By Rheyanne Weaver
An arm around your shoulders, a warm hug, a hand intertwined in yours, and a kiss on the lips. These are all types of affectionate touching that can feel wonderful, especially with a significant other.
Luckily, you have an even better excuse to be affectionate not just while you're alone together, but in public. June 20 is National PDA Day.
Kory Floyd, a professor and associate director at Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, conducted research for the skin care company Nivea.
He specializes in the communication of affection, and he has been working with the company on research as part of their "Million Moments of Touch" campaign.
This campaign's goal is to "get people to touch more," Floyd said. National PDA Day was created as part of the campaign. He suggested it fall on June 20, since that is the first day of summer.
According to a press release from Nivea that includes Floyd's research, summertime is when people are more affectionate with one another anyway. This could be due to more skin showing when it's hotter out. Either way, it appears more dates and weddings occur during the summer months.
However, even with the likelihood of an increase in affection during the summer, we're still not showing our love enough in such a beneficial way as touch.
"It's a fact that fast-paced, 21st century living has affected our relationships: we text more than we hug," according to the press release.
"We video chat more than we hold hands. We touch our phones more than we touch each other. In fact, Americans currently suffer from 'skin hunger' - a desire for more touch and human connection than they currently receive."
So we know affection and touch are exceptional when they come from a loved one, and some of us already engage in public displays of affection, but what exact mental health benefits do touch and affection have?
"Touch is truly a powerful force; it is the first of our senses to develop and it is the only one that our bodies cannot survive without," Floyd said in the press release.
"Touch is such a powerful force that it can soothe stress, bring solace, help nurture, instill trust, spread good will and generally do a world of good for those who touch and are touched in return."
And affection overall can benefit humans in noticeable ways.
"Compared to people who are not especially affectionate in their relationships, those who are highly affectionate are happier, have higher self-esteem, are less stressed and less depressed, are more secure in their emotional attachments to others, and are more satisfied with their relationships," Floyd said in an email interview.
"Affectionate behavior is also associated with a number of physical health benefits as well, including supporting immune functioning and improving the body's ability to manage stress."
Although touch is important for healthy relationships, and has some major mental health benefits, all couples have different boundaries, wants and needs.
"People naturally vary in how comfortable they are with affection, so it should never be forced," Floyd said.
"The 'how' of affection is much less important than whether people feel genuinely loved, so grand gestures aren't required. I like to recommend small, nonthreatening behaviors such as holding hands as a way to introduce more affection into a relationship. Verbal affection is also important -- people who feel uncomfortable talking about their feelings aloud might find it easier to write them in an e-card."
Other experts point to more reasons why people need to be more affectionate, and how they can go about this process.
Tina B. Tessina, a licensed psychotherapist and author of "Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage," said in an email that contact with others creates a biological reaction.
"Human or pet contact boost your serotonin and oxytocin levels, and will improve your mood quickly," Tessina said.
"Touch also soothes and calms and gets those happy hormones going. You always have your arms with you. Learn to give hugs at every opportunity, touch your pets or loved ones lovingly, or even sneak a little, soothing rub on your own skin. All of it will improve your mood."
Reef Karim, a board-certified psychiatrist and author of "Why Does He Do That? Why Does She Do That?" said in an email that history has documented how powerful touch can be for people.
"Showing affection is a way of expressing and receiving love, friendship or admiration," Karim said.
"It's a way of connecting. And we are social beings; we all desire to connect (although some people have a harder time than others). Positive connection improves our mental health … Our mental health determines pretty much everything we do. And we all desire connection. Isolation is not good for us."
So what can be done for couples who have lost that affectionate touch?
"Trusting each other and allowing affection is key," Karim said.
"When you understand how you're connecting with your partner, affection should come naturally. It also depends on the definition of affection. When you hold hands or kiss a little bit, you're expressing yourself. Sloppy making out at Starbucks is another story."
Kathryn Mastrogiovanni, a primary therapist at Summit Malibu, a behavioral and addiction treatment center, said in an email that touch and affection can improve relationships overall, which adds to positive mental health effects.
"High levels of affection lay the foundation for a healthy relationship and improve both partners' overall mental health," Mastrogiovanni said.
"When both people regularly [express] their emotions toward the other via words or deeds, e.g. touch, this conveys a sense of security in each other's commitment to one another."
When people forget to show affection, or don't put an emphasis on this integral part of relationships, much can be lost.
"Many times, a lack of physical expression can cause one or both partners to lose their sense of worth in the relationship and may lead to an eventual breakup," Mastrogiovanni said. "People are sensory beings, and because of this fact we crave touch and love from the time we are tiny infants. This does not end once we reach adulthood, either."
"Feeling close and connected to your partner via physical and emotional expression can also help stave off feelings of depression, fight low-self-esteem, and give you a sense of purpose and support when battling issues outside of the relationship," she added.
"Public displays of affection, in appropriate quantities, are particularly powerful in regard to fighting insecurities people feel about their appearance or overall self. When you show the world that someone else feels you are 'worth it,' then you are more likely to start to believe it yourself."
Mastrogiovanni had a few suggestions for how to add more touch and affection in a relationship.
"It's extremely important to keep the lines of communication open with your partner," she said. "If one person is feeling unloved and keeps those emotions bottled up, it can lead to an emotional explosion and detrimentally affect the relationship."
Here are other tips that can apply in public and in private:
1) "When you are walking with each other start holding hands! This will help you feel more connected, and send off signals to the world that you are not only taken, but happy."
2) "When you are lying in bed together, make sure to cuddle or snuggle up next to each other. It's easy to feel completely alone when you are just laying by someone, so let your partner know you care by holding them in your arms."
3) "Be spontaneous! Instead of just throwing out the standard 'I love you' or saying hello from across the room when one of you gets home, rush over and grab your significant other and tell them how glad you are to see them and how much you missed them."
4) With 'Public Displays of Affection Day' fast approaching, plan something special for your partner to let them know how crazy you are about them. Whether it be a long, unexpected kiss in a crowded room or screaming in public that you love them, doing something - anything - to catch them off guard and letting the world in on your passion for each other is completely appropriate."
5) "Obviously, groping or grossing others out is unnecessary, but by doing something such as this you may just motivate another couple to do the same, improving everyone's day and boosting mental health all around."
"Simple actions such as these can relight that spark that may have gone cold from a lack of simple effort," Mastrogiovanni said.
PR Newswire. Kick-Off the Season of Love with the Nation-Wide Celebration Dedicated to Public Displays of Affection. Web. June 14, 2012.
Floyd, Kory. Email interview. June 13, 2012. http://www.koryfloyd.com/Home_Page_of_Dr._Kory_Floyd/Welcome.html
Karim, Reef. Email interview. June 13, 2012.
http://www.thecontrolcenter.org/ Twitter: @DrReef
Mastrogiovanni, Kathryn. Email interview. June 13, 2012.
Tessina, Tina. Email interview. June 13, 2012.
Reviewed June 14, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
By Rheyanne Weaver