In 1996 a group of teenagers from all over the United States took a trip to Peru. Several of the young ladies were from the Midwest. I’ll never forget the look on one young woman’s face when a very well respected lacol pastor embraced her and kissed her cheek. Or the look on the line of young men’s faces when they realized, they too were about to be embraced and given the customary greeting. Having grown up with friends from multiple Latin American cultures the idea of hugging a stranger, a kiss on the cheek, holding hands with friends, sitting closely together, singing for each other, and a host of other small signs of affection was normal to me. I laughed at my companions then.
Honest Affection. It’s a very Anglican term. In fact, the first time I heard the term was from a dear English friend in 1997 when, as missionaries, we were criticized for our deep platonic affection for each other. So what is Honest Affection? It is non sexual affection. Most often, this is used to address marital issues. However, that is limiting, and frankly, on some levels sexualization. Let’s face it. Our culture is over sexualized to the point that a woman feeling her child in public is considered sexual by some. Even in looking for a photo for this post almost every photo under the category of affection involved a sexual expression of affection. I sifted through hundreds of images of romance and steamy kisses before finding an image that depicts non sexual affection between two people.
Non sexual affection is common in many cultures, especially in native, natural cultures. It use to be more common in Western Anglo Saxon culture. It’s common in my family, and we’re about as Anglo Saxon/Welsh/Scotch Irish as you can get, but we came from an isolated sub culture that had allot of interaction with Native and Latin peoples. What are examples of non sexual affection or Honest Affection? Cuddling. Holding Hands. Random Hugs. A Thank You peck on the cheek. Stroking Hair. Head on a family member’s shoulder. Tickling. Touching foreheads (my favorite). Back rubs. And all in a non sexual capacity. It is simply emotions expressed in a physical manner. It is not erotic, stimulating, or tawdry.
Honest Affection is needed for physical, emotional, and mental health. This is why cuddle therapy is so huge in certain sectors of society. We interact through social media, telephones, email, or even old school faxes, but the majority of the people we interact with on a daily basis are not even face to face. We go home or go out with friends, we talk, we argue, we say “I love you”. We go to bed feeling stressed and dissatisfied, still lonely, and still thousands of miles away from the feeling of love. Some of us use sex to fill the void and end up feeling even more empty, more emotionally starved, more disappointed, especially when our partner says they don’t feel loved.
According to scientist Honest Affection releases feel good hormones in our brains that bond us to one another. These are the same hormones that bond parents with a new child. It’s not just women who release these hormones. I listened to a TedEx talk the other day about how new fathers also experience the release of hormones. Have you ever seen a mother nursing her child? Her eyes glaze over, she relaxes, the child relaxes. That’s the difference between sexual and non sexual touch. Honest Affection relaxes, not stimulates. And that is vital to our survival and health, or we would not have evolved in such a manner.
As regular readers know, I run a small farm animal sanctuary. It has been my privilege to watch the animals in my care for hours. Every species group spends time daily engaged in affectionate bonding activities. The steers will stand for over an hour bathing each other’s necks. The sheep enjoy laying close to each other in small family groups or pairs resting their heads on each other and delicately nuzzling each other’s faces. My dogs show each other affection joyously and exuberantly. The cats bathe each other’s heads. The chickens will even invite a friend to a communal dust bath. There are no intact males at the sanctuary. There is no sexual activity. Yet, there is a great amount of affection going on and being displayed openly. Our calf June recently met the electric fence. She immediately ran to an older animal and asked for reassurance. The response was standing side by side touching while the older cow licked her head and nuzzled her.
So what is happening between these animals and what can we learn from natural animal behavior? Bonding, nurturing, reassurance, confidence building, and intimacy is what occurs. The same behavioral outcomes hold true in human beings when we engage in non sexual affection.
When we engage in Honest Affection with those in our lives we create the environment for deeper relationship and a more genuine expression of our feelings. We lower our stress levels, provide a safe space for each other, and build a stronger family and community. It also forces us out of the mindset of sexualizing ourselves and others in non sexual situations. And that, is freeing.
Honest Affection. Give it a try.
PS – This post is in relationship to family and close friends – not work and public/casual situations. I am a speaker, shepherdess, and author. Not a trained psychologist. Nothing should be taken as professional medical advice.