Last week, the Kinsey Institute released the results of a study that surveyed 1,009 heterosexual couples on their attitudes toward physical affection and sex. The “shocking” pull-quote making media rounds has to do with men in long-term relationships valuing physical affection (i.e. kissing and cuddling) more than women in long-term relationships, who claimed sexual satisfaction was more important.
This wasn’t particularly surprising for me, as every dude I’ve dated long-term has been more affectionate than I have. I’m almost certain I’m an anomaly, though.
I didn’t grow up with much physical affection. I was raised by women who didn’t place too high a premium on hugs or kisses. My mother says that when I was a little girl, I shrugged off affection, frowning when it was offered. So after a while, she stopped initiating it. I’m not sure if the same was true of my grandmother; in her case, it’s more probable that affection doesn’t come naturally to her. Even now, when I hug either of them spontaneously or in thanks for a gift or in parting, there’s a vague sense of awkwardness. It’s dulled over the years and, with my mother, it’s practically non-existent. But we’re still not natural huggers.
My father, on the other hand, is quite affectionate and always has been. I started seeing him regularly in summers and during holiday breaks from age 11 or 12, until four years ago, when I moved to his city of residence and I began to see him far more frequently. In those earlier years, he’d always greet me with a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and “baby,” as a term of endearment. I never told him, because I didn’t want him to feel rejected, but I bristled at the artificiality of those moments. If he’d known me better, he might’ve eased into these expressions of affection, realizing that I felt a bit ambushed by them.
The wild card was church, where hugging is practically a requisite for entry into the service. But those don’t count as affectionate, really. A church, a hug isn’t intimate; it’s a greeting, as commonplace as handshakes in other settings.
As you can imagine, intimate relationships have always been a bit of a challenge. Perhaps because of my ambivalence toward affection (rather than in spite of it), I tend to attract men who place a pretty high premium on being hugged, kissed, and otherwise shown affection. Over time, I’ve trained myself to deliver. But in the absence of a relationship, I still don’t miss it much.
Since I’m fully aware that this is pretty weird, I’ve been vigilant about showing affection to my own daughter. I hug her constantly. All day, everyday, there’s a flurry of kisses to her face and hands and shoulders and stomach and feet and back. She gets massages before naps and bedtime. (Aside from hugs and kisses, general touch wasn’t all that common at my childhood house, either.) I’m constantly stroking her hair.
While I hope that in so doing, I’m creating a more emotionally open child, the practice has also become a kind of therapy for me. The more I show her affection, the more normative physical expression of love becomes to me.
When I’ve asked around about this, conducting my own informal surveys about affection among women, I’ve been told that typically, when women have as many barriers to affection as I do, it’s the result of a physical assault or trauma. I’ve experienced neither. Unless a dearth of hugs can be considered a trauma.
I do wonder if the men who claim to value cuddling more than sex in the Kinsey survey were raised as I was–or if the women who prefer sexual satisfaction do so because they, too, aren’t conversant in the arts of other affection.
Anyone else care to weigh in here?