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IMPORTANCE, POWER OF TOUCH ARE MORE THAN JUST SKIN DEEP

SHARE IMPORTANCE, POWER OF TOUCH ARE MORE THAN JUST SKIN DEEP

"The need for touch is a kind of ache," says one woman.

"I'd rather have my husband hold me than have a Cadillac convertible," says another.Touch - simple, non-sexual touching - is pretty potent stuff - potent enough that in a 1985 much-discussed Ann Landers column, the columnist reported that more than 65,000 women wrote in to say they preferred being "held close and treated tenderly" to having sex. Yet, "non-demand" touch is something most women say they don't get enough of. And it's something that both sexes need.

Why is touch so powerful? "Human skin is like a field of grass, each blade a nerve ending so sensitive that the slightest graze can etch into the human brain a memory of the moment," explains an anthropologist.

If you're like most people, nothing gives you greater assurance of your worth and likability than being affectionately touched by those you love. Yet, as a couple, you may be on a "starvation diet" when it comes to getting the daily minimum requirement of touching, neglecting your "Vitamin T" every day.

And, as individuals, you may not be satisfying your "skin hunger." "There is a deep-seated hunger within us that no amount of food can satisfy - the hunger for the touch, the feel and concrete reality of human contact," observes Sidney Simons, author of the article, "Have You Touched Someone Lately?" Yet, couples often fail to realize that non-demand touching should be nurtured - not out of expectation of a sexual reward - but as a valuable and desirable activity in itself. Esther Davidowitz, author of the article "The Healing Power Of Touch," provides some reasons why:

- Touch is a natural way to show feelings and can soothe and comfort as words never can.

- Words are seldom as clear or direct as a touch. Most of us say it better with a hug.

- Touch soothes pains, lessens hurts and softens the blows that life delivers.

- Touch can also make us feel loved enough - and safe enough - to let go and express our true feelings.

- Touch is one warm-blooded creature's way of saying to another, "You're not alone. I'm here."

Though touching comes with myriad possible benefits, trouble may brew when spouses prefer different amounts and kinds of touching. "For one person a soft touch on the hand may mean as much as a lingering embrace to another," notes Anne Stearn, author of the article, "The Feeling We Can't Live Without." "Under some circumstances, individuals may often perceive a touch not as enjoyable but as threatening. This particular impact may be affected by sexual differences, with women in particular often reporting such feelings when a man's touch is too direct and rough." On the other hand, studies show that some men, when feeling insecure, may interpret touching as a type of put-down rather than a source of comfort.

Other sexual differences can cause problems, with men sometimes perceiving touch as the means and the road to sexual intimacy, and women sometimes perceiving that, when men touch them, they (the men) have a sexual goal in mind. The sexes may also prefer different types of touch, men more often a strong, firm touch, women more often a soft, gentle touch.

Addressing sexual differences, Davidowitz observes: "Some couples fall into the habit of touching each other only as a way to communicate they want to make love. Then, when sexual problems arise, the wife may stop touching her husband in order to avoid sex, and the husband may stop touching his wife to avoid having to perform. Both have forgotten that touching can signal not only sexual desire but also affection, support, sympathy - and all the other myriad components of love."

Obviously couples must communicate clearly to understand the amount and type of touch each prefers under what conditions. Davidowitz encourages each partner to learn the other's touch-language by pairing touch with words by, for example, saying "Let's simply cuddle" if there is no sexual intent involved. She also urges couples always to respect a spouse's desires when they feel like touching: "Touch involves someone else's feelings as well as your own. It should always be received with as much pleasure as it is given . . . . If you use touching to satisfying your own needs at the expense of someone else's, then you subvert the purpose of the touch."

If you're ready for more non-sexual contact in your relationship, try something as simple as cuddling, snuggling, stroking or holding hands. And take advantage of the time you have together (even if it's just passing in the hall) by just squeezing a close shoulder, caressing a convenient neck or patting a cheek. Hold hands when you're both sitting on the couch or walking in the mall, or snuggle up when you're both reading in bed.

And, remember, it's not hard work to give a real hug or a real kiss. In fact, try giving and getting a 60-second hug every day. Agree to limit your "hug-a-day" to just that - a hug - an affectionate but non-sexual gesture designed to bring you closer together. And don't be shy. Be the one to initiate a "Hug Alert" if that's what it takes to organize that "hug-a-day."