Where Do We Get Touch?

{A World of Touch}Skin stimulation (touch) is essential to the development and maintenance of health and well being in every human. Why then has it been so neglected as a subject for legitimate inquiry except perhaps by poets?  The other four senses have garnered reams of research, had university  departments dedicated to them and whole occupations given over to the cause of hearing, seeing, tasting and smelling. But where is the profession dedicated to touching? Touch is truly the “orphan sense.”

Fortunately, that is changing. In the past 20 years, particularly with the rise of neuro-psychology, the primary sense of touch is finally beginning to get its due. As it does there is an increasing need to organize our thinking about touch. One useful tool would be a taxonomy of where touching occurs.

This first effort only includes sources of positive touch where whole person health and well being is enhanced, rather than inhibited. It is also not a catalog of touching intentions. Check here for that list. Please add your thoughts and suggestions in the comment area below to make this version as comprehensive as possible.

A Taxonomy of Touching Contexts

This taxonomy has four top level categories:

  1. Human to Human
  2. Animal to Human
  3. Machine to Human
  4. Environment Skin Stimulation

The bulk of the detail below delineates the first category. In later iterations of this taxonomy the other three categories could be fleshed out more thoroughly.

Human to Human

Occupational Touching–Primary

  • Massage and bodywork Practitioners
  • Personal Care (Grooming) Services
    Hair Dressers, Stylists, Cosmetologists
    Skin Care Specialists
    Manicurist, Pedicurist

I have separated these two categories as virtually all states regulate them with separate legislation. However, there is little question that the bulk of massage services currently being provided fall into the personal care category while only a minority of massage services are actual health care services in the traditional treatment sense of the term.

Occupational Touching–Adjunctive

In these occupations touch is inevitable but not primary.

  • Health Care Professionals
    Physicians Assistants
    Physical Therapist
  • Allied Health Care Workers
    Respiratory Therapists
    Radiologic Technicians
    Psychiatric Aides/Technicians
    All other Aides and Assistants
    Occupational Therapist
    Recreational Workers
    Recreational Therapists
    Rehabilitation Workers
    Hospice Workers
    Home Health and Personal Care Aides
  • Athletic and Fitness Trainers
  • Pre-school Childcare Workers
  • Social Workers
  • Professional Dancers
  • K-12 Educators
  • Special Education Teachers

Social touching

  • Family and Friends
    Hugs and kisses
    Comfort for the ill and dying
  • Structured touching groups
    Massage Exchange groups
    Snuggle/Cuddle/Hugging groups
  • Teammate touching in sports
  • Dancing
  • Workplace touching


  • Unconscious
    Rubbing or holding for pain relief
  • Intentional

Erotic touch

  • Personal
  • Social
  • Professional

Human to Animal

Physical contact with animals has many of the same psycho-social benefits as human to human contact because it stimulates the release of the same stress reducing and bonding hormones. In addition, according to Science Daily, a “growing body of research now documents the [therapeutic] value of the human-animal bond in child development, elderly care, mental illness, physical impairment, dementia, abuse and trauma recovery, and the rehabilitation of incarcerated youth and adults.”

Machine to Human

Machines have long been used to stimulate our skin under the guise of a wide range of massage devices. Everything from electric massage chairs to vibrators to non-electric massage tools are included in this category.

Environmental Skin Stimulation

Our skin is being continuously being stimulated by the environment surrounding the body. That includes the air, our clothes, water that flows across our skin or that we immerse in. There are also small but growing movements promoting the awareness and value of direct skin stimulation with the earth (http://www.barefooters.org/). How ironic that we now have to have organization to remind us how good it feels to walk on the beach or in the grass.

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One Response to Where Do We Get Touch?

  1. Pingback: What we need to know about touch -

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