The antidote to a stressful day, relationship woes, or ailments could lie right at our fingertips. An affectionate touch is an intimate act that could channel feel-good energy through our bodies, and help build a connection between two people. Massages can be a form of intimacy that benefits our wellbeing, but are we being touched enough?
In a new Touch Initiative survey, a partnership between K-Y and The Kinsey Institute, researchers revealed there is a touch crisis in America. Close to 90 percent of men and women in committed relationships rated regular or intimate touch as very or extremely important to building intimacy, and people prefer to be touched by their partner rather than talking without touching. Yet over a third of people say they’re not touched enough in their romantic relationships.
Dr. Justin Garcia, a research scientist at The Kinsey Institute, says the disparity between couples who long to be touched and those who actually are could be attributed to a common shift. Between 18 and 26 months into a relationship, some couples go through a transition from passionate love, which centers on attention, obsessive thought, and intense cravings for love, to companion love.
“We move somewhat adaptively into companion love. That shift is important when we want to stay with someone for a long time,” Garcia told Medical Daily. “When we do that shift, we do less touch. You get less forms of communication and intimacy.”
This is why he believes massage and touch are integral in maintaining relationships and sexual satisfaction. The best way to think about touch is that it’s nonverbal communication, according to Garcia. A small touch on someone’s arm, their hand, or their back as they walk is a really great way to build a connection between two people.
Dr. Laura Berman, a world renowned sex and relationship educator and therapist, suggests the more time spent touching and kissing, as part of foreplay, the better. For example, if the man feels he’s reaching out with tenderness, love, and affection, then the woman feels closer to him, according to Berman. The closer a woman feels to him emotionally, the more inspired she is to have sex with him.
This doesn’t just apply to sex. Touch also has the power to boost our health. “The more cuddling and physical connection, the better for your health, including stress levels and the immune system,” Berman told Medical Daily.
This Valentine’s Day, say it with a touch, and give your significant other a massage to reap its surprising benefits, from boosting immunity to improving sleep.
Getting a massage not only helps us relax, but also gives our immune system a boost. Receiving a 45-minute massage has been found to increase the number of lymphocytes, white blood cells that help defend the body from disease, according to a 2010 study. Other physical changes included: Lower levels of cytokines, molecules that play a role in inflammation; a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol; and a decrease in vasopression, a hormone that plays a role in aggressive behavior. One session of massage therapy is enough to produce measurable changes in the body’s immune and endocrine response.
About half of Americans say that poor or insufficient sleep has affected their daily activities at least once in the past seven days. A bad night’s sleep can be remedied with massage therapy, according to the National Institutes of Health. Several studies have found that getting a massage reduced fatigue and improved sleep in infants, children, adults, and the elderly, including those with psychiatric disorders, cancer, and heart disease, among many others. Most studies credit it to massages increasing delta waves, brain waves connected to deep sleep, which would explain why it’s easier to drift off on a massage table.
MANAGE ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
It’s easy to feel anxious or fall into depression when we’re going through tough times. However, a massage can soothe these feelings by reducing cortisol levels. Previous research has found adults asked to relax in a massage chair for 15 minutes, two times per week for five weeks, experienced an increase in frontal delta waves (slow, loud brainwaves that suspend external awareness and are a source of empathy), which promoted feelings of relaxation. Meanwhile, frontal alpha brainwaves and the strength of beta waves (present in the brain when we’re alert) decreased. This helped adults fall into deep relaxation and decrease their anxiety.
A similar study found that depressed adolescent mothers who received ten, 30-minute sessions of massage therapy over a five-week period had less anxious behavior and reduced heart rates and cortisol levels.
Considering all of its mental and physical benefits, it’s little surprise that the desire for touch doesn’t vary by gender, age, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, according to Dr. Garcia: “It’s fundamentally human.” A massage is one of the most simple and effective ways to be touched and feel a sense of intimacy with someone, especially if you’re single.