The Problem with “Non-Sexual Touch”

Posted on Saturday, December 17th, 2011

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I woke up this morning thinking about that term "non-sexual touch."

(Don't ask me why.  Is there any rhyme or reason as to why these things come to me when they do?!)

The term "non-sexual touch" usually is brought up when a couple has struggled with getting on the same page about sexual intimacy.

Usually it is wives who are longing for more non-sexual touch, meaning they want their husbands to touch them at times without the motive of it eventually leading to sex.

"I wish a hug could just be a hug."

"I wish he desired me with my clothes on as much as when my clothes are off."

"Is that all you think about?" (a wife laments as her husband comes up behind her and puts his hands around her waist in a loving embrace)

"I wish he would touch me without expecting sex."

To be fair to wives here, I am completely aware that there are husbands whose only motive when they touch their wives -- whether it be in the kitchen or in the bedroom -- is to clearly send the message that they want sex.  And they want it soon.

And to be fair to husbands who do value touch beyond sexual touch, I am also aware of the painful rejection that occurs when their wives get unreasonably defensive.

"Doesn't she want to be desired by me?"

"I wish I could touch her other than when we have sex."

"It would be nice if she wouldn't just go through the motions.  I wish she would touch me when my clothes are on, instead of just 'check sex of her to-do list' when we make love."

Here is the problem with the term "non-sexual touch."

I think we lose sight of what genuine affection means.  When we start to draw clear category lines around touch, it diminishes the purpose of touch.

And I hate to say it, but that easily can lead to a place of "keeping track" or "keeping score" of what is happening.  Even worse, it reduces it all to what is happening physically, when we know full well that touch in a marriage was never meant to be solely a physical experience.

When this issue of "non-sexual touch" versus "sexual touch" comes up, I think a couple is coming face-to-face with a dynamic in their marriage that they cannot ignore (at least not without the great risk of a fractured relationship).

They are staring at their need to better understand affection that reflects 1 Corinthians 7.

When a couple marries, they are agreeing that their bodies are not just their own.  Ownership has been extended to their spouse as well. (For sake of my argument here, I'm not talking about marriages where abuse and betrayal is taking place. Those are complex issues -- issues that aren't present in many, many marriages where physical intimacy is suffering).

When we nurture a deep sense of freedom in giving and receiving touch -- all kinds of touch -- we can begin to let our guard down.

We can begin to expand our communication instead of stiffen our backs and shut down emotionally. We can stop blanketing every touch with a negative interpretation, where we question our spouse's motive instead of appreciate their desire.

Ponder all this with me a moment, okay? (You've already read this far, you might as well finish).

If you are a husband who only touches your wife when you want sex, there is room for growth.

If you are a wife who is resistant to your husband's touch, there is room for growth.

What is it going to take to get to a place where you can within your marriage not only have greater freedom in touch -- but also more verbal communication in those moments so that you can appreciate each other's desires and needs?

It's not an issue of one person being right and one person being wrong.

A very basic place to start is to say what you like.  Get specific about not only the types of touches you like, but why you like it.

"I like it when you kiss the back of my neck, because it makes me feel treasured."

"I like it when you hold my hand at church, because it makes me feel like we are united."

"I like it when you caress my leg when we are resting on the couch, because it is relaxing."

"I like it when you run your fingernails on my back because it is arousing."

Good Lord, I could go on and on with this.

"I like to touch your body because you are beautiful."

"I like to kiss you outside of our bedroom because you mean the world to me."

"I love the way I feel in your arms. I love the way you feel in my arms."

If touch is a big issue in your marriage -- the lack of it, the misinterpretation of it, the limited types of it -- then make it your heartfelt investment in your marriage to change that trend.

Get creative. Get real. Get intentional.

Why not start right now?  Go touch your spouse in a way you've rarely or never touched them.  Then be brave and talk about it.

Copyright 2011, Julie Sibert, Intimacy in Marriage Blog.

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7 Responses to
“The Problem with “Non-Sexual Touch””

  • UK Fred says: December 17th, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    The variations on this theme are endless, Julie. In our case snuggling up in bed has led to complaints like "Are you wanting sex again?!" when all I wanted to was to be warm, or in the kitchen "Can't you leave that till we are in bed? I'm trying to fix dinner!" when I try to give a cuddle when I get in from work. We reach the point where the only time there is any physical contact is when sex is on the menu. It is, to use a word that I have been using a lot tonight, frustrating. Frustrating, because touch need not mean "I want to have sex with you.", and frustrating because sometimes it might develp into something sexual but to start with you just want to make some sort of connection of a less intimate nature, such as to say "I'm home." but you get shot down in flames before you can make the statement with touch. And the negative imperatives bring a negativity into the relationship that wasn't there before and lead to less likeliehood of any meaningful physical contact later because both have retreated into their shells like frightened turtles. BTW, I liked your guest post with Gina Parris.

  • J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) says: December 18th, 2011 at 12:22 am

    I love your suggestion to state what you like positively. It can be surprising to hear what affection really tickles your spouse's fancy (and other places) and pleasurable to meet that desire more often. Our bodies are not our own. When we willingly share them with our spouse, yes, we feel vulnerable but we also deepen our relationship with them. Nowhere else in our lives do we share our physical selves with anyone so fully. Great stuff, Julie. (But you always write great stuff.)

  • Davis says: December 20th, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Here's something on the flip-side of that...

    I touch my wife with regularity. I enjoy feeling her and letting her know I care. And it has a very calming effect for her to "feel" that love. The issue being now when I do try to touch her intimately it make her feel calm not aroused.

    I'm not sure how to fix it. I want her to continue feeling comforted by me and my touch, but I think I need to get a new "touch" for when we are intimate. :)

  • N says: December 21st, 2011 at 8:52 am

    @ Davis:

    This is a problem for me as well. For my bride, there is a hard line between sexual and non-sexual touch. When we are being sexually intimate, many types of sexual touch are initially to abrupt or "graphic" for her mind to be ready for them or her body is too sensitive in certain areas to touch right away. Yet non-sexual touch is not arrousing for her and will not bring her to a place where touches more sexual in nature are appreciated! arghh!

    There are a few things that break the cycle for us. One type of touch that is a bridge to helping her feel more sexual is me rubbing her butt (but it could be different with your wife), although that alone is not enough to get her in the mood. Another thing that helps is me being clear verbally that I am now being sexual, or us agreeing to have sex tonight. Then we both know that we are moving toward sex and not just cuddling. Another thing is for her to see me very aroused, so during the beginning of foreplay, we mostly concentrate on my arousal. Then after a while of seeing me wanting her so badly, she also becomes aroused and desires more sexual touch. She says that seeing me want her is the most arousing thing for her.

  • Davis says: December 22nd, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    @N:

    Good to know I'm not alone! ;)

    I worked on it both nights and here are my finding - AMAZING success. I remembered back to high school and necking for some ideas. I also remember how much my wife loves small soft kisses on her neck and ears combined with firm embraces on the back of her neck and lower back. Not dominating her but being in control of the kissing. Both times it turned her on immediately so I think I've found that I just need to change how I show her my arousal. Try different things and be more assertive with my love.

  • LionHeart says: August 7th, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    The most shaming thing for a man is his erection.

    Back when we were younger we would be sitting in history class and because of our blood and youth we would have an erection. Maybe the tight jeans.. who knows. You would have to hold your books just right to exit class.

    But it happens in marriage to this day. That dreaded erection. So I am giving you a back or foot massage, and in my silken pajamas that dreaded creature from the black lagoon begins to surface. No hiding it. I cuddle up in bed and spoon, and suddenly, there is that point of pressure from the midsection.

    Always looked at with fear and dread, always pulled away from. The shame we feel when you look at our uncontrollable erection this way is as if we said, "Why yes, dear, in fact you DO look fat in that dress!".

  • NG says: August 12th, 2014 at 11:24 am

    I so agree with this article. It's spot on.
    The problem with this touted 'non-sexual touch' is, it somehow gives an idea that touching of sexual nature is something to avoid, even in marriage. To each their own - if some people prefer to keep their marriage relationship focused on other areas than sexual, that is fine for them - but I sure would want that once I'm married, there would be lots of touching of sexual nature!
    There already are plenty of people who can bless me with non-sexual hugs, thank God. None of them can touch me sexually, and I would not want that either. That's what marriage is for.
    Instead of 'sexual touch' and 'non-sexual touch' what if we just talk about 'wholesome touching'? Something that involves the heart, the emotions, and the whole being, without over-analyzing and dichotomizing.

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