V-Day: Let’s Talk Touch

Let's Talk Touch

By: The Lauren’s Kids Psychology Team & Tara Zuckerman, PsyD

Touch – with Valentines Day right around the corner, it’s at the forefront of our minds. It’s the way in which we show affection, and the way in which we make contact with someone or something.

For most of us, touch is involved in many of our daily activities; from greeting people and saying goodbye, to eating or making business deals. Often, touch is the sense that most largely contributes to our experience of pleasure and wellbeing – though this is not the case for all of us.

While touch can be a key part of an intimate relationship, it is important to establish boundaries around the types, frequencies, and locations of touch with your loved ones and partner that feel safe and loving to you. This is true and important for each and every person, but especially for survivors of sexual abuse or domestic violence.

As survivors, the idea of touch – especially unexpected touch, even if by a loved one – may be uncomfortable, and for some a trigger. A trigger is an event or circumstance that is the cause of a particular action, reaction, or process.

Lauren's Kids LogoTriggers can be identified by:

  1. Paying close attention to emotional reactions
  2. Becoming familiar with how these emotional reactions work for you (i.e. – journaling how you responded when your partner kissed your forehead, etc.)
  3. Identifying bodily/physiological responses to emotions (i.e. – increased heart rate, feeling faint, shortness of breath, increased perspiration, tearfulness, tension/tightness in certain parts of body, etc.)

Before engaging in a physical relationship with someone, or when wanting to improve your relationship with a loved one, it will be important for survivors to process any trauma, which includes identifying these triggers. Processing, or discussing and working discussing and working through traumatic events should be done with the aid of a professional, ideally a counselor or therapist who is trained in trauma-informed care. This will ensure that you are equipped with the support and tools you need. Once you and your professional have identified triggers and boundaries, it is essential to talk touch with your partner or loved one. This conversation though difficult is a necessity to ensure safety, comfort and the emotional wellbeing of your relationship.

Tips to create your touch code of conduct: 

  1. Use the same language with your partner
    • Names of body parts or physical touches/activities
  2. Be honest about what feels comfortable vs. what might feel comfortable
    • Distinguish between sensations and perceptions- discuss what your body experiences when receiving a specific touch, “I feel tense or tingly when I am touched there”
  3. Identify safe and unsafe touches; Set safe zones of the body and locations in which the touch can occur
    • A tap on the shoulder vs. a reach around hug
    • Verbalizing the preference to be touched or held on the hand vs. on the should, and when
  4. Identify a limit and how it can be communicated
    • Have a stop word and use it when you feel you have reached your limit- this can be a number, a color, or simply the word “stop”
  5. Don’t assume your partner or loved one knows what you are comfortable with
    • Spell it out, be clear and honest- tell them “I prefer high fives over hugs” – this may be different depending on the situation

Tips for partners of survivors establishing a shared touch code of conduct: 

  1. Ask questions and listen to your partner
    • “What areas of your body should I avoid?”
    • “What can I do to make you feel comfortable?”
  2. Check in with your partner before, during and after an encounter
    • Ask how your partner or loved one is feeling both physically and emotionally “Does this feel alright for you?”
    • You can ask them to rate their feelings on a scale of 1-10; and identify what each number means
  3. Allow your partner to be a guide, go at their pace and adhere to their boundaries
    • Ask, “Can I continue to hold your hand?”
    • If they say no or are unsure, take a moment to discuss if there is an alternative interaction that can occur instead
  4. Respect your partners’ need for control and assurance
    • Allow your partner or loved one to initiate touch, or guide intimate advances
  5. Don’t take your partners’ touch sensitivities personally
    • Remind yourself that by allowing your partner or loved one these courtesies you will further develop trust which can lead to a more fulfilling relationship
  6. Identify and use a stop word
    • Ask your partner to provide you with a word-it can be a number, a color, or the word “stop” that can be used during encounters in order to let you know it is time to discontinue the touch or interaction
  7. Have fun with your partner, and explore safely.

Happy V-Day from Team LK!