The Art and Science of Non-Sexual Touch

I obviously work with a lot of couples who are dissatisfied sexually.   As such, I find myself writing frequently about sex.  Like here.   Also here and here

One thing I haven’t written about before – and probably should have – is the importance of non-sexual touch in a relationship.  

While there are no quick fixes and no single road map that fits every couple (that’s why all the work we do at The Marriage Place is customized to the couple), you might be surprised at how often I ask couples that are struggling in the bedroom to first focus on activities outside of the bedroom.

Non-Sexual Touching

One of the things I teach my clients is to be deliberate about increasing non-sexual touch.

What tends to happen within a couple – especially a couple where the partners have distinctly different sex drives (which is most couples, by the way) – is that the lower desire spouse will quit touching the higher desire spouse because any touch is interpreted as an invitation for sex.  

Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Your husband walks by you in the kitchen, gently pats your backside, and your brain goes straight to “He’s expecting sex tonight”.  Or husbands, your wife puts her hand on your arm as she’s asking a question and it translates to “I’m going to get lucky!”  Invariably, one or both partners in these situations end up frustrated or resentful.

Why Non-Sexual Touch is Important

Touching without the expectation of sex can be a deep bonding experience. It builds a level of trust otherwise missing from the relationship, which in turn, enhances the couple’s sexual relationship as well.

Touching without the expectation of sex can be a deeply bonding experience and build a level of trust otherwise missing from the relationship. Click To Tweet

When couples quit touching, hugging, and kissing except as a prelude to sex, the passion in the relationship usually dies. In fact, I can often gauge a couple’s sex life before they tell me anything about it, simply by how much they touch each other in a non-sexual way.

What Non-Sexual Touch Looks Like

Non-sexual touching can be holding hands or cuddling during a movie or just sitting close enough to each other that you are touching arms or legs.

Really, it can be any touch that you both agree is not intended to lead to sex.

The list of options is limitless, but here are a couple of purposeful ones if you are looking to be intentional.

The 3-Minute Hug

It’s as simple as it sounds.  Hug your partner (we’re talking full body hug) for 3 straight minutes.  You can even set a timer.  I’ll warn you though – 3 minutes can feel like forever, especially if this is the first time. So if needed, start with just one minute and work up to it.

Occasionally I’ll have my clients hug during a session.  If I were to video you’d notice a few things. First, couples often start out in a stiff awkward embrace. Their eyes jump around looking for distraction and at least one will glance at me with that “How much time is left?” look. But as the seconds tick off, I start to see some changes. Both partners will shift to get comfortable. Their bodies relax, often kind of melting together.  Their breathing slows and begins to regulate, even to the point where they may breathe in unison.  All in a matter of 3 minutes.  

 The 30-Second Kiss

Most couples typically kiss for just a split second at a time.  It’s the quick peck as you are leaving for work or the greeting when you get home in the evening.  

What if you kissed your partner for a solid 30 seconds each day?

30 seconds isn’t that long, but an intentional half a minute of kissing will feel like much longer (You can thank me later). It’s long enough that you can’t fake it and you are forced to connect with each other.  In fact, it’s nearly impossible to kiss that long and not feel closer to your partner.  

 The Science Behind it

Physical contact like hugging and kissing causes your body to release endorphins and oxytocin. Endorphins are the natural “feel-good” chemicals we all have that reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Oxytocin is known as the “bonding hormone.”  Our skin has receptors that stimulate our brain to produce more of these chemicals. So more hugging & kissing = more endorphins & oxytocin = more happiness, less anxiety, and more physical intimacy.  

Now this, by itself, does not guarantee more or better sex.   I can tell you this though – show me a couple with limited (or no) non-sexual physical intimacy, and I’ll show you a couple that is also struggling in the bedroom. The two are connected.


In case you haven’t noticed, none of this work can begin without open, honest, direct dialogue with your partner.  If you aren’t having those now on other topics, starting with sex may be awkward.  Really awkward.  But that’s okay.  Do it anyway!  

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2 thoughts on “The Art and Science of Non-Sexual Touch

  1. “Now this, by itself, does not guarantee more or better sex. I can tell you this though – show me a couple with limited (or no) non-sexual physical intimacy, and I’ll show you a couple that is also struggling in the bedroom. The two are connected.”

    Show me a couple struggling in the bedroom, and I’ll show you a couple that has limited (or no) non-sexual physical intimacy.

    Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

    Has there never been a couple with abundant “non-sexual” physical intimacy who also has limited (or no) activity in the bedroom? Notice I did not say “struggles” in the bedroom.) If they have little (or no) expectation of great bedroom activity there may be no “struggle” with the lack thereof. If their “non-sexual” intimacy satisfies their limited desires is it not actually sexual, on a very limited level?

    The key here is in your own statement, “The two are connected.” If ANY physical intimacy results in better sex, or satisfies a limited desire, is it not, by definition, sexual in nature?

    1. Wil, yes to all of the above. Yes, there is a chicken/egg dynamic. Yes, non-sexual intimacy may be enough to satisfy low-desire partners. For others, the absence of it, drives down their or their partner’s desire. They are interwoven and to try and separate them is next to impossible. My purpose in writing this blog was challenge readers to expand their definition of intimacy and to connect their behavior and activity outside of the bedroom to what does or doesn’t happen within it. Sex is the cherry on top of a marriage sundae. It is one important component of an intimate relationship between two people but it isn’t THE relationship.