What It Really Means To Have Physical Touch As Your Love Language

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
hands holding

Ever been in a relationship with someone who just loved to share skin-to-skin contact with you at all times? Or maybe that's you when you're in a relationship. That love for hands-on intimacy is exactly what the physical touch love language is all about.

What is the physical touch love language?

Physical touch is one of the five love languages, and it refers to expressing and receiving affection through touch, physical closeness, and other forms of physical connection. Kissing, hugging, holding hands, and sex are all ways of showing love through the physical touch love language.

Most specifically, having touch as a love language means that small physical gestures—such as having a partner put their arm around you in public or snuggle up close to you on the couch while watching TV together—matter a lot more to you than things like gifts or saying "I love you."

There's a physiological reason physical touch is so enjoyable: That skin-to-skin contact triggers the release of certain hormones associated with pleasure and bonding, explains licensed marriage and family therapist Kiaundra Jackson, LMFT, of KW Couples Therapy.

"If someone's love language is physical touch, they may or may not know it, but they enjoy the release of the 'feel-good hormones' our body secretes like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin," Jackson tells mbg. "Oxytocin is known as the bonding hormone. That hormone is the same hormone released between a newborn baby and its mother, which is why skin-to-skin contact is highly recommended for bonding after childbirth."

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Signs your love language is physical touch:

  1. You love being in a relationship that's very "touchy"—lots of cuddling, sitting on each other's laps, putting your arms around each other randomly, that kind of thing.
  2. Receiving spontaneous or random kisses (on the lips, forehead, or elsewhere) makes you feel loved.
  3. You find it very sweet and meaningful when a new partner wants to cuddle with you.
  4. The little physical gestures like holding hands and resting your head on each other's shoulders are some of your favorite little things about being in a relationship.
  5. Gifts and words of affirmation are nice, but it's the way someone looks at you and holds you that really makes you feel special.
  6. You love giving and receiving public displays of affection.
  7. When your partner is around, you always end up sort of mindlessly touching them—placing a hand on their arm or knee, running your fingers through their hair, or gently rubbing the back of their neck.
  8. It'd be weird to sit on a couch next to your partner and not be touching in some way.
  9. Having your partner want or initiate sex with you makes you feel loved.
  10. It's really meaningful to you when your partner puts an arm around you or holds your hand in public.
  11. You totally notice when they don't touch you in a group setting, and it sort of hurts.
  12. The idea of receiving a massage or foot rub from a partner seems super romantic.
  13. When you're stressed, you feel instantly calmed or relaxed when your partner puts their hand on yours or rubs your shoulders.
  14. Receiving a really long, warm hug makes you feel like your partner really cares about you.
  15. Someone doesn't need to say "I love you" a bunch for you to feel loved—you can feel it through the way they hold you or kiss you.

Physical touch vs. sex.

Having physical touch as your love language does not necessarily mean you're all about sex.

"When you hear that someone's love language is physical touch, it can be easy to assume that this means sexual touching, but that is not necessarily the case," psychotherapist Rhonda Richards-Smith, LCSW, tells mbg. "If you find your partner's touch to be soothing, relaxing, and gives you that extra boost that you need, chances are physical touch is one of your love languages."

Likewise, if you're someone who loves sex and wants a lot of it, that does not necessarily mean your love language is physical touch.

"Physical touch can include sex, but it does not have to," Jackson says. "If you want more sex, just say it! If you want other things and not just sex, say that too!"

How to show love to someone whose love language is physical touch:

  • Give them kisses often.
  • Kiss them hello and goodbye.
  • When you hug, use both arms and your whole body, and linger for an extra moment in the embrace.
  • Spontaneously give them a little back rub or back scratch.
  • Always hold hands when you're out and about.
  • Lay on the public displays of affection.
  • When you're sitting together, rest your hand on their hand or leg, or put your arm around their shoulder.
  • If you're having a serious conversation, hold their hand or softly rub their arm while you listen to them talking.
  • Even when you're rushing off somewhere, make a point to lay your hand on their back or give a quick peck on the cheek as you pass them.
  • Make a point of maintaining physical contact when you're in group settings.
  • Get to know their sexual desires well and prioritize them.
  • Make a point to be the one to initiate sex every now and then.
  • Even when you're not in the mood for sex, make sure to remind them that they're sexually desirable and wanted.
  • Rub their shoulders when they're stressed out.
  • When you're settling in to watch a movie, really snuggle in close to them.
  • When they lean their head on your shoulder, lean your head on theirs.
  • Cuddle in bed together.
  • Offer to give them a good massage at the end of a long day.
  • Come up from behind while they're doing something around the house and wrap your arms around them.
  • Kiss them on places other than their lips, such as their cheek, forehead, collarbone, or back of the hand.
  • Brush their hair out of their face or push a strand behind their ear.
  • Spend time lying in bed together in the morning when you wake up and/or at night when you're falling asleep.
  • Run your fingers through their hair.
  • Take a shower with them and help soap them up or wash their hair.
  • Lightly trace their facial features with the tips of your fingers.
  • When you're not physically together, send a text telling them that you can't wait to lie in bed together later or that you were randomly thinking about a specific kiss or hug you recently shared.
  • Whenever you're thinking Wow, I love this person, find a way to express it through touch.

Note: Just remember to be mindful of consent. Use these actions only when the recipient has conveyed that such actions are wanted and welcome.

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Physical touch in long-distance relationships.

If you're in a long-distance relationship with someone whose love language is physical touch, there are still ways to express love in a way that speaks to them.

Richards-Smith recommends booking a massage for them or gifting them with a weighted blanket or ingredients for a warm drink to have a tactile experience of love from afar, or you can send a piece of clothing (maybe something with your smell on it?) that'll feel good on their skin and remind them of you.

"Video calls also provide us with a unique opportunity to communicate with our partners in a nonverbal way," she says. "Smiling, winking, and blowing kisses are all great ways to express your love physically, without needing to touch your partner."

(Here's more on how to make a long-distance relationship work. Also relevant: how to have great phone sex.)

The bottom line.

People whose love language is physical touch enjoy when their partners express affection for them in physical ways, such as hugs, kisses, and even just a hand on the shoulder. These physical displays of love matter more than words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and gifts.

If you're dating someone with the physical touch love language, make sure to ask if there are any types of touch that they particularly like or don't like. But in general, prioritizing these hands-on ways of showing you love them will go a long way.

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