The decline of touching
Very few people saw this coming, and certainly not this fast, but all of a sudden behaviour that used to be tolerated or ignored is cause for public shame and real-life consequences.
That’s a good thing. Victims of sexual abuse and violence need to be believed, and it’s important that we take their stories seriously and react accordingly. (As I’ve said elsewhere, I too have been sexually harassed, assaulted, and raped. But I don’t consider myself a victim. I have dealt with my trauma in a way that works for me. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to any of this.)
But there is a but. And it’s a big one.
I worry we’re not touching each other anymore, and that’s contributing to the problem.
Touch is important. Our skin is our biggest organ (yes, it is an organ). It’s got nerve endings everywhere. It feels and transmits feelings like very few of our other bits can — except possibly our eyes.
We are sensual beings. We need to touch people to make genuine connections with them. We shake hands, hug, kiss and so on for a reason. Because only in our touch can we truly show our feelings.
We’ve known for a few years now that human contact is necessary for babies and young children to grow and be healthy. Ask any mother; nothing soothes a fussy newborn like skin-to-skin contact. Being touched is a primal need, and it doesn’t go away when we grow up.
We are made to touch, and be touched. That’s why the wrong kind of touching (the unwanted hand on the knee, the groping, etc.) feels like such a violation. Because it hits us where we are especially vulnerable. But on the flip side, the fear of being accused of improperly touching someone is now keeping many of us from touching each other in the right way.
How are we to teach children the difference between the right and wrong way to be touched if they only experience the former from members of their immediate family? How are we to show students, friends, coworkers we care about them if we stop ourselves from hugging them or just holding their hands in ours?
Nobody wants sexual predators to go unpunished. It’s good that so many of them are now forced to face the consequences of their behaviour. I just worry that we may swing so far in the direction of preventing harassment that we wind up deprived of healthy, loving and non-sexual human physical contact.