We Need Human Touch

We Need Human Touch

What is the benefit of a hug or a handshake? Researchers in Germany and the Netherlands compiled data from 137 studies involving 13,000 people of all ages. Their research showed significant benefits to those who are regularly touched by others. In other words, we need human touch.

This is not a sexual issue, but touch provides physical and, to a greater extent, mental health benefits. The data shows that the benefits apply to newborns, older people, people with dementia, people struggling with stress, and people who have problems controlling their aggression. Women benefit more than men, and those who are sick or in pain benefit more than those who are healthy.

The New Testament encourages the followers of Jesus to engage in a social practice of that day that involved touching. In Luke 7:45, Jesus pointed out that the host, who was a Pharisee, had not given a warm greeting, but He said a woman in need “has not ceased to kiss my feet.” In Romans 16:16, Paul urges Christians to “greet one another with a sacred kiss.” That instruction is repeated in 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14, Luke 15:20, and Acts 20:37. The hug we give one another in times of pain, loss, or separation has real value.

We need human touch, but the study showed that the regularity of touching is more important than the duration. Consensual hugs, kisses, or massages have many mental and physical health benefits. Babies do better when touched by their parents, and the positive effects are more noticeable in premature babies. Adults struggling with illness showed more significant mental health benefits from touch than healthy people in this study. 

A hug is a major way of expressing affection and closeness to someone, but even a handshake does wonders for participants. Those who have been abused may not accept a hug well, but a handshake is free of cultural bias or sexual connotation. Our society has gotten so obsessed with sexual abuse and the perception of personal rights that we have thrown the baby out with the bath. We need human touch, and that is a need the Church can help to meet.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “A systematic review and multivariate meta-analysis of the physical and mental health benefits of touch interventions” in Nature Human Behaviour, April 8, 2024