kids who are adopted and thus, receive warm human contact often. So the activation of human growth genes “goes off” when there’s not enough love around.
We now know that human touch is good for us. But… What happens when we become adults? When do we decide it is the moment to stop showing our love towards others through touch? Is it that we do not need it any more?
We do, indeed. Apart from the benefits in our long term happiness that are mentioned above, other studies have shown that oxytocin hormone is also beneficial in muscle regeneration, and even in reversing ageing in our bodies.
So let´s have a look at why touching might not be happening.
The Fear of Getting closer: The Story of Separation
Babies are born as magical and loving creatures. When we are small kids, we do not understand about human differences, selfishness or violence. That´s all mind stuff that we learn as adults. We are all born pure, free of harmful beliefs, and wired for giving and receiving love unconditionally.
If you have been around children, you might have realised that they come and hug you, kiss you and love you without any questioning. But during our adulthood, human touch and loving cuddles seem to become a ‘taboo’ subject . Somewhere midway we stop experiencing human touch with our beloved ones, and thus the emotional and physical gap grows wider, both at home and outdoors.
There´s a moment in our lives when we start seeing people as strangers. When we start feeling disconnected. When we start to act upon our own wellbeing, and seeing the other as separated from us.
We start to live the culturally designed Story of Separation.
A place where the idea of approaching people seems nonsensical. And where we limit human intimate touch to maybe 2 or 3 people in our lives.
I believe one of the reasons for this to happen it is that – apart from the lack of practice – there is a cultural misunderstanding between the meaning of sex and intimacy.
The Western Culture has been created mainly around the Judeo-Christian outlook. And this outlook has a lot to do with repressing sexuality and viewing sex as separate from a sacred human connection. And, at the same time, there´s been a hedonism movement around sex – that has probably come out from this repression – so we´ve been selling sex in pornography, advertising and other media, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. This has deeply diminished sex and generally extended the idea of it as “a dirty thing”. The way we´ve manipulated sex culturally has hugely damaged how we interact with each other and it has “designed” our beliefs around getting intimate with others.
Simply put, it is something like “If I touch you, I want something from you”.
The Story of Separation from others and from our true essence – magical beings made of love – has translated into fear of approaching others. So many of the people I´ve met throughout my life, both men and women, have learnt by role modelling to keep themselves away from physical contact with others, as if this would mean they were acting in an invasive way, being impolite, aggressive or even – mainly among men – “being less of a man when they touch another man”.
Not to mention the cases of men feeling scared about being labelled as “sexual perverts” for having genuine gestures of love with kids or women. Rape is a very important and serious subject to work on. And I believe that in order to deeply heal our societies we also need to drop the myth of men being biological wired to be “sexual predators”.
Men do like sex, and so do women. And it can be as natural and beautiful as any other kind of intimate gesture, as cuddling. As Robert Armstrong says, “Sex is to the soul what air and food is to the body.”
So, here´s the thing, staying away from human touch and loving connections has a huge cost: Our hearts are getting emotionally and physically ill, people have become scared to approach one another, and our cities have become a place where warm human interaction is almost inexistent.
We´ve lost the joy of experiencing human intimacy as our default state of being.
So, the question that naturally comes up now for me is: hey – if cuddling is that important for our growth and health and has all those benefits described above, why is it then that as a society, we keep ourselves away from bonding and creating our intimate connection with others?
I believe that what´s stopping us from getting closer to others is fear.
1. Fear of the unknown: “What would happen if I cuddle this person?”
2. Fear of being rejected: “Would they accept it gently?”
3. And fear of being judged: “What will they think about me?”
It is time we stop creating a climate of fear in our societies. It is time to give up on the Story of Separation and evolve towards the Story of Reunion. It is time to go beyond our fears, and bring our hearts back to life.
There was a time I felt scared of human touch.
I have not always been this way
The first time I attended the NVC camp, when I would see how people related there – men with men, men with children, women with women, men and women that were NOT a couple – I would secretly start giggling. I would feel extremely shocked almost like: “Hey this people are weird as they randomly stroke each other’s hands or faces, hug or kiss”. So I would find myself running away from these interactions most of the time. It was awkward and uncomfortable to be in the presence of two people who were cuddling and, even more so, being one of the participants in it.
My logical and rational mind would go like: “Why would I hug or cuddle a man in an intimate way if he wasn’t my partner? Why my man would do the same with another woman? Why would I go and kiss and hug the son or daughter of another woman that I didn´t even know? Isn´t she gonna feel threatened? Why would I stroke the hair of a woman who is sitting next to me? Why would I walk with an old man holding hands?”
Those behaviours weren´t things my mind couldn´t understand at all. They were way out of my comfort zone and how I had learnt to live and relate to others so far. That was not my way of approaching people; it was a little bit ‘over the top’, I believed. And yet, although my mind couldn´t catch up with an explanation of why these people were behaving this way, my heart would soon start to feel at home.
Back to that date, cuddling someone I did not know meant I was taking over a territory I did not belong to. That was their partners´, their kids´ their friends´ place, not mine. I would tell to myself that “it wasn´t right to cuddle them”. And if someone would come to me and lovingly touch me, I would feel extremely uncomfortable, and I would find my body shutting down and feeling tense – especially if he was a man. Also the idea of being proactive and talking “the risk” of going out and cuddling someone seemed totally undoable and even mad.
And yet, looking back, I can clearly see how deep in my heart I was very much longing to be able to approach people in that way. I secretly admired that capability of naturally cuddling and touching others. There was a tenderness and a sense of oneness I could appreciate, although I wasn´t ready for it yet. Or better put, my mind wasn´t open for it yet, as there was so much labelling, so much fear and so much judgement that would stop me from connecting with people in such intimate way.
And, let´s be transparent here, there´s a part of me that still feels uncomfortable sometimes when someone cuddles me or strokes my hand with love, and there´s another “ever growing” part of me, which is just very open to the idea of cuddling others, and it enjoys it very much.
I guess one of the main breakthroughs for me here has been to acknowledge the idea of human intimacy and sex as different concepts. Sex can be an important part of intimacy, yet human Intimacy is much more broader that simply sex. And human warm touch, most of the time, is NOT equal to sexual desires, but instead a desire to express our love and care for others. There´s a fine line between viewing it as hedonism or as pure human intimacy, which is awareness – I know that my intentions are coming from my heart, I do it consciously and I understand that human physical touch is just another way of expressing my love towards others and nourishing our souls.
And that it does NOT imply in any way that we are having sexual desires towards them, but just a genuine intention of connection.
This has been my major challenge and learning in the past year.
And this is why most women just ADORE being cuddled by their partners, as we have a need for love and intimacy, but do not necessary need to have sex to meet this need. Just being hugged or kissed on our forehand with gentleness is enough to fill up our oxytocin levels and feel deeply bounded connected to our partners. And I believe this is true for both sexes and all ages, because as social and loving beings, we all have the need for human touch and intimacy – to survive during our early years – but also to thrive in our adulthood.
Be the Cuddle. Be the love.
As a gentle reminder, cuddling and touch is not just reserved for humans, we could cuddle our pet, hug a tree, or do ‘self-cuddling’ by stroking our own hand, and we would also be producing loving hormones and contributing to our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others.
If you’d like to give it a try, here are some ways of how you can get started:
1. Give someone a hug. A real one. Wrap both arms around the person and take a few deep breaths together for at least 20 seconds.
2. Breathe along with your pet. Cuddling animals, plants and other beings counts, too.
3. Practise Eye Gazing. Gazing intently at someone – and maybe even just thinking about them releases oxytocin in the brain and grows your connection.
4. Be mindful with your words. Words also touch ours hearts and souls. Practise mindful communication, such as NVC, expressing gratitude to others and practising empathy are also ways to create emotional warmth.
5. Practise “Touch therapy” with your beloved – partner, relative or friend – while expressing them how you feel about them.
6. Practise concious cuddling in sex. During sex, spend time just cuddling and looking deeply into each other’s eyes. When we practise sex, the brain is flooded with oxytocin and do heal and nourish each other’s hearts.
7. Touch yourself! Practising self-cuddling is a self-love practise that works very well too. One thing I often do is to massage my own feet or to spend some time gently putting body moisturiser on my skin after showering.
8. Be the Cuddle, Be the love. Michelangelo said “To touch is to Give Live”. So, How about giving a stranger a hug today and observe what happens? Maybe he or she becomes your friend, your partner or you simply contribute to their happiness and the happiness of the world!
Cuddling and Touching produce oxytocin in your body. And oxytocin inspires a positive and loving attitude, which keeps your emotional and physical health in balance, and contributes to have an optimistic outlook on the world. Thus, cuddling and hugging can literally heal yourself and the world.
So, who are you cuddling today? : -) Please share with us your experiences below!
Cuddles, love, hugs,
Founder of Circles for Dialogue Laura Martínez has a B.A. in Marketing from ESIC Business and Marketing School (Spain). She is an ethical marketer graduated on the 7 Graces Foundations of Ethical Marketing programme, a member of the New Story of Marketing project, and a co-active coach. She is passionate about providing educational spaces about mindful and compassionate ways to be in business and life.Contact her on Twitter