Physical attraction and physical interaction of different kinds seem naturally involved in love relationships. Kissing, cuddling, and hugging are commonly associated with loving behavior. Why so? Is it culturally universal? Let us see why, for many loving and loved people, it is such a pleasurable experience of love.

The Physical Attraction of Hugging and Cuddling

Generally, love feelings and love relationships involve physical attraction. This is why lovers experience action tendencies such as a desire to be physically near a loved one, a desire for interpersonal proximity, and a desire to spend more time together. When people are in love, they feel a longing and even a craving for physical union, including cuddling, kissing, and hugging (Karandashev & Fata, 2014; Karandashev et al., 2020).

Many of us enjoy hugging and cuddling as well as being hugged or cuddled. Being in close physical relationships with loved ones is enjoyable. When we are down, another’s embrace provides comfort. When we are up, it increases our joy.

What about the person who is touching and hugging? Is their act incumbent and solely motivated by kindness, or does it also make them feel good?

The Evolutionary Origin of Loving Touching

Generally, friendly touching in the context of social interactions was viewed as an evolutionary remnant related to body hygiene and was regarded as secondary in importance. This is why in the societies of early evolutionary stages and some traditional cultures of the past, cultural norms considered physical intimacy in close relationships of low value. The touching that occurs when humans interact with the physical world was more important. However, recent studies have uncovered the important links between affectionate touch and the benefits this loving action brings to both children and parents. What about other types of loving relationships?

Findings like this have sparked recent research into how gentle physical contact influences the biological and psychological processes that promote the mental and physical well-being of lovers and loved ones. The review of studies like this is presented in the recent publications (Karandashev et al., 2016; Karandashev, Zarubko et al., 2020).

Do We Have Nerve Fibers Sensitive to Human Contact?

Scientific investigations have yielded numerous interesting findings. Among these is the discovery of a special sensory nerve fiber that appears to be particularly “interested” in human touch. This fiber is activated by gentle caress and feels more pleasant than other types of touch. Researchers believe that this human touch fiber, C-tactile afferent, is the key gateway into how physical contact produces positive feelings, reduces stress, and allows humans to thrive.

The Human Need to Touch

An interesting fact is that the special human touch fiber exists only in hairy skin, which means it is not present in the palms of our hands, which we typically use for touching. Researchers in the field continue to further investigate the role of touch in human development and health care. The question of interest is what touch does to a recipient and what the function of touch is for those who give it.

The fact that touching comes so naturally and readily frequently feels like an impulse, even in circumstances where there isn’t a clear need to console or encourage.

When we interact with a pet, child, friend, or romantic partner, we feel a pleasant natural tendency to reach out, rub, or poke. In the cases of dogs and cats, it is especially evident because they cannot return the petting they receive from us. So, the question is whether touching gives us direct, tactile rewards that are similar to those we get when we are touched. Prof. Dr. Annett Schirmer, at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, along with her colleagues, attempted to answer this question. They conducted polls among young people in Germany and Hong Kong. Participants responded to two online questionnaires, one in the position of providing touch and the other in the role of receiving touch. In both surveys, participants had to explain a typical circumstance that led to tickling, stroking, or, for example, hugging. They also had to indicate the kinds of people with whom such touching felt comfortable and draw an outline of their body where they would feel the most comfortable being touched.

Who Benefits From Touch More?

According to those survey results, touch giving and receiving occur most often in positive situations and bring the associated positive feelings, such as affection, love, joy, and fun, to both. Surprisingly, greater pleasure is experienced by those who give than by those who receive touch. It is worthy of note that the feelings of comfort were higher with those in close relationships than with those in distant relationships.

The places on the body where a person feels comfortable being touched are similar to those for giving touch. Typically, prime comfort zones are the shoulders, upper back, and arms. It is likely that there is a natural correspondence between touchers and touchees, prompting both to engage in mutually pleasant and beneficial behavior. It is interesting that they are the same for both men and women in both cultures, in Germany and Hong Kong. Our extensive cross-cultural studies of recent years have revealed many other interesting findings on the role of touching, hugging, and other sensory experiences in romantic loving preferences (Karandashev et al., 2016; Karandashev, Zarubko et al., 2020).

Victor Karandashev

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