Dear Dr Ren,
I’m responding to your recent column in Xtra in which you told the touch-hungry fellow — now that sexual touch is pretty much past — to get into activities with children. I think this advice is inappropriate.
The line between physical and sexual touch can be very thin, so to suggest that someone who’s trying to transition from sexual to physical touch only play with children as part of meeting that need just seems unwise.
Touching kids should arise out of mutual, equal needs, but adults always have power over children. Even if the adult’s need is not pedophilic, this inequality still risks touch being awkward for the child.
I also wonder about parents or childcare people learning that “X” wants physical satisfaction from touch and hearing that you advised him to get it this way? Probably not good for your professional image.
I hope you take this in the positive manner in which it is written.
Thank you for your letter. I do indeed understand the spirit in which you write. It represents what is called sex panic, and well-meaning as I’m sure you are, you have missed the point. Your caution reaps the opposite of what you intend.
In my answer to “X,” I made several suggestions about ways to slake his hunger for touch, including dancing and massage, along with playing with kids. In fact, the least sensual of these activities would be sharing time with children.
This societal belief that touch may be construed as dangerously sexual prevents us from experiencing the benefits of touch and enjoying physical closeness with others. We grow more comfortable with isolation than with intimacy.
You say the “line between physical and sexual touch can be very thin.” How surprising to me. I know the difference. Children do, too.
In fact, research (Davis, Montague) demonstrates that those denied physical touch succumb to exploitation, so hungry are they for human contact.
In our effort to protect children from abuse, we have overcompensated, resulting in a touch-deprived populace.
When we discourage teachers from touching students, inhibit children’s natural inclination to cuddle, and prevent anyone but family (where most abuse occurs) to interact with our kids, those kids grow up conflicted about their desire for touch. It is this lack of touch that causes vulnerability and confusion. Copious affection and positive, loving touch protect children from exploitation.
Let me address another thread in your letter. “X” wrote as a gay man discouraged with dating. He indicated zero sexual interest in children. Do you consider him dangerous simply because he is male?
Have we slipped into a position in which we demonize male sexuality? Have we come to see men as aggressors to be resisted first and joined in pleasure only after they have passed some form of passivity test? If so, how do females learn to trust males? How do males learn to value and negotiate their own suspect sexuality?
If we teach girls to fear boys, and boys to believe that they are inherently flawed, and children to fear adults, and adults to believe that touching children is inappropriate . . . well, we create lonely, isolated people.
We can turn that around by giving our children lots of positive physical touch, by building their self-esteem and confidence so that they are resistant to exploitation, and by modelling adult affection.
Do I worry about my professional reputation when I encourage grownups of all genders to play with children? Not a whit. I believe such direction is vital.
We all benefit from human contact, regardless of our age. The significance of loving touch cannot be overemphasized. It aids in learning, expressing ourselves and healing. Positive experiences with loving touch have a lasting impact on our lives.