Spooning (cuddling)

For a longer article about human touching behavior, see Haptic communication.

Physical intimacy is sensual proximity or touching.[1] It is an act or reaction, such as an expression of feelings (including close friendship, love, or sexual attraction), between people. Examples of physical intimacy include being inside someone's personal space, holding hands, hugging, kissing, caressing, and sexual activity.

The forms of physical intimacy include physical closeness, touching (especially tenderly), touching intimate parts (including outercourse), and sexual penetration.

It is possible to be physically intimate with someone without actually touching them; however, a certain proximity is necessary. For instance, a sustained eye contact is considered a form of physical intimacy, analogous to touching. When a person enters someone else's personal space for the purpose of being intimate, it is physical intimacy, regardless of the lack of actual physical contact.

Most people desire occasional physical intimacy, which is a natural part of human sexuality, and research has shown it has health benefits. A hug or touch can result in the release of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, and in a reduction in stress hormones.[2]

Personal space

Most people value their personal space and feel discomfort, anger, or anxiety when their personal space is encroached on.[3] Entering somebody's personal space is normally an indication of familiarity and intimacy. However, in modern society, especially in crowded urban communities, it is at times difficult to maintain personal space, for example, in a crowded train, elevator or street. Many people find such physical proximity to be psychologically disturbing and uncomfortable,[3] though it is accepted as a fact of modern life. In an impersonal crowded situation, eye contact tends to be avoided. Even in a crowded place, preserving personal space is important, and intimate and sexual contact, such as frotteurism and groping, are normally unacceptable physical contact.

On the other hand, most people occasionally desire physical proximity to others, and will at times welcome a familiar and trusted person into their personal space. When a partner or friend is not available at such a time, some people satisfy this need anonymously in a crowded venue, such as a bar, disco, pop concert, street festival, etc.

Display of affection

People who are on a familiar basis may like to enter into each other's personal space, such as to make physical contact. These can be indicators of affection. The manner in which people display affection is generally different in a public context to a private one. Depending on the nature of the relationship between the people, a public display of affection is generally very constrained by social norms and can range from a gesture such as a kiss or hug in greeting, to an embrace or holding hands. Maintaining eye contact can be regarded socially and psychologically as analogous to touching.

In private, people in an intimate relationship or who are familiar with each other are more at ease with physical intimacy and display of affection, which can involve:

An interpersonal relationship that does not involve sexual activity, such as friendship, may involve display of affection. Friends may avoid physical intimacy to avoid emotions commonly associated with sexuality or emotional intimacy. The definition of "sexual" physical intimacy varies greatly.


The term "skinship" (スキンシップ sukinshippu?) originated as a pseudo-English Japanese word (a wasei-eigo), which was coined to describe the intimacy, or closeness, between a mother and a child.[4][5][6] Today, the word is generally used for bonding through physical contact, such as holding hands, hugging, or parents washing their child at a bath. The earliest citation of this word appears in Nihon Kokugo Daijiten in 1971.[7]

According to Scott Clark, author of a study of Japanese bathing culture, the word is a portmanteau combining "skin" with the last syllable of "friendship".[8] The similarity with the English word 'kinship' suggests a further explanation.[6]

Use of the word "skinship" in English publications seems to focus on the notion of sharing a bath naked, an idea known in Japanese as "naked association" (裸の付き合い hadaka no tsukiai?). It is not clear why the meaning shifted to the parent–child relationship when borrowed back into English.

The term has also been adopted in South Korea as 스킨십 (seukinship).

See also


External links

  • The Arizona Republic
  • NPR: Poet on Call, By Andrei Codrescu commentary on hugs on NPR
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