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Let’s Talk About Touch, not Sex
Touch Exercise
Sara Schwarzbaum


In this newsletter you will
  1. Learn about the different kinds of touch
  2. Read about the effect of touch deprivation on mood
  3. Find out about two misconceptions people have regarding sex and touch
  4. Learn that not all sensual and erotic activity has to be reciprocal
  5. Learn one exercise to restore touch and playfulness to your relationship
Kinds of physical touch

Not all touch is sexual or erotic. Some touch involves sexual and erotic activities such as foreplay and intercourse, but much of human touch is non sexual. Examples of non sexual touch include touching hair, face or hands. Other examples are massaging or caressing.

The Touch Exercise and Menus are  on right column
Touch deprivation

It appears that touch deprivation affects mood, the immune system, and general well being. Most research on this topic has been conducted with newborns or the elderly, showing strong associations between lack of touch and alterations in mood.  When children and the elderly are not touched, their mood, attitude, and overall well being, may suffer. The same is true for adults. If adults are not touched on a regular basis they can get more irritable.  Couples who don’t touch each other for a long time suffer from touch deprivation.

Why is it so hard to get back into the “sandbox”?

Here is likely scenario.

If you are in a bad mood, you may not feel like touching of being touched by your partner. If your partner does something that upsets you, you may not feel like touching or being touched either. You stop getting back into the “sandbox” to play, you get even more irritable, you feel like touching/being touched even less, that makes you or your partner  even more upset or irritable. If this sounds all too familiar to you, it’s because you have entered a vicious cycle.

Now it’s hard to know whether you are more irritable because you haven’t been touched by your partner in a long time, or whether you don’t feel like touching/being touched because you are in a bad mood. What can you do to get on the path of a virtuous cycle instead?

Two misconceptions regarding the human touch

The first misconception is that physical touch always has to lead to sexual touch and to intercourse.

Human physical intimacy and erotic pleasure are complex activities and not as natural as we may think they should be. Many people are anxious about sharing their bodies.  Additionally, the hormonal cocktail that fuels passion and erotic desire in the first stages of a relationship, doesn’t last.  And on top of it, couples vary in how much sexual activity and touch they want. Some want more, some want less. This is normal.   

Things get complicated when couples who have a different level of sexual desire start to avoid touching each other. They stop the playfulness; they stop touching each other’s faces, shoulders, hair, hands, or backs.  That’s understandable:  If you think that if you touch your partner, sexual intercourse will necessarily follow and you are the one with lower desire, you will stop touching to avoid sex. And if you are the one with higher desire, you may stop touching your partner to avoid further rejection. So, to avoid intercourse or rejection, many couples stop touching all together.

The second misconception is that all physical intimacy or erotic activity has to be reciprocal and equally desired.

Not all sensual or sexual activity should be a reciprocal intimate moment. Much of physical and erotic activity is about knowing what you want and being comfortable asking for it, and knowing what your partner wants, and being comfortable giving it.

Can you think of yourself as someone who can give touch for a few minutes without the expectation of getting anything for it? Can you tolerate receiving pleasurable sexual and non sexual touch without the pressure to give anything in return?

 You don’t always need to be in the mood for sex or even for being touched yourself to give a back rub or touch your partner, if that’s what he/she wants or requests. Conversely, just because you feel like getting a long hug, or want your partner to touch your back or your face or hair, does not mean that she/he has to want the same thing you want at the same time.

Most importantly, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will lead to intercourse.

This exercise (see column on right)  for  when you are ready to:
  • Separate touch from intercourse in your mind
  • Give pleasurable touch to your partner even when you are not in the mood to receive it yourself
  • Receive pleasurable touch from your partner without thinking that you need to give anything in return.
  • Receive touch even when your partner does not want it at the same time
See Touch Exercise on the right.

To view our past newsletters, click

Feel free to forward this email
Dr. Sara Schwarzbaum

Menu of Touch Activities
See exercise guidelines after the menus of this column

Menu 1 Non sexual touch

Long Hugs Cuddling
Embracing Touching hair
Long kisses on the cheek Touching face
Scratching back Touching shoulders
Touching waist Holding hands sitting down
Holding hands walking Moving hand up and down the back
Add your own Add your own

Menu 2 Non sexual touch
Long kisses on the mouth Caressing face
Caressing hair Combing Hair
Massaging back Massaging feet
Touching or massaging each finger Massaging shoulder
Caress or massage legs Touching or massaging toes
Caress or massage arms Caress or massage under arms
Add your own Add your own

A. General guidelines for the touch exercise
  1. Schedule the touch activity in collaboration with your partner, i.e.: Is this a good day/time for you? What others days/times would be better for you?
  2. The one who wants to be touched is in charge of reminding the partner that it is time (not the other way around).  You are the one who schedules, and reminds.
  3. There should be no expectation on the part of your partner that he/she will be reciprocated. If your partner wants a turn with touch, he/she would find out if this is a good time for you too.
  4. There should be no expectation on the part of your partner that this touching time will lead to “other things”, i.e., sexual intercourse.

B. Steps of the Touch Exercise
  • Step one: Pick three items from one the menus that are pleasurable for you. Feel free to add your own items.
  • Step two: Ask our partner to spend no more than 5 minutes doing the three things you picked.
  • Step three: Relax and enjoy!
Your partner does not necessarily take a turn following yours and your partner needs to do his/her own requesting at a time when it is convenient for you, just as you requested.

If you haven't touched in the long time, repeat the non-sexual touch exercise a few times until it feels comfortable and natural. After that, you can move on to sexual touch.


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