It’s a cultural thing – who touches whom, when, how and why. I have relaxed into being a whole lot more touchy-feely recently. As a woman, in England, I feel OK touching someone’s arm in conversation, greeting or saying goodbye with a hug. I was never allowed to do that as a man, lest it be misinterpreted, even by me. OK, sometimes I did, but not as a regular thing. When a man touches a woman’s arm or leg, it’s either a presumption, an advance, or it’s effeminate. Hugs before always had that constraint: not too warm, not too close, not too long. Air-kissing only.
It’s as if physical contact is largely reserved for sexual intimacy. Singular hugs are remembered: the last hug with my wife, the last hug with my daughter, a special hug one Christmas with someone I felt deeply for. The kiss that could have led to a mistaken journey. A French kiss that was so needed, but never again repeated. I’ve often written about my yearning for intimacy, for the next ‘real’ kiss that means more than friends, the hand in a place no-one else has touched for a very long time.
And yet now I am learning something quite new through the dance and the people I meet there. Human touch, understood differently, is nurturing, healing, and increases self-awareness and wholeness. In a small group this week, we explored self-awareness in the body to its six extents: fingertips, toes, head and tail. Yes, you know, those little bones at the end of your spine that are free to wiggle. This week involved touching the tail.
Isn’t it funny, the way we ignore parts of ourselves in Western society? Men have breasts, just undeveloped and unspoken about. But they are there and sensate. We have navels that have inner connections and psychological significance, and the most we do is pierce them. Women’s breasts are sexualised, yet they are so much more than erogenous zones. Men don’t communicate that they hold their penises many times a day, and the conversational barrier between men and women, even between women and women about vaginas, leaves everyone communicating poorly. We have a sense of at least some taboo about things we all deal with throughout every day of our lives, not in the one per cent or less time spent in sexual activity. There are things we value and enjoy, and yet pretend they don’t exist or aren’t really part of our enjoyed lives.
I am learning how much is lost in the separation of sensory and sensual experience from communal life, and its exclusive adoption into single-partner expression. No, I haven’t gone all swingy and free-love – far from it. I am just touching other people, and they are touching me, and we are understanding its importance. We are communicating a shared awareness in a way I never found possible before. There are always caveats in our dance, that if the other isn’t comfortable with a touch, it is avoided. We don’t get to really intimate erogenous zones, because that would raise ambiguities, but we still talk about it and respect each other. Many other animals regularly touch, hug, groom each other, and it is bonding. We as Western humans have lost a lot to supposed correctness, fear of taking advantage, and loss of trust.
You can’t tickle yourself. And you can’t hug yourself. A duvet and a cuddly toy may be comforting, but it is not a hug. An orgasm may be a beautiful experience, but it’s all the touching, skin contact and caressing that creates an awareness of mutual trust and love. And I have found that there is another non-sexual layer of physical contact between people that is simply shared awareness of who and what we are, without which we are only partly aware. So I am really liking my new community of people who touch and hug, who make contact in dance, who will pull and push legs and arms, wiggle a tail bone, and who will invigorate, or stroke, and remind me of my extension in all directions as a living being.
Could I have found this before? It’s a difficult question. I know I would have felt the same in myself, but I know it wouldn’t have fitted with life as I knew it. And now, I know that this is exploration I always wanted but never found, not even in my marriage.
- See also: Touch