The importance of not neglecting platonic touch

AnnaBeth Crittenden, Assistant Features Editor

With the semester reaching the end of its first half, students may be feeling stressed and anxious about schoolwork. An article in The Atlantic on July 15, 2014 reassures that cuddling may be the best result to wipe away stress. Cuddling has become a recent phenomenon in our culture and has given to the rise of cuddle parties.

Cuddle parties exist to allow strangers to talk about dreams and goals while innocently cuddling with others. Sound weird?  Scientifically, according to the previously mentioned Atlantic article, cuddling “releases endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin, ‘the cuddle hormone,’ as some call it.”  Oxytocin, the same hormone released in mothers when they breastfeed their children, increases feelings of strong bonds in relationships.  So by avoiding platonically touching our friends, we have a more difficult time building strong bonds in those relationships.

 On one hand, cuddling sounds great and beneficial to our health, so why would we not partake in this warm embrace? Society is a key reason. Platonic touch is a social taboo.  Somehow society has made us think that non-sexual physical contact is weird. So those of us who don’t get to regularly experience sexual physical contact theoretically become touch-deprived.

Matthew Hertenstein, Director of the Touch and Emotion Lab at DePauw University told The Huffington Post on May 14, 2013, “Touch deprivation is a real thing. We live in a touch-phobic society that’s made affection with anyone but loved ones taboo. This touching taboo begins at an early age.  According to the Thought Catalog from June 24, 2014, “Children learn by touching. But as soon as they start school the “keep your hands and feet to yourself” policy is instated. This is the policy of American society. Don’t touch, ever. America is not an affectionate society. We only touch the ones we know. Sometimes we rarely touch the ones we love.”

Yet on the other hand, not cuddling—or utilizing platonic touch at all within our relationships with others—can harm our relationships and friendships, as well as lead to loneliness. Touch is a good thing, and without it, we’re harming our relationships with others. A 2011 study by the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction found that regular cuddling in a relationship is more important than sex.

Also, touch deprivation leads to loneliness.  According to the Guardian on February 16, 2014, a 2012 study by Brunel and St. George’s University surveyed older adults who live alone or far from their families and found that more than 20 percent felt lonely all the time.  But this loneliness epidemic isn’t just for older people. Forbes of April 22, 2014 states that loneliness is one of the biggest problems facing millenials as they are increasingly isolated at work and home. The Desert News, a publication from June 22, 2014 claims that the number of adults suffering from feelings of loneliness is 35 percent.  According to the same article, loneliness causes lots of health problems, like high blood pressure, weakened immune system, depression, heart attack, and strokes. According to psychologist John Cacioppo, extreme loneliness is akin to physical pain and can increase an older person’s chances of premature death by 14 percent. 

I’m not telling you that you should go out and cuddle with everyone, but I do believe that integrating physical platonic touch in your relationships can lessen your stress and strengthen your bonds with your friends. But, cuddling isn’t the only way to touch people. Any type of physical contact releases this oxytocin. So, because human touch is so important, we as a society need to get over ourselves out of the mindset that touch means sex. An article published in Psychology Today on March 11, 2013 states that “by the time we’re adults, most of us have learned that touching tends to raise the stakes, particularly when it comes to a sense of connectivity. Even fleeting contact with a stranger can have a measurable effect, both fostering and enhancing cooperation.”

 But no, here in America we just see people touching and automatically assume they’re having sex. America, get your mind out of the gutter and your hands out of your pockets. Join hands and hug because this is one concept we can all grasp. Hold on, hold up, hold out. The right touch may get us feeling again.

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