Did you know that there is more than just one type of touch? When we work with couple’s in sex therapy, many have developed this step-by-step process that they follow when they are going to have sex: First we kiss awhile, then I touch you here and here, you touch me here and here, then we have intercourse, some type of penetration, or oral sex until one or both people orgasm.
The Thrill of the Beginning
At the start of our relationships, everything is new. Exploring our partners and getting to know them is fun and we enjoy it. We’re excited about finding things that excite them. Eventually, however, the newness wears off. As we become familiar with our partners, the honeymoon phase ends and we can get stuck in a rut of doing the same things over and over again. Often, we become bored and don’t know how to get that passion back.
Past the “Honeymoon Phase”
I’m not saying that it’s necessarily possible to get back to the euphoria of a brand new relationship, although that’s what we all want! The honeymoon phase is just that… a phase. It takes a toll on our brains and bodies to get to know someone intimately, have sex frequently, and change our habits and the way we spend our time to adapt to a new relationship. Due to this stress load on our bodies and minds, the way we respond to a partner in the beginning is not sustainable. We evolve, and there are physiological reasons for that. So our mission becomes to find new ways of exploring where our love and connection is now.
A great place to start is expanding our understanding and knowledge of touch. According to sex therapist Barry McCarthy, there are five types of touch. He discusses these in detail in his book “Sex Made Simple.”
1.) Affectionate Touch – this involves “clothes on” touching, or “public displays of affection” (PDA) such as holding hands, hugging, and kissing.
2.) Sensual Touch – this involves non-genital touch. Couples might be clothed, semi-clothed, or nude, and it includes head, back, or foot rubs, cuddling on the couch watching Netflix, being situated in a trust position where partners feel safe and connected, and cradling each other as they go to sleep or wake in the morning.
3.) Playful Touch – this intertwines genital and non-genital touch while semi-clothed or nude. It includes touching in the shower or bath, full body massage, seductive or erotic dancing, and playing games such as strip poker or Twister.
4.) Erotic Touch – this can include manual, oral, rubbing, or vibrator stimulation. It can be mutual or one-way, and it can proceed to orgasm or act as a transition to the next stage of touch.
5.) Intercourse – there are two important principles to keep in mind for this type of touch: first, intercourse is a natural continuation of this pleasure and erotic process, not a pass/fail performance test. And second, we want to transition to this touch when there are high levels of arousal on both sides AND other forms of touch or ways of being stimulated are also being used.
Shifting Gears through Touch
These five types of touch work together like gears in a car. Affectionate touch might be thought of as first gear, and intercourse as fifth gear. They work in tandem to get you to your destination, which may or may not be orgasm. Depending on the couple, there may be different goals for sexual activity, like trying new things, getting comfortable with each other’s desires, and working through physical, mental, or emotional blocks.
Some people aren’t able to get aroused enough for “fifth gear” without spending some time in each gear along the way. Others can immediately start at third or fourth gear and be ready to go to fifth relatively quickly. All of these gears can also operate separately. Many couples get to a place where ANY touch signals to one of both partners that intercourse is going to happen.
What would it look like if you tried staying in first, second, third, or even fourth gear, without transitioning into fifth gear?
Can you explore each gear and find fun and playfulness? Spending time in each phase can teach you to enjoy different types of touch for what they are, rather than simply a means to get you to fifth gear.
If you’re in an intimate relationship and feeling stuck in one gear, or wanting to explore what passion looks like for you currently, give this exercise a try:
With your partner, go through each type of touch, discussing how much of that type you are currently utilizing and experiencing. Talk about how each “gear” would ideally look and feel for you. How much do you want each type of touch incorporated? Do you need more or less of some types?
If you want more information on touch, are looking for sex therapy, or need suggestions for intimacy and connection in your relationship, feel free to make an appointment at Acuity Counseling. There’s always hope of rekindling passion in intimate partnerships — sometimes we just need to explore our options!
Kayla Moore, MS, LMFTA
Keywords: honeymoon phase, types of touch, sex therapy