The Love Language of Physical Touch in a Sexualized World

Speaking the love language of physical touch in a sexualized world is becoming increasingly stigmatized, especially for gays and lesbians.

In my recent post on physical touch between members of the same-sex, I mentioned something that deserves a bit of clarification. I said, “It might be easy for heterosexuals to rein in their affection and keep their ‘personal boundaries.’ But it’s hardly healthy. And for a gay person, it’s painful.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t do the best job at explaining what I meant. So let me see if I can explain my thoughts a little better. The obvious question is why would it be easy for straight people to forego same-sex physical affection but painful for gay people? If physical affection is a critical part of healthy same-sex friendships, shouldn’t it be painful for both?

To understand what I was getting at, you’ve got to put yourself into the shoes of a gay Christian and consider the requirements of traditional Christianity upon their life. Unless gay believers are willing to endure a heterosexual marriage and/or subject themselves to harmful conversion therapy techniques (which don’t work), they must completely forgo sexual affection. Period.

That’s the sacrifice that biblical celibacy demands. On the flipside, biblical celibacy should not demand a relational sacrifice that is greater. The celibate life is a life without sex but not a life without affection.

And therein lies the problem.

The Stigmatization of Physical Touch

As our culture increasingly conflates the sexual and the physical, the definition of “sexual affection” grows broader and broader. Most people no longer recognize a platonic touch when they see it. Even the most innocent forms of touch are becoming sexualized, regardless of their actual connection to sex.

Now imagine where this leaves the gay believer. Within a typical Christian environment, platonic touch between members of the opposite sex is already off the table. It has been for quite some time (unless you happen to be married or getting married). Add the additional layer of stigma toward same-sex affection, and you’ve created a culture within Christianity where the only way to experience physical affection is through a heterosexual marriage.

This might be okay for the typical heterosexual. But it forces the gay Christian into an unlivable situation, one that is utterly devoid of physical affection. When I say “it might be easy for the heterosexual,” I’m referring to the fact that most heterosexuals need only wait for marriage to finally access the kind of physical affection that every one of us needs.

But for gay Christians, as I mentioned in a comment, there’s no one with whom they can give or receive any form of physical affection. People raise an eyebrow if you show affection to a man or a woman. Gay believers who want to follow a traditional sexual ethic find themselves in a position where they must give up not only sex but also physical affection. This is not biblical celibacy.

Rethinking the Actual Cost of Sexualizing Physical Affection

Upon greater contemplation, I also think I need to change what I said. I think the state of physical affection in America is not just painful for gay believers. Perhaps it’s more painful for gay believers. But it’s also painful for everyone. 

The more people I meet the more I’m coming to realize that countless single people, gay and straight, are craving physical affection and believing the lie that what they need is a sexual partner. And countless married couples, gay and straight, are feeling distant and lonely and believing they just need to revitalize their sex life.

But it’s not sex they need. It’s physical touch.

Some Links for More Reading on Physical Touch:

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10 thoughts on “The Love Language of Physical Touch in a Sexualized World

  1. Lauren Reply

    Thanks for your clarification! I think that this is painful everyone, and especially painful for LGBTQ+ believers, including asexual believers. I also wonder if this sexualization of all touch has contributed to the growing pattern of cheating in relationships.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      I think that’s a definite possibility. Nowadays, you’ve cheated just by developing an emotional attachment with someone else. If someone believes they’ve already gone too far by becoming emotionally attached or giving someone a hug for a second too long, what’s to stop them psychologically from going the whole way?

  2. readerjohn Reply

    This is the first of your blogs I’ve read and I liked this very much. It rings very true of how some celibate lesbians I know have been treated by their church, leaving them feeling spiritually homeless. They also were put in a bind by Obergefell, threatened with loss of domestic partner employment benefits on the basis that “you can marry now,” which was not a viable option religiously.
    But I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t know already.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Hi there! Yes, that is a very real issue that you bring up. When marriage is the only partnership deserving of recognition and coinciding benefits, we shortchange the many other ways of doing meaningful relationship. With respect to Obergefell, it’s an important aspect of the conversation that many people overlook!

  3. Jeremy Reply

    Hi. Couldn’t agree more. During 7-8 years of singleness after I came to faith, I found I had definite physical touch needs (eg hugging) which could only be fulfilled in safe, secure friendships with the same sex. I guess i would just say if you have SSA, it’s safest to pursue those physical needs in a friendship with someone who doesn’t have SSA.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      I like the descriptors you used of “safe” and “secure.” We need more of these types of friendships! Especially for physical touch to feel comfortable. Too often friendships are fleeting and temporary.

  4. […] The Love Language of Physical Touch in a Sexualized World by Bridget Eileen […]...
  5. Erika Reply

    Thank you for your thoughts on this. I have encountered all too well the experience of being starved for affection for fear of how I might be viewed by anyone who might know or suspect my sexuality. Not wanting to take on the wary looks or disapproval that would inevitably come my way, I tend to avoid physical contact with anyone of any kind. And it certainly takes its toll. I appreciate hearing that I am not the only one who aches from this experience.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      So many people are touch-starved in our relational eco-system. You are definitely not alone!

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