HomeEmotional aspects of sexualityConsensual sexThe significance of nudity and being touched

The significance of nudity and being touched

Private parts refer to the anatomy that we may want (or be required) to cover up. Private parts include the buttocks, the genitals and the female breasts. Girls are discouraged from showing their panties. Boys learn to keep their penis hidden. It may be considered indecent to show too much bare flesh. Parents often think it is inappropriate for their children to see adult genitals or even a hint of sexual activity. But there is no reason why children should be harmed by nudity. Children should know what adult nudity looks like.

People wear clothes to keep warm and protect the body. Nudity tends to generate a great deal of curiosity in both sexes. Nudity can be embarrassing because our bodies are all so different. Differences in physical appearance can cause us to feel insecure and embarrassed. As we age, we may be embarrassed by the effects of aging or by having a less than perfect body.

Many women prefer to keep their clothes on to avoid the attention they inevitably get from men. Female modesty is due to women’s lack of confidence over their bodies. Women do not want to be judged by men, who can be highly critical and insulting towards women they don’t find attractive. Media images of young women with perfect bodies enhanced by computer technology cause women to feel that their bodies are ugly. But men enjoy a variety of different female body shapes, breasts and genitals.

Nudity is not always aimed at arousing anyone. Men need sexually explicit images to assist with orgasm without a lover. Pornographic images involve close-up shots of genitals, typically a penis penetrating an orifice. Censorship exists to limit the distribution of images that offend women. Some images use clothing to accentuate female anatomy such as breasts or buttocks. Sexual come-ons may be implied by a woman’s facial expression or what she says. Other images of nudity are simply tasteless or lacking in human dignity.

Censorship restricts the portrayal of the nudity to protect the dignity of the individual. Women often feel exploited because someone else is aroused by their nudity. Men rarely express the same concern perhaps because men see themselves having more control over their sexual choices. Also a man is rarely in the situation where someone else is using his nudity for arousal.

Children should know that other people (usually family) can touch them but never in inappropriate ways. They also need to understand that nudity is not always acceptable. This does not mean that they should be ashamed of their bodies. With those we love, in the family, among friends, nudity may be acceptable as long as everyone is comfortable with this. But we are expected to abide by the social conventions of the society in which we live. Many people feel very uncomfortable unless they are conforming to social norms.

When we touch another person, it is a tentative sign of trust. It may be an invitation or an offer of further intimacy. There are cultural differences. What is acceptable in one culture or family may be unacceptable in another. Different personalities are also more inclined to touch others in daily life. Customs about what is believed to be an appropriate demonstration of intimacy within and outside the family, vary considerably between cultures.

Most people avoid touching other adults out of respect for individual privacy. Inappropriate touching refers to someone who attempts to touch another person on or in the vicinity of their private parts. No one is obliged to allow another person to touch them however innocently. Even children feel awkward, as well as a sense of shame, if they are touched inappropriately by an adult (besides a parent), regardless of whether the intention is sexual. Laws have become draconian in some areas (gyms and swimming pools). The law treats all adults of both sexes, and even the parents of the children being observed, as a potential threat. There are still no laws to protect a child who receives one-to-one instruction from an adult (e.g. piano lessons).

Two adults may touch each other in neutral body zones (such as on the shoulder or arm) without any implication of intimacy. They can also kiss on the cheek as a show of friendship. When a couple engages in mouth-to-mouth kissing it may be a petting activity but more often it occurs between couples already in a sexual relationship as a precursor to sexual activity. Often there is some cursory touching of more intimate body parts as a lead-in to increased sexual intimacy. This is especially true where couples dance.

Women enjoy more platonic forms of general body touching that may be used to communicate affection. Women can touch others of either sex without anyone assuming that they have sexual motives because women are not aroused as men are by nudity and physical interaction with others. When a woman touches a man, it is to demonstrate affection. So when a woman is angry, she doesn’t want her lover to touch her. She doesn’t want him to have the pleasure of her body because he has upset her. She remembers each occasion when a man offended her as evidence that he does not care for her.

Men don’t obtain the same platonic emotional rewards from relationships that women do. Intimate touching for men is strongly associated with sexual activity because men are aroused by a lover’s body. A man often touches a woman as a precursor to intercourse. Men typically want a lover to stimulate their genitals. The desire for genital stimulation is a characteristic of male responsiveness but is only relevant once a boy has reached adolescence. Women do not experience the same erotic reward from genital stimulation.

Women often complain that their husbands never touch them unless they want sex. (Michele Weiner-Davis)

Excerpt from Learn About Sexuality (ISBN 978-0956-894748)