Why Does Your Partner Feel So Good?
Do you ever find yourself snuggled in an embrace asking how your partner feels so good? So soft? Touch is one of the most important aspects of intimate relationships, and for us as human beings. But what is it that makes certain, affectionate touch feel good and can we ever replace the touch of another person?
Touch Is Social Glue
Touch is crucial for our development through infancy and long after. It’s been found to lower stress, blood pressure and even boost the immune system. Simply reaching for a loved one’s hand will make you more tolerant to pain and less anxious. In medical care too, professionals that use reassuring touch more often have better patient recovery than those that don’t. Acting as social glue, touch also reduces aggression in groups and helps us to bond, even making sports teams perform better.
How do we feel touch?
Our skin is covered with little nerves that send signals of received touch from the skin to the brain. Here, discriminative facts like where and how get read by part of the brain, and the emotional tone of the sensation by another. The surprising thing is that this happens simultaneously.
So take for example, if you ordered coffee but got tea, it might taste bad even though you like tea because you were expecting coffee. It feels nice when our partner puts their fingers inside us but when a gynecologist does it? Not so much. While the type of touch can be the same, the experience of the feeling is governed by all kinds of subjective things: past experiences, cultural values, even the music playing in the room.
Why Can’t I tickle myself?
The brain’s cerebellum, in charge of movement, decides if a sensation is coming from outside or yourself - it’s more important to know if a dog is biting your leg than if the wind is brushing your cheek again. It’s why we can’t tickle ourselves, the cerebellum steps in to dull the feeling.
When it comes to masturbation, this is a bummer because your brain is like: I know it’s you. Neurobiologist, David Linden has speculated that this could be one reason for watching porn, though this hasn’t yet been tested. However by fantasizing, watching a film or even reading you can partially trick the brain into believing you’re experiencing is reality, overriding the dulling of self-touch, and making it easier to come. Additionally, it’s been shown that we can empathise and get pleasure from just seeing somebody being caressed.
The Cuddle Sensors
If we can stimulate ourselves virtually, can we ever replace the touch of a human partner? Recently, scientists have discovered the presence of CT afferents, nerves that respond specifically to the gentle touch we experience with loved ones, and believe they could be key to understanding social touch.
Residing on the hairy parts of our skin (so most of it) they sense slow (optimally 3cm to 5cm per second) and soft touch and send signals to the socio-emotional posterior insula, rewarding us with good feelings. Evolutionarily, this resembles primate grooming, which helps with bonding.
The Softness Illusion
We can’t touch without being touched. The softness illusion is part of this. Studies have shown we will repeatedly assess our partner’s skin as softer than our own, presumably so that it’s more pleasurable and we want to stroke them more. Unsurprisingly, the illusion is strongest when touching our partner gently and on those hairy regions, corresponding with CT afferents. This unique touch with others is a hard one to replace, even with great porn.
The Future Of Touch
CT afferents respond to the kinds of touch by which society has evolved, they could teach us a lot in the future. However like a lot of sexuality research, more studies are needed. But it’s becoming clearer just how rewarding touch is and why it’s needed for us to function as human beings, so we should stay close to that in the robotic future. But for now, why not take advantage of those CT’s and snuggle up to your partner?