The Chemistry of Touch

Posted by on Dec 1, 2014 in Integration, Love, Bonding, and Intimacy | 7 comments

Sex is Much More than just “Sex” and Bonding is More Important Than We Ever Knew…

 

And How Does our Enneagram Type Play Into It?

PHOTO_AEAWorkshop_Daniels2014In a new book I’ve been working on, slated for completion in 2017, I focus on the nature of intimacy as it relates to our sexuality and overall happiness. I include a powerful section on the sexual enhancements and diminishments by Enneagram type, suggested antidotes for each type, a section on how to develop true intimacy, the stereo-typical male-female differences, the key difference between sensuality and sensuousness, some of the many myths about our sexuality, and much more.
What I’m thinking about currently is the power of touch and the critical importance of bonding in our ability to experience loving, sexual relationships that will not only thrive but endure.

This vital topic has not been addressed much in the Enneagram world. The experience of love, touch, affection, and “bonding” are critical components of our human nature. We could even call these biological imperatives. What is their relationship to our sexuality? I feel this question is ready  to be explored, and from an Enneagram type perspective.

Over the years, working with countless couples, I have become immensely passionate about this question and this potential by-Enneagram-type discovery.  It’s been fulfilling for me to work with individuals and on this topic, couples, who have been willing to create a genuinely receptive and open-hearted environment for this discussion, which allows all of us to expand our understandings of such precious and delicate of subject matter and the possibilities for growth and exploration.

Most delightful to me has become the depth of the work itself, the power of the guided interactions in stirring deeply powerful, personal conversations that have resulted in much shared awareness, and the blending of this process work with didactic content. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to acknowledge the great big, often-shame-based green elephant in the room:  Our capacity for intimacy and sexuality.

PHOTO_daviddaniels_300I just presented a new workshop on this subject matter named, “Enduring Love and Sexuality.” in Phoenix, Arizona with the Arizona Enneagram Association.  The workshop included panels sharing and I was deeply moved by the honesty, self-examination and willingness to discuss what’s so often an uncomfortable, too personal subject for so many.

I invite you to stop for a moment and tap into your thoughts and feelings. What comes up for you when you think about this topic? What does touch and “bonding” mean to you, as part of intimate sexual relationships, and as a part of your experience of love itself?

Intimacy, Touch, and Bonding

Intimacy simply means close association, contact, or friendship characterized by expressing one’s deepest nature. Intimacy is something that developes over time. This is fundamentally the basis of loving relationships. Today, I want to focus on the expression of intimacy through touch.

It’s been well documented that infants do not thrive physically or emotionally if they aren’t held and cuddled, even when fed adequate food.

Harry Harlow’s research on young monkeys isolated from contact, from touch, simply didn’t develop and later did not even know how to engage in sexual behavior. When infants lose contact with their mothers even for a minute or two, they go into distress. They get upset, cry and wail to bring forth connection, and then often, if continually neglected, withdraw. The distress behaviors associated with the loss of connection and the loss of physical touch are essential survival mechanisms. They are reactions that attempt to garner healthy development and adequately loving, bonding relationships.

HUMANSGORILLASThe nursing mother produces oxytocin and dopamine, two bonding and feel good hormones and neurotransmitters, levels of these hormones increase in both mother and infant during nursing, creating and enhancing the vital care bond between mother and child.  It’s also been reported that the father’s as well as other caregivers’ oxytocin and dopamine levels increase when holding an infant, creating gentle touch. This is incredibly important — vital! — to human development, which is characterized by a long period of developmental dependency in the human child. Touch, this particular form of contact, serves a critical function.

All mammals engage in care behavior through close contact, touch, and also play. Lewis et.al. in A General Theory of Love, conclude that relationship contact, including physical and emotional connection are what can heal us from various forms of distress, including depression and anxiety. Lewis and his associates, psychiatrists serving in a depression clinic in which anti-depressants were POLARBEARSextensively prescribed, have documented how limbic resonance between humans leads to limbic regulation and limbic revision. This documentation is a powerful resource for understanding personal change and development.

There are five very fundamental functions of human sexuality: procreation, pleasure, security, love, and, yes, spirit.  Touch associated with sexual intimacy helps to serve each of those five basic functions. There’s no doubt, our sexuality can and does represent a confluence of worthy-to-acknowledge goals.

We have a sexual drive, shared by all mammals, called “lust” by the affective neuroscientists. What’s interesting to point out is that in humans, the female has what’s been termed “contGRAPHIC_drdaniels_touch2014_880pxwinuous receptivity,” meaning, the ability to remain sexually participatory throughout the monthly reproductive cycle, not only when the female is ovulating and readied for conception. No other primate shares this continuous receptivity, except in part the Bonobo, or pigmy chimpanzee. Now, what is the advantage of this?

Additionally, orgasm, when part of the sexual act for women as well as men, causes the release of vasopressin, oxytocin, dopamine along with testosterone and norepinephrine, a combination of hormones that contribute to the experience of love, bonding, the quieting of the amygdala in the brain (the part of the brain that drives stress and fear), and relaxation.

Beyond procreation and immediate pleasure, there are fundamentally powerful, longer-term benefits associated with human sex. And that’s to release multiple feel-good, stress-reducing chemicals within the human system, the result of the bonding and touch associated with consensual lovemaking.

To summarize ever so simply, human sexuality is imbued with the potential to enhance inter-personal feel-good emotions and a state physical and emotional well-being.

I’d say that’s on the list of things that could truly help enhance one’s level of happiness.

David’s additional comment: Helen Fisher in her well-researched work even calls the bonding or attachment (her word) a drive. I would expand this to biological imperative meaning that the bonding and touch in our sexual experience are rooted in our survival along with just “sex”. What do you think/feel about this theme touch, bonding, and attachment?


JOIN THE CONVERSATION.
I would love to hear from you, my blog readers, friends and colleagues.

Sex has been heavily marketed, commercialized, and exploited for a good century now. We are shown sexual images daily across every form of media available. But what’s going on, underneath it all? Why is it so important to human development and how has the experience of “touch” been felt or expressed in your life? How is your experience related to your Enneagram type and center of intelligence?

7 Responses to “The Chemistry of Touch”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Have you all noticed the ads for Viagra on TV? They are all about touch, contact, affection, and loving looks, but they are advertising a sexual erection drug! Wow what good evidence for this article emphasizing touch. David Daniels

  2. For me, David, during my 34 year marriage, the feeling of “touch” consistently gives me the same mental reaction, namely relaxation of my mind. My mind stops spinning. It is comforting to stop the head-spinning, and just put it to rest for a while. It is a reminder to breathe. Then, I feel a physical calming of the nerves, because this “touch” is a signal that I am accepted, as I am.

    So, I stop thinking and analyzing, and as my mind relaxes, my body is feeling calmer, more at ease, and I am suddenly awakened to the fact that, with all my flaws, this sense of “touch” is an acceptance of “who I am” at this very moment, regardless of the fact that I still consider myself a work-in-progress, which is why my mind is always spinning and thinking.

    For me, this sense of “touch” raises questions in my mind, usually an hour after a hug, or the next day, because after contemplation, I begin to wonder, if he was trying to say, “I love you,” with that touch, that pat on the back, that extra long hug. I think he probably was doing just that, because I seldom hear those words. Yet, I know he loves me.

    If I notice that he is overwhelmed with the stress of his day, I often want to reach out, and use touch, as my way of letting him know, that I am with him, that I support him, regardless of his self-perceived failings. It might be a hug, or just putting my arm around his waist, as he is about to head out the door. I just want him to know he’s safe and secure, and that I accept him, even on a day when he is unsatisfied with himself.

    I don’t so easily express my love any other way. I am not sentimental, mushy, or romantic. However, I want him to know that those bottled up “mushy” feelings are somewhere inside of me, and the only way I can express them, is through touch, because otherwise, I might get emotionally vulnerable, which for me, is a state of confusion-of-the-mind. Therefore, “touch” is letting him know that he’s safe with me, and I feel competently safe with him (meaning, not confused).

    Since anxiety or fear is the core of my being, it is the only disturbance that rocks the boat (that is, if I am the boat). Therefore, “touch” is a major sensation that somehow equates to a sense of feeling safe, and therefore, feeling loved, and also my way of expressing love to him. What a relief to not be so fearful, and how nice it can be to eliminate his fear, too.

    For me, “touch” is an important sensation that maintains serenity in our relationship. This exchange of calm serenity somehow equates to feeling loved, and expressing love. I am a self-preservation 5, and yes, I think my response relates strongly to my enneagram type.

    I think that bonding and touch, as related to my sexual experience, is most likely rooted in my desire for a secure, safe, and serene existence. I interpret these feelings with my mind, with help from the sensation of touch, and I later recognize this as love, which others say, comes from the heart. Maybe it does.

    And my head keeps spinning. My husband is also a self-preservation type 5, so I have lots of privacy and opportunity to think about this for, hopefully, many years to come.

    • Thank you for this thoughtful comment. Type 5 children are known to have a low threshold of responsiveness, meaning, the intensity level of stimulation necessary to evoke a response is low. So, touch as you describe it, for the two of you who lead with Type 5, can be very relaxing for the mind and body, can show care and support, and release tension. Your comment clearly shows the power of touch as it releases dopamine and oxytocin. the “feel good,” bonding substances. And touch can lead to love making when you both concur with moving in that direction. You don’t need to have arousal first, as touch itself can create arousal. Lastly, as the mind calms, put attention on the contracting force that originally protected the Type 5 child from intrusion, allowing yourself to release into further contact and the nurturance that trust provides.
      Again, Thanks.
      Warmest regards,
      David

    • Hi Anonymous, This beautiful description of touch = the basis of bonding gets right to the heart. You might allow yourself to just be present to it with receptive energy and if or when fear arises just come back to presence. And yes touch is calming, reassuring, bonding, and often loving. Warm regards, David

  3. David’s additional comment: Helen Fisher in her well-researched work even calls the bonding or attachment (her word) a drive. I would expand this to biological imperative meaning that the bonding and touch in our sexual experience are rooted in our survival along with just “sex”. What do you think/feel about this theme touch, bonding, and attachment?

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you, David and also Anonymous. Very powerful stuff here. As a 5, it rings so true to me. But, I’m guessing, all types can relate.

    • Anonymous says:

      Very interesting blog, I like this! The more you know yourself the more you understand or can relate with other people. I haven’t heard of the Enneagram before.

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