A Little Bit of That Human Touch

Sexual Needs: Part 9.

Posted Jun 02, 2020

There are times when our songwriters pen lyrics so deeply resonant that they approach the gravitas of Biblical prophecy. Bruce Springsteen's words stand apart in their stark affirmation of human need.

Baby in a world without pity
Do you think what I'm askin's too much?
I just want to feel you in my arms
And share a little of that human touch.

Needless to say, his "baby" is not a child, not his mother, not a buddy. What he's singing about is the sort of romantic and sexual attachment to a significant other. What he's asking is whether or not he can get his needs met. What he's craving is the healing that envelopes him in the arms of his beloved. Haven't we all needed this kind of hug at times?

Pixabay/ Pexels
Source: Pixabay/ Pexels

No organ in the human body has more nerve endings than what is likely the largest organ by weight: our skin, weighing in at about 16% of our body mass. And since we're getting a bit sciency here, let's get rational as well: The body never evolved junk; everything is there for a reason. We don't have taste buds on the tongue because they're adorable; we have them to guide us in getting our nutritional needs met. In the same way, our skin has evolved to distinguish between the loving touches of say, our doting grannies and those of our beloved paramour. Try a thought experiment: While blindfolded, you get a hug from a parent and you get a hug from a lover. Do you think you could tell the difference? Of course you could.

Now, if all we humans needed was touch, then our skin, the most sensitive organ of our bodies, wouldn't bother to distinguish between a parental versus an amorous hug. Our bodies distinguish between the two precisely because the distinction is important. It's important because, in evolutionary terms, our bodies need to be informed about the possibility of mating. Knowing that a family member is offering emotional support is also extremely critical because we are emotional beings with emotional needs. Sadly, broad swaths of human culture have yet to accept that we are sexual beings with concomitant sexual needs. Our need for sexual touch is one of our needs that doesn't develop until we enter puberty

But once puberty has been reached, we become aware that things have changed. Our bodies are usually hairier, our voices deepen, and we start to have thoughts and feelings that we didn't use to have. This is not an "all or nothing" sort of change because, like most things human, this new need occurs on a continuum. At one end lie the asexuals in our community who have a need for sexual touch that is virtually zero. At the other end are those who thrive on a diet of touch that many of us would find annoying or exhausting.

All of us have a reaction to the utter absence of sexual touch for a protracted period of time. For the asexual, the reaction may be relief or simply indifference. For those of us who are far more needy of this sort of sexual touch, our reaction is to become increasingly uncomfortable to the point of distress. Now, with all this diversity of need in mind, please ask yourself, "Which of us is normal?" 

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels
Source: Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The question is a silly one, of course. Just as with skin pigmentation, height, or caloric needs, when it comes to our need for sexual touch we are all somewhere on the scale of normal human diversity. Some of us need none, some need a lot, and many of us (maybe most) fall somewhere in between. It's all so simple and reasonable. 

And then the wheels fall off the bus. Love affairs that start off so well can go so fast or so badly that we fail to accurately predict whether or not we are facing the possibility of catastrophic failure. More precisely, the problem looks something like this: When it comes to what we need to feel comfortable, Person A likes x amount of "that human touch" while their partner likes, maybe, 10 times as much. A couple can be oh-so-perfectly compatible in many areas but when they aren't compatible (or roughly so) in the area of their need for touches that are romantic and sexual, then there's trouble. 

The trouble usually looks something like this: Person A wants more sexual touch and goes to touch Person B. Person B likes a lot less and is increasingly uncomfortable over time with all the touching. Person A is starving for more while Person B feels smothered. Which one is behaving correctly?

Without the knowledge that human beings have sexual needs, we tend to revert to a moral diagnosis of the situation. "What's wrong with you? You're cold! Don't you love me?" is met with "What's your problem? You're so needy! Are you some kind of sex addict?" None of this needs to happen when we realize that we can be perfectly compatible with another human being in many areas, while at the same time be perfectly incompatible in an essential area. 

But shouldn't we just compromise? Person A wants x and Person B wants 10x. Easy, right? “Both get 5x,” is what many a marriage counselor would advise. In my professional experience, this sort of compromise simply ensures that both are miserable: Now I'm only half-starving while my partner is only half-force-fed hugs and kisses they never wanted. The result is a self-defeating drama that never needed to occur if we'd only known about and accepted our sexual need for touch, and talked about it at the front end of our romance.