Why Humans Thrive on Physical Intimacy

A laughing, happy couple sits on the couch and touches each other before sex

Humans aren’t whole without touch

Key takeaways:

  • Physical intimacy unites partners in a close relationship and plays a vital role in its success.

  • A healthy marriage or committed relationship is sustained by living out the commitment to one another to engage in physical forms of touch such as kissing, hugging, and sex.

  • Research studies back the emotional and physiological benefits of physical touch between two people, whether romantic or platonic.

  • Non-sexual touch plays an important part in intimate relationships. It can be helpful for stress relief and relaxation.

Simple gestures like holding hands with your spouse while watching a movie or kissing your partner when you get home from the office can have lasting health and wellness benefits. Research shows that physical touch is an important factor in providing intimacy in our lives. Being touched by another human being helps us feel understood, accepted and cared for, and strongly influences our physical and emotional well-being. We discuss some of the science behind physical intimacy, whether romantic or platonic, and why it’s so important for everyone.

The definition of physical intimacy

Physical intimacy is characterized by friendship, platonic or romantic love, or sexual activity. It actually makes communication and connection easier. In romantic relationships, attraction is a key ingredient for physical intimacy.

Being that it is a natural part of human sexuality, most people desire physical intimacy of some sort at least occasionally. Between partners, it usually involves sensual touch and requires entrance into another person’s personal space. Examples include everything from brief hand-holding to a hug, kiss, or sex.

The benefits of touching and physical interaction

Scientific research confirms how physical touch influences people. Its benefits include:

  • Intimate or sensual touching aids in the release of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, which reduce stress.

  • Decreases feelings of loneliness or sadness. Physical touch increases positive emotions, including feelings of contentment, relaxation, alertness.

  • It promotes greater trust between individuals. Physical touch activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. Our skin contains receptors that draw out emotional responses.

  • It lessens instances of violence. Child development research illustrates that less touch and physical bonding as a child leads to greater violence and lifelong emotional disturbances.

Scientific research backs wellness claims

Studies have found that touch is fundamental to human connection, health, and is required for humans to thrive. Lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, are found in people who enjoy frequent hand-holding or hugging. A study found that women who received more hugs from their partners experienced higher oxytocin levels and lower blood pressure, as well.

Touch is especially important in long-term relationships where sex isn’t as plentiful. Hugs, squeezes, handholding, and random touches sustain many older couples or partners with physical limitations. Many couples enjoy physical touch as a love language and it’s certainly not just about sex. Sometimes simply squeezing a partner’s hand when they are having a stressful day is the perfect way to show love.

Sexual expressions of love are practiced in most romantic relationships. Learning to express love through intimate touch is absolutely possible, even if you’re not having sex in your relationship.

Different ways to show intimate love through physical touch include:

- Kissing

Kissing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to show physical love to your partner. It can be done on their lips, neck, cheek, forehead, hands, or anywhere else. Kissing is used as an act of respect, greeting, or affection, and should be prioritized in any intimate physical relationship.


In public or in private, hand holding is an easy gesture that immediately releases mood-boosting endorphins. It’s a great way to show protective, physical connectedness and physical love for your partner.


Physically wrapping yourself around your partner can bring feelings of closeness both physically and emotionally. Physical touch through cuddling releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that makes a person feel safe and cared for.

-Skin-to-skin touching

Touching your partner’s hair, back, leg, or neck can be an expressive way of telling him or her you’re committed, physically attracted to them, and in love.


There are a variety of important emotional benefits to sex with a committed partner, including improving self-confidence and expressing love and care. In many people, sex can boost immune function, relieve stress, improve heart health, and relieve headaches.

Physical touch is an important part of human existence and a critical aspect of interpersonal relationships. It’s especially important and meaningful in intimate relationships. A brief embrace, a quick shoulder squeeze, a handhold, or even a pat on the back are meaningful expressions of love.

Sex therapy at Love Discovery

Sex is an important aspect of any romantic relationship. Touch plays a crucial role in human connection and it improves the overall well-being of people who enjoy intimate, romantic relationships. A healthy relationship that practices physical contact can be one of the most bonding, emotionally intimate experiences in life.

Not everyone experiences the benefits of physical though, either in a romantic relationship or everyday life. Our sex therapists focus on addressing concerns related to sexual identity, orientation, function, intimacy problems, and sexual trauma. Contact us today for sex therapy and/or couples or individual therapy.

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