Physical Touch

Physical Expression isn’t Romantic Sexual Expression

I want to kiss my friends. However, kissing your friends culturally implies a variety of things: the kisser is a slut, there’s “something” between two people kissing, it’s “more than friends”. Imagine a heterosexual relationship wherein one partner “kisses their friends”, Reddit commenters would leap across the room to post a comment about inevitable cheating. Essentially buried in this idea is that physical expressions of love, intimacy or care are hard coded to be read as romantic and or sexual expressions. We lack a deep language or cultural acceptance of expressing affection within a relationship that isn’t sexual or romantic. Physical affection is forced to be read as romantic-sexual and friendship demands a kind of space not expected of romantic sexual relationships. Yet this dynamic is oppressive both to romantic relationships that don’t desire physical expression and for friendships that find value in physical expression.

If physical affection is allowable it’s between women and viewed by the patriarchy as not threatening to masculine hegemony (the same tired discounting of sapphic love). Conversely, physical affection between men carries stigma as implying homosexuality, weakness, being a sissy. These are constructs from a heterosexist patriarchy that serve to oppress our ability to express genuine feeling towards one another, either by discounting the affection itself or stoking fears behind the expression at all. Even viewed outside the lens of the current cultural hegemony, the hard coding of physical affection as romantic sexual stifles human expression into rigid categories. If we want the full expression of human connection, we must transcend the borders around physical expression. Both in that the absence of physical touch implies romantic estrangement and that it’s presence implies romantic sexual relations. Not that physical touch isn’t important to many romantic and sexual dynamics, yet that physical touch as expressed to a wider group of people is not an absolute indicator of romance or sex.

How? It’s going to be awkward at first, we are products of our culture, the cop in our head is frothing at the mouth ready to interpret any touch as an expression of “fuck me” or “love me”. But what is a touch really and what is said in a kiss? I’d connect these physical expressions to the emotive motivation behind them. Touching, kissing, expresses strong feelings of connection, love, camaraderie. These expressions of emotional feeling are then taken in our current cultural context to imply more than they ought to. We currently don’t allow physical expressions to exist independently, we inherently tie them to notions of commitment, larger labels that imply a host of behavior and feeling. In doing so we rob ourselves of a variety of expressions towards our individually unique relationships.

By transcending expectations that physical affection or a lack thereof implies or negates a greater relationship dynamic we free ourselves to express our emotions more genuinely and uniquely to each particular relationship. We can have relationships that express physical intimacy without having to force them into awkward boxes. We can have relationships without physical intimacy that don’t negate the romantic feeling. If we want to have dynamic, unique and complex relationships that don’t force an artificial compromise to fit a predefined relationship, we must dissociate physical touch broadly from romantic and sexual dynamics. Let physical touch be understood in the specific and not as a road marker for other facets of a relationships.