5 ‘Gears’ of Touch

When most couples in long-term relationships think of affection, they think of either a quick kiss on the cheek (non-sexual) or full-blown intercourse. As you’ve heard me talk it about before: they fall into the trap of thinking sex = intercourse. “This (thinking) results in lower levels of both affection and intercourse” according to sex therapists Barry McCarthy and E McCarthy in their book Enhancing Couple Sexuality.

Instead of falling into that trap, I’m going to share an exercise that will give you and your partner the opportunity to consider and communicate about which types of touch you each enjoy most and want more of. Hint: there are three other types to choose from.

Gear 1: Non-sexual touch (hugging, hand holding, peck on the lips). This is touch you might do with your kids, family and close friends. It’s platonic.

Gear 2: Sensual non-genital touch (clothes on cuddling, massage, foot rub, back scratch, brushing hair, clothed or semi-clothed spooning in bed). This type takes longer than Gear 1. It gives the receiver a chance to feel taken care of. It’s a bridge to sexual desire, either at that point or overall.

Gear 3: Playful (showering together, intimate dancing, mixing genital and non-genital, semi-clothed and naked touch, games like strip poker or Twister). Here’s the opportunity for unpredictability, fun and laughter (as long as it’s not at the expense of the other).

Gear 4: Erotic touch (sexual, genital touch (maybe to orgasm, but maybe not), manual, oral or anal sex, use of a vibrator/toys). It might be one-way, reciprocal or mutual.

Gear 5: Penis in Vagina Intercourse which is a natural continuation of pleasuring (not a pass-fail performance test) and, for most women, clitoral stimulation is needed in order for her to orgasm during penetrative sex.

Oftentimes, touch in Gears 1-4 leads to intercourse, but maybe not. I hear this as a concern from some: “If I touch my husband at all, he’ll think it means I’m open to sex (intercourse). So, how do I touch in Gears 1-4 and stop there?” Remember: lack of communication is the biggest couples’ sexual issue. So, you’ll need to tell your partner on the outset what your intention is. The next question I get is “Well, he’ll be mad or disappointed in me.” And I say, “That’s okay”, then have your partner read this article or explain the 5 Gears to him or her and explain the idea that couples can and should be communicating about this. You might go on to explain the following…

Even when touch doesn’t lead to an orgasm or intercourse, it is still a connecting moment between the two of you. You and your partner are experiencing something that you don’t share with anyone else and those repeated moments strengthen your bond. You’ll have more pleasure, and likely more moments of touch of all types, if you relax expectations and unspoken ‘goals’. Sexuality is more than intercourse – it’s a sharing of pleasure overall.

I encourage you to discuss these 5 Gears of Touch and each talk about your preferences for the different types of touch. Often couples realize they’ve forgotten about Sensual, Playful and even Erotic touch as time has passed. Next, practice touch in all Gears to broaden how the two of you connect physically with no other goal than to touch in that specific gear at that moment. My hope is that you both embrace a broader, more varied and more flexible approach to this unique way to connect with your partner. If you would like help to connect with your partner, call us at 908-246-3074, or email GetSupport@CouplesTherapyCenterOfNJ.com to schedule an appointment with one of our relationship experts.

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