A Loving Touch

How sexual touching communicates caring or indifference.

Posted Sep 13, 2020

Humans, like all social animals, have evolved to express feelings through nonverbal emotional communication. Darwin became the father of evolutionary psychology when he published The Expression of the Emotion in Man and Animals in 1872. Darwin noted the many commonalities between humans and animals in the way they express emotions. This allows for interspecies emotional communication. We know if our dogs are happy or sad and our dogs know if we are happy or sad.

Similarly, we know without a word being said whether or not our romantic partners are happy with us or if we’re in the doghouse. The technical term for being in the doghouse is what the marital researcher John Gottman calls “stonewalling.” Your partner is angry with you but doesn’t want to talk about or it admit out of fear of having a big unpleasant blow-up. So instead, your partner gives you the cold shoulder. You get treated with utter indifference and if you ask your partner what’s wrong your partner says nothing as though you are crazy for thinking anything is wrong. Superficially, your partner is going through the motions of being a happy and cooperative partner, but you can tell that their heart just isn’t in it. They’re faking it but they get angry and defensive if you question their sincerity as though you’re being too insecure and paranoid.

When Sex Is Perfunctory

People in long-term relationships often complain about not having enough sex, or the sex becoming boring because it’s not sufficiently adventurous or varied. What is just as big a problem but rarely discussed is that the sex becomes perfunctory: A partner will have sex with you as much as you want, and indulge your sexual preferences no matter how kinky. And to boot, your partner regularly has an orgasm, so you know they are obtaining some sexual gratification. That all sounds pretty good, if not great. So what’s the problem? If something still feels a bit off or not quite right the problem is that your partner is just going through the motions. Their heart isn’t in it. They’ll indulge you by having sex with you as much as you’d like and make the best of it by having an orgasm. Yet something about it seems empty and unsatisfying. Why is that?

The problem is that your partner is touching you like they’re servicing you not like they are loving you. Your partner is sexually competent. Your partner knows all of the right buttons to push to help you achieve an orgasm. They are a competent sex worker and rightly proud of their competence. They take pride in being “good in bed.” Nevertheless, you can tell they don’t totally love their job or perhaps they don’t love their customer. How do you know? By the way your partner touches you. The way your partner touches you may not express hostility, but it may not express affection either.

Research has shown that we are quite adept at expressing emotions through touch. Research has shown that without any other nonverbal cues, people can accurately recognize a wide array of emotions through touch alone. What is affectionate or loving touch? It is gentle and caring. It expresses sensitivity to your feelings by mirroring them. During sex, a loving touch responds to your arousal level by touching you with just the right pressure and motion so it’s not too little or too much. You’re not being rushed into an orgasm nor are you being denied sufficient intensity to help you climax. Finally, a loving touch expresses a need to be close to you. It is not just about making you happy; it’s also about making your partner happy. A loving touch pulls you in closer in a way that says your partner can’t get quite enough of you. Your partner wants to merge with you and become part of you in the process of giving you sensitively attuned sexual pleasure.

What to Do When the Loving Touch Is Lacking

The loving touch cannot be boiled down to a sexual technique. The loving touch is beyond technique. It can’t be taught. You either feel it and express it or you don’t. If you feel love and affection toward your partner, it will be automatically, unconsciously, and nonverbally communicated in the way you touch them while having sex. And the intensity of your love and affection will be expressed as well. The loving touch can’t be faked. If you don’t feel it, you can’t do it. Your partner will know you are pretending – that you are putting on an act because you feel you should.

What this means is that however you feel about your partner when you’re not having sex will be communicated to your partner through touch when you are having sex. So, if you want to touch or be touched by your partner in a loving way you need to cultivate a loving and affectionate relationship when you’re not having sex. Those good feelings will then be expressed during sex by the way you touch each other. Basically, sexual touching becomes a barometer of how a couple truly feels about each other and those feelings cannot be easily faked as much as we might try. Orgasms can sometimes be successfully faked but a loving touch cannot.

Of course, we may overlook the fact that a loving touch is missing from our sexual relationships. Some of us prefer impersonal sex or rough sex that is devoid of a loving touch. Or some of us don’t know what we are missing because we’ve never had it and believe the sex is good enough if we achieve climax. But many of us find that sex with a loving touch is much better and feel deprived without it. For those of us who would like sex with a loving touch, we need to work on cultivating as much humor and affection in our romantic relationships as we can so that those good feelings will be expressed in our sexual relationships.


Josephs, L. (2018) The Dynamics of Infidelity: Applying Relationship Science to Psychotherapy Practice. Washington, D.C. American Psychological Association.