The Problem with “Non-Sexual Touch”

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.

15 thoughts on “The Problem with “Non-Sexual Touch”

  1. UK Fred says:

    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.

  2. J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) says:

    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.)

  3. Davis says:

    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. 🙂

  4. N says:

    @ 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.

  5. Davis says:


    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.

  6. jess says:

    Thank you for your article i wish if i can do what you suggest here but the problem is my husband never say compliment about my look and he never touch me or cuddle unless if we going have sex he telling me i adore how you looks like no need to give complient or touch to not get aroused ….. the problem is i need that badly if i began to touch him or telling him i want that he asking me why ??!! Which makes me feel so bad and embarrassed

  7. H says:

    How about the flip side of this? There is no sexual intimacy at all but my wife still thinks it’s OK to touch me wherever and whenever she feels like it. We both know that nothing sexual is going to happen but she still rubs my leg and squeezes my butt as if she’s trying to be playful. I hate it and am growing to hate her touching me at all. A hug, SHORT kiss, or holding hands are the only things I can tolerate from her. I want her sexual touching to stop because it is absolute torture knowing that it won’t lead anywhere. Intercourse is out for medical reasons but she makes no effort to fulfill my needs in any other way either. If sex is completely off the table then sexual touch is also. Wives: don’t be a tease unless you follow through. If you have no intention of finishing what you start then don’t start. A frequently rejected husband already has to deal with daily stress and tension along with constant temptation. Don’t make it worse with unnecessary overtly sexual touch.

  8. Sarah says:

    Hi Julie,

    I’m a newlywed, and I’ve found great help and comfort in reading your posts as my husband and I figure out this new life together. Here’s the problem I’m trying to figure out – we dated throughout college, and he was always touching me in non-sexual ways and was always tempted to turn it into something more. Since physical touch is one of my top love languages, this made me feel so loved, appreciate, and confident. Now we’re married, and he doesn’t really touch me except for sex. I’m so hurt and confused. I know I need to talk to him about it, but I’m just not sure how because this matters a lot to me. I never expected to be in this position – it seems like I’m the one with the much higher non sexual touching need and sex drive than him, and it makes me feel self conscious and rejected a lot. I would appreciate any advice for dealing with the hurt and for initiating a loving, graceful conversation. Thank you!

  9. Julie Sibert says:

    @Sarah … thank you for your comment. And congrats on your new marriage! I think it is completely reasonable that you still desire your husband’s non-sexual touch. I do think you need to talk to him about it. I encourage you to speak in the “I.” So instead of addressing it with, “You never touch me like you used to,” I would express to him what it means to you when he hugs you, holds your hand, is physically affectionate, and so forth. Tell him that it meant so much to you when the two of you were dating and that when he touches you in those non-sexual ways, you feel loved. Essentially, express your need, lovingly and clearly. And take it as an opportunity to ask him about his needs and what you can do to help him feel loved.

  10. Lost with out Touch says:

    I’m in a very lost place and don’t know how to fix… I’ve been married for almost 17 years we have 4 great kids… I love my husband and we have always had a great connection sexually until a few years ago when we started talking about exploring more outside of our marriage this conversation would only come up during sex as we would talk fantasy but once we put it into play the real problems started… He started to feel insecure and I admit I did too but we were in to deep to back out now… I started a relationship with a co-worker but only with my husbands permission the goal was to eventually seek out a couple to share our fantasy with… But long story short everything became a big jealousy issue so we ended it all in a big mess which almost cost our marriage along with jeopardizing the marriage of my co-worker / goodfriend. &&& Now has been almost 2 years since we have been trying to move on and try to leave the past in the past. But I feel lost I want my husband to want me just like before and it’s like we have lost our touch… Every time I try to get close and caress his hand or snuggle up its like he does not want me to touch him or at times he will let me cuddle as if he has to not because he wants to…. I want him to want to touch me and hold me without me asking for love and affection… &&& then there are times when he wants to be satisfied but makes no effort to get me arroused… He will take my hand or try and lead my head and lips to him and I don’t want it… But it’s not that I don’t crave sex I do I just want the touch that leads up to making love that we used to have… So I find my self either denying his request or just saddle up for the ride just to get it over so we can both retreat to outside of the bed and go to sleep… I know it’s the touch I miss and the touch I crave it’s been so long since we have touched that way that I can’t even remember it… Instead I find my self holding on to my pillow and reflecting back on moments I had with my co-worker I could feel his touch and his overwhelming feeling of desire for me… He and I are not allowed to talk but every now and then we run into each other and catch up for 5 min conversation and I feel this strong overwhelming feeling to touch him and to be touched by him… I know he feels the same way because we have talked about this and do our best to avoid that type of interaction… I think he feels the same in his relationship with his wife but she in turn uses no touch or sex as punishment… We both have a high sex drive and from the beginning I was never shy about what I wanted… I don’t want a long term relationship with him but I do miss our friendship but I guess the saying is true at least for me men and women can’t just be friends without benefits I just wish I could turn the clock back and I would have chosen to never cross the line and none of this would have ever happened and we would still be friends that could at least talk to each other without fear of each other’s spouse finding out that we still talk.. I find myself holding and snuggling up to my husband even more at night while he sleeps because I soo badly long for my husbands touch… I want it to be him that I think of and not my friends touch… I feel that this crazy open marriage affair has pulled us further apart… Ultimately I feel that if I could figure out how to get my husband to be more touching that we could reconnect… I find I reject him and resent him more when he brings up the past and verbally puts me down because he does not know any other way to express himself but somehow i manage to tell myself keep trying despite our arguments I still manage to try and put some effort in but there are days that I think if I just stay on my side of the bed and not touch him that eventually I won’t want his touch either…

    //Lost With Out Touch//

  11. Linda says:

    My problem is , my hubby only touches me when I am in the kitchen or otherwise busy, which makes me angry because he promised me when my boys moved out he would cook every day, we’ll that was a lie he has not honored his word , so when I try to remind him of his word he gets angry with me and says I’ll never hear the last of this from you I don’t think he understands with non-sexual touch is even when I explain to him what it is I need he poofs his lips and kind of just dismisses what I say and I’m tired of it, I don’t know how to get him to understand what it is as a woman that I need cuz he just don’t want to hear it the only thing that matters to him is what he wants and when he wants it

  12. Anita Calahan says:

    At this point in my 10 year marriage, I would take ANY touch. My husband never wants to touch or cuddle or have sex. We have sex maybe 3 times a year. I get a kiss on the forehead in the morning before he leaves for work. Other than this, our relationship is great, if we were roommates.

  13. Jude says:

    Ok, here it goes. In a week we will be celebrating our 20 th of being married. The day we said I do,he changed on the drive home. 15 months later. I finally got him in to see my Dr. Him first then me. He had promised to discuss this with the Dr. So, when my Dr. Came into my room., I ask if he had told him about the problem. He said he would do some blood work. And gave 5 pills to last for a month until a follow up. Well We finally consummated our marriage. Then I’d pay for them each month. But, still he wasn’t interested. In fact he was giving them to his friends for them to try out. So, after every thing we ended up having sex 10 times the first 5 years. Plus 8 out of the 10, he had to be watching porn. And now 15 years later nothing…he’s 62. And I’m 66. He say “love you”on his way to work with maybe a peck. I think he’s just waiting on me to die. It’s hard to
    Love someone that doesn’t love you back.. I often think of that old song ” It’s only Words” I’ve caught him masterbating so many times, over the years. And he says. “Oh, so you don’t touch yourself!” I don’t . The Bible tells us that it is as detestable to him, as if they would spread their seed in the belly of a prostitute. So, can a man actually not be in love for 20 years? Surly, he desires or Loves someone. If you can give me your best answers out there, I’d really like to know what your opinions are.

  14. What is Love for it you have to demand it says:

    Can’t men just understand that we need a Nonsexual touch(emotional touch)without the intention of sex.we need to b loved outside of the bedroom.we need to feel Loved and cherished! I’m going threw it myself with husband of 2years,been best friends for 6.he hardly touches me or kisses me intimately unless he wants sex..this started 4months after we got’s like I crave and miss his touch (loving touch)and bout the time I feel like I want to have sex it flashes in my mind how selfish he’s been and it’s a turn off like”why should I continue to show u affection let alone have sex with you if it’s just momentary until u cum” then it’s “Cold selfish mode again..” I’m burned out. im starting to resent him and feel like we are just “Friends”.when I’ve told him or anytime I bring it up,excuses and he makes me feel like I’m going over board about it..Frankly I’m not and I know that so I don’t even bring it up just little by little growing apart from him.

  15. CM says:

    I’m not sure what I hate more about this article. You don’t like the term “non sexual touch”? Well, I don’t like waking up to a finger in my backside or a breast honked like a stress ball. A hug WOULD be nice. It makes me wish I had my own room so I could be left alone. Bible verses and marriage advice make me want to hurl, frankly. “How and how often would Jesus want you to have sex?” is literally the most annoying trope I ever encounter on “marriage advice columns”.

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