Physical Touch: why we need it and how to get it

Touch during a pandemic

Let’s talk a bit about the importance of touch during the pandemic, the various types of touch, and a few ways you can make sure you are getting the healthy benefits of physical touch that all humans need…

Consensual touch is one of the most effective ways of bringing people to a place of emotional and physical intimacy.  Knowing this taxonomy, the when and how of touch, is fundamental to your sexual skill set.

— Dr. Cari Oneal

Human touch, even to yourself, causes your brain to release oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin (human connective and feel-good chemicals) all while reducing stress hormones (the ones that make you fat, cranky and otherwise anxious).  If there is any time we need home deliveries of the “feel-good chemicals” it is now.   

Pandemics, presidential elections, and a whole year of “stress and disorder” cause me to bring to your attention the medicine chest at your fingertips.   

In a time where we are NOT touching people, places, or things in an effort to keep us safe from the spread of germs, touch has never been more needed.  You can change your chemistry, your mood, your mental outlook, and your brain through the simple acts of physical touch.  

 The 7 Concepts of Physical Touch

Start where you are, do what you can, it will be enough – and it will make a world of difference for both Giver and Receiver.  *Of course, make sure your hands are clean, wear a mask and other fabrics between you as needed, and ask for consent. 

Human behaviors very often operate on continuums.  We like to start “at one level” and advance to “the next level” where there is some sort of payoff albeit emotional, psychological, physical or all of them.  In 2003, Dr. Patti Britton (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sensual Massage, 2003) wrote of this idea in her Balance Beam concept where touch moves from lesser to greater levels of intimacy and personal exposure for the Giver as well as the Receiver.   

The following is written from the point of view as touch is exchanged from “Giver to Receiver” strictly for the purpose of clarity in instruction.  It is imperative to include​ touch as a healthy behavior in a collaborative relationship between a Giver and a Receiver.

When touch is given by a Giver and received by a Receiver, it is acknowledged emotionally, cognitively, and physically for the purpose it has and the pleasure it gives.  In so doing, the original Receiver now becomes the Giver of touch as a Giver of touch to the original Giver.  Touch is at its highest purpose when Giver and Receiver switch roles almost instantaneously in a coactive relationship.   

Here are 7 concepts of touch to help you feel your way through the confusion, aid clarity to your behavior and fundamental to knowing for consent…

Business Touch 

Touch that is exchanged from a Giver to a Receiver for the purpose of creating a social connection.  It is communication between individuals that is needed to create common ground, connection and possibly even community between the Giver and the Receiver.  It is generally a short-term and purposeful touch. 

  • Examples might look like: handshake; high 5; fist bump; the “air hug” or the “one shoulder hug” you might give to someone you feel obligated to extend some sort of communal connection with such as a distant relative.   

Helping Touch 

Physical touch that is exchanged from a Giver for the purpose of administering immediate help or aid to the Receiver.  It is the kind of touch that has split-second decision making and often neither the Giver nor Receiver has time to ask or give consent.  When the cause for imminent help is over, the touching ceases and generally with gratitude from the Receiver. 

  • Examples might look like: helping someone in/out of a door, up or down a step, a touch on a shoulder or arm when you need to move through a tight space or a crowd, a touch on the arm or back as if to say “excuse me, right behind you,” saving someone from falling; grabbing them to save them from imminent danger of some kind; brushing hands or arms when rushed to help the Receiver in one way or another.   

Healing Touch

Touch that is exchanged from a Giver for the purpose of healing, comforting, nurturing, or soothing the Receiver emotionally or physically.  This is the kind of touch you might receive from a professional in the field of massage therapy, physical therapy, cranial sacral therapy, etc.  This type of touch is also exchanged by non-professional people to one another as in the kindness extended by holding a hand in time of despair, giving a hug, even rubbing a shoulder as a gesture of comforting another.  The energy of this touch is genuine, sincere, thoughtful, and deliberate.  It has a “heavier more grounded” energy than say, Affectionate Touch which is also a very comforting and nurturing form of touch. 

  • Examples might look like:  massage on all or part of the body; physical therapy session to heal injury; cranial sacral session; hand holding, hug/rub/touch or pat(s) on the shoulders or back.  

Affectionate Touch 

Touch that is exchanged from a Giver to a Receiver for the purpose of showing a strong fondness to the Receiver.  This is the kind of touch you would receive from close friends, teammates, relatives in good standing, and those you’d like to extend a close relationship with as in the case of dating for example.  The energy of this form of touch is fun, light, and playful.    

  • Examples might look like:  Hugs of hello, goodbye and support; hand-holding in public or private situations, hand-holding with arm rubbing as an added gesture of affection; touching the upper body in a way (touch, nudge, rub shoulder on the Receivers upper body) as if to accentuate some playful gesture like a tease/inside joke as a way of extending the Giver’s validation and fondness for the Receiver. 

Sensual Touch

Touch that is exchanged from a Giver to a Receiver for the purpose of escalating fondness for the Receiver to levels where sexual tension begins to build.  Areas of the body will include those areas that are more intimate and “less publicly allowed.”  Such as the difference between brushing a clothed erogenous zone vs holding hands.  The energy of this is intrigue and desire.  It’s playful, can be light or calculated but its sole purpose is to delight the senses for the purpose of the pleasure it derives! 

A word about clothing.  Sensual touch can occur at any time and in any array of attire, however, sensual touch is described in this way as to inform and define it from Erotic and Sexual touch.  Touch is your art, learn the basics and create your art from any given circumstances.   

  • Examples might look like: Touching knees and thighs that meet under a table or even out in the open like at a sporting event or concert; a prolonged affectionate hug (a time aspect); a prolonged affectionate hug where the embrace is closer/tighter allowing for the close touching of chests, abdomens, thighs, and necks (a body touch aspect); holding a partner’s face in a prolonged gaze, touch now may include the use of lips touching different body parts.  


The next two come with a cautionary disclaimer that what constitutes “sex” is also a very slippery topic and best left to be defined by the parties involved.  What some people engage in sexually, others do not or will not.  Please read with an open mind and again, create YOUR art within the context, boundaries, and beliefs you have. 


Erotic Touch 

Touch that is exchanged from a Giver to a Receiver for the purpose of being sexually charged!  This touch advances the sexual tension between Giver and Receiver.  It involves touching places on the Receiver’s body that are “sacred ground”, special, generally off-limits to anyone not intimately connected to the Receiver and it’s intimate.  Often times called foreplay, this touch can be playful, deliberate, carnal, you name it and its purpose is to delight the participants as it prepares them for sexual intercourse if they choose to escalate their physical expression to that outcome. 

  • Examples might look like: naked bodies touching and having access to touch all areas of the body, deep kissing; fondling/caressing/petting; oral sex. 

Sexual Touch 

Touch that is exchanged from a Giver to a Receiver for the purpose of “using your bodies – including your genitals – for sexual pleasure is what distinguishes sexual touch from other kinds of touch” Dr. Patti Britton, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sensual Massage, 2003.  This touch advances the sexual tension between Giver and Receiver for the purpose of escalating sexual tension to the point of orgasm.  An orgasm may/not occur, but the act and the art of Sexual Touch is a behavior that derives immense pleasure.  

  • Examples might look like:  vaginal penetration with hands, penis or adult novelty toys; anal penetration with hands, penis or adult novelty toys; continued Erotic Touch; variances on Erotic Touch; anything that brings the Giver and Receiver sexual pleasure.   

The journey is the gold while the destination was the goal.” – Dr. Cari Oneal 

***Some examples are given here as a means to incite your creativity.  Please use your circumstances and opportunities to design your connective touch exchange in any way that you and your Receiver are best served.   ;o)   

Field Tips 

  1. Share this idea of the 7 Levels of Touch with those you know. It’s fun to have a common language. 
  2. Contact someone, post on FB, or immediate family email (per your state protocols for COVID exposure) and ask “Hey, I’m looking for 15 minutes/night/hour/weekend of full-on Helping, Healing and Affectionate touch, would you like to exchange this with me?” 
    1. People have started catching on to how important touch is! In Belgium, the government is allowing and encouraging citizens to secure a cuddle buddy for the most recent lockdown.
  3. Alone without a quarantine partner(s)?  No problem, play with the 7 Levels by yourself.  Yes, really.  What do your body parts feel like when you soap them up?  Scratch, rub, tug?  How can you give yourself Healing, Affectionate, Sensual and Sexual touch?  You are worth it— try it at the levels where you are comfortable!

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Cari Oneal

I help individuals become sexually confident and show them how to bring that energy into everything else they do. Shoot me a message, introduce yourself, and tell me what sort of information you want to learn about!

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