God created us with hundreds of thousands of microscopic nerve endings in our skin designed to sense and benefit from a loving touch. A tender touch tells us that we are cared for. It can calm our fears, soothe pain, bring us comfort, or give us the blessed satisfaction of emotional security. As adults, touching continues to be a primary means of communicating with those we love, whether we are conscious of it or not. Our need for a caring touch is normal and healthy and we will never outgrow it.

But if touching is so valuable and pleasurable, why is it necessary to advise couples to do more of it? The answer lies in our culture. While our western civilization is highly sexual, it frowns on or ignores touching apart from sex. This is particularly true for men, for there are only three acceptable kinds of touching in today’s world: the superficial handshake, aggressive contact sports, and the sexual encounter. Men have been conditioned to turn to sex whenever they feel any need for loving closeness. No wonder experts believe that our extreme preoccupation with sex in this society is actually an expression of our deep, unsatisfied need for the warmth, reassurance, and intimacy of nonsexual touching.

Those of you who begin to practice physical touching in your marriage in all of its pleasant nonsexual forms will find that you may be having sex a little less often, but enjoying it much more. Snuggling and cuddling, sleeping close to each other, sharing affection through simple touch, will meet many of the emotional needs that you hoped sex would provide. At the same time, this pattern of affectionate closeness provides a delightful prelude to the entire sex relationship, preparing the way emotionally for wonderful times together.

Physical contact is absolutely essential in building the emotion of love. You may take it as a sobering warning that most of the time marital infidelity is not so much a search for sex as it is for emotional intimacy. The Scriptures indicate that touching a woman kindles a flame that should be natural within marriage. If you would like to kindle a flame in your own marriage, then begin to show your love through physical touching.

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Twenty-five suggestions for nonsexual touching:

  1. When dating, young people can scarcely be kept apart. Most married couples have forgotten how much fun physical closeness can be! So set aside practice times at night (at least once a week) to learn the delights of nonsexual body caressing. Make a date ahead of time. Anticipate pleasure and relaxation together.
  2. Show each other where you like to be touched and the kind of touch that pleases you. Usually, a light touch is the most thrilling. Be imaginative in the way you caress.
  3. Remember the purpose: to establish a good emotional climate of warmth, love, and affection; not to initiate sex. If sex results later because you both want it, that’s all right. But you need to learn to enjoy nonsexual touching during these exercise times.
  4. Demonstrate to each other how you prefer to be held. Kiss your partner the way you would like to be kissed—not to criticize past performances, but to communicate something your partner has not sensed before.
  5. Use lotion or baby oil in body caressing; use K-Y Jelly when touching the more sensitive areas of the body. Physical caressing should be totally pleasant.
  6. Try caressing (not tickling!) each other’s feet. For almost everyone this is a pleasurable and non-threatening form of touch communication. Some people bathe, dry, and oil each other’s feet gently and leisurely.
  7. Cleanliness is essential for enjoyment of these sessions.
  8. Some evenings take your shower or bath together. Make this a lighthearted, sensuous experience.
  9. Americans habitually do everything in a rush, including lovemaking. But to learn the art of expressing warm, sensual feelings, you will have to slow down. If what you are doing feels good, take the time to enjoy it. This may become the best part of your day.
  10. Caress each other’s back. Pay special attention to the back of the neck at the hairline and the area just above the small of the back.
  11. Maintain a positive attitude (the attitude of yes, rather than no). If some manner of caressing or the area chosen does not feel particularly enjoyable, gently lead your partner on to something you do like. Never say, “Stop doing that!” or similar words. The atmosphere should be delightfully permissive.
  12. Practice communicating warmth. Learn to be emotionally aware of your own feelings and those of your partner. Focus on expressing your love through the medium of touch. Caress each other’s face in the dark, becoming more aware of your partner and spelling out love through sensitive fingertips.
  13. Make sure that both of you are having equal opportunity to give and to receive. Take turns giving pleasure to each other.
  14. When you caress, use a slow, tender, appreciative touch, indicating how much you enjoy your partner’s body—each part of it. When people feel negative about some part of their body, it is more difficult for them to relate freely to their partner. Help your mate realize that every part of his or her body is pleasing, attractive, and desirable to you.
  15. Develop positive feelings toward your own body given to you by God. This is biblical! Meditate on Psalm 139. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14 NIV).
  16. Communicate verbally during your exercises, telling each other what you especially enjoy and how it makes you feel.
  17. Sleep in as few clothes as possible at night. Clothes are only a hindrance during these touching sessions.
  18. Practice breathing together in rhythm, both of you lying on your side, the other pressed up against your back, hand on your abdomen to gauge your breathing and adjust his rhythm to yours. Then reverse places and do it again.
  19. Try to go to bed when your partner does every night.
  20. Have a period of fifteen to thirty minutes every night to lie in each other’s arms in the dark before you drift off to sleep. Whisper together, sharing private thoughts and pleasant little experiences of the day. Avoid controversial or negative topics. This is the time to build intimacy and wind down for sleep. You will become used to sharing things with each other that you would not otherwise mention. In each other’s arms the hurts and frustrations of the day are healed. You may want to pray together at this time, or just relax in the comfort of physically-felt love.
  21. Establish the cozy habit of staying in some sort of physical contact while you are going to sleep—a hand or a leg touching your partner’s, for instance.
  22. Begin every day with a few minutes of cuddling and snuggling before you get out of bed. A husband can tell his wife how nice she feels and how glad he is to be close to her. A wife can nestle in her husband’s arms and tell him she wishes they didn’t have to leave each other that morning. Just be close and savor gentle physical contact for a while. It will make the morning bout with the alarm clock far more pleasant, so allow a few minutes in your schedule for this, even though one or both of you must soon be up and off to work.
  23. Hold hands often. Think of all the different ways you can enjoy just touching with your hands, and all the different feelings that can be conveyed.
  24. Become aware of the many ways you can have physical contact in the course of a week. Touch when you are talking and maintain eye contact. Sit close to each other in church. Kiss each other when there is no occasion for it. Add variety to your kisses, your touches, and your love pats.
  25. While you watch television, make sure you sit close together and use the time for some physical communication. A wise wife will cuddle close to her husband when he chooses to watch his football games, even if she is not interested in the program. Since so many people spend so much time before the TV set, it need not be wasted if they are at least together physically

Taken from Love Life for Every Married Couple by Ed Wheat; Gloria Okes Perkins. Copyright © 1980 by Ed Wheat, M.D. Used with permission of Zondervan.