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Types of Touches: 36 Physical Touches and What They Mean

Body language can tell you a lot about a person’s intentions, but did you know that deciphering types of touched can tell you just as much?

types of physical touch

If you like someone, chances are you are wondering what the person you like is thinking. Since reading someone’s mind is impossible, we use other methods to decipher what someone is really thinking. Trying to figure out the types of touching we receive is a great way to understand someone.

The most common go-to method for mind-reading today is social media. Researchers, however, have discovered that most of what we post online is hardly a reflection of how we feel or what we’re going through in real life.

That’s why scientists are researching other ways of knowing how a person reacts to basic situations and what these reactions mean. One of the areas of study is body language. You can find out a lot of things just from observing how people act, such as how they feel, if they’re lying, and what they’re going to do next.

Studying body language takes time, and it’s not as accurate if you’re not proficient in relating it to context. This means that not every action means the same thing. The same goes for interpersonal touch, another method to gauge what a person is thinking or feeling.

Still, knowing these things can give us a little peace of mind and help us make informed decisions when interacting with strangers. Knowing someone’s intentions can save us a lot of trouble, and it can also urge us to make positive changes in our own lives. [Read: 10 noticeable signs of body language attraction]

What is interpersonal touching?

It’s touching someone physically while trying to convey a message, a thought, or a feeling. Not many people are aware when they do this, but some know exactly what they’re trying to accomplish with certain types of touches.

Touching is a normal daily occurrence, especially when people surround you. Interpersonal touching is possible because, as humans, we want to connect and interact in any way we can. Any form of communication is welcome. That includes talking, waving hello, leaning in, and even smiling. The most powerful messages of all can be conveyed through touch.

A recent study found that emotional communication can exist through touch, and people can identify what those emotions are. These include both positive and negative feelings.

The researchers found that their subjects could identify emotions like happiness, sympathy, gratitude, and love. They also found that the people were able to recognize fear, disgust, and sadness. It sounds impossible, but we’ve subconsciously been doing it all our lives.

Physical touch is a primal communication method. A hug, a pat on the back, a heavy grip—all of these are very obvious signs that something is up, but it is up to us to determine the context, credibility, and purpose of it all. [Read: How to flirt by touching]

How to know what types of touches mean

To find out what a certain kind of touch means, you need to know the basics. To fully understand the meaning of a certain touch, you must consider the location, the pressure, and the duration.

Apart from that, you need to determine the context of how the touch should be perceived. For example, if you’re with a date, some touches might be attributed to affection. If you’re with a stranger, it could simply be a move to establish familiarity and trust. [Read: 10 super-subtle gestures that reveal someone’s really into you]

As for negative situations, you’ll know the answer based on your instinct or how a person acts and speaks. If you don’t like what they’re doing or what they’re saying, the touch that you receive might not establish a connection. It could just be a way for them to get what they want, i.e., a favor, their security, or a way to alleviate their fears.

1. A pat on the back

A pat on the back commendation, showing sympathy, an expression of pride, or an act of comfort.

2. A hug

A greeting, a request for intimacy, or a gesture that denotes comfort. This can be between two people closer than anyone or even a greeting between strangers.

3. Gripping the arm

Fear of external forces, a recommendation to stay put, or a way to acquire security and guidance. This type of touch can be gentle or intense.

4. Rubbing the arm

A signal for more physical closeness, wanting to be warmer, showing sympathy, or a gesture that requires complacency from the receiver.

5. Hitting

Anger *duh*, surprise, fear, and panic. In some cases, hitting can even be a sign of humor. [Read: How to get out of a toxic relationship]

6. Squeezing hug

A tight hug shows a need for closeness, need for intimacy, anxiety, a request for protection, and comfort.

7. Pushing

Disgust, ridiculousness, or playfulness.

8. Arm over the shoulder

Protectiveness, affection, need for closeness. This type of touch is often sweet and loving.

9. Arm around the waist

Protectiveness, affection, familiarity. A little bit lower than the waist, and this physical touch is sexual and flirtatious.

10. Both hands on shoulders

Persistence and wanting to convince someone. With shaking, it alludes to anger. [Read: How to handle controlling behavior]

11. Forehead against the forehead

Love, affection, a plea for closeness.

12. Cheek to cheek

A sign of intimacy. The closeness with this type of touch is usually romantic or caring.

13. Hands on face

Wanting to convey love nonverbally.

14. Hands on neck

Protectiveness, wishing to increase intimacy and trying to express comfort.

15. Rubbing your palm

A way to comfort yourself, a way to get another’s attention or arouse someone. [Read: 20 unmistakable signs your friend is crushing on you]

16. Clasping their arm with yours

Friendship, wanting security or wanting guidance.

17. Touching your hair

Expressing familiarity or a need to be closer. You only use this type of touch if you are comfortable with someone. It can be relaxing and soothing. [Read: 15 ways to tell if someone likes you without asking them]

18. Resting head or face on shoulders

Expressing familiarity and comfort, wanting to be closer, and asking for affection.

19. Rubbing inner thigh

Oh, you know what this means. A request for intimacy, sating of physical arousal, and a sign of comfort. [Read: 13 lusty signs of sexual attraction to keep an eye on]

20. Holding one’s hand

A plea for closeness, guidance, a need for security, solidification of a friendship or pact, and reaching out to make a connection.

21. Kiss on the mouth

A kiss on the mouth is usually romantic in nature. If it lingers longer than a peck, it shows passion, comfort, sexual tension, and even desire.

22. Cuddling

Cuddling is a touch for comfort. This physical touch is only something people feel secure and safe in when there is trust and intimacy. [Read: Learn how to cuddle]

23. Dancing

Dancing can be hot and sexy, and steamy. But, slow dancing shows trust, rhythm, and a level of soft intimacy that isn’t always sexual but dynamic.

24. Footsie

Footsie is playful, childlike, and can even show a flirty element.

25. Massage

A massage for money is a service, but with a partner, it is comforting and soothing. It is a form of relaxation, pain relief, and even sensual.

26. Kiss on the neck

A kiss on the neck is almost always sexual in nature. It happens during sex and both before and after.

27. Kiss on the forehead

A kiss on the forehead is sweet and endearing. It shows comfort and love, whether romantic or familial. It is often a kiss of protection, sadness, or saying goodbye. [Read: The meaning of a forehead kiss]

28. Hand squeezing

Hand squeezing is a physical touch signifying intensity. This can mean fear, nerves, anxiety, happiness, or excitement. It is a silent way to show a strong emotion to someone you trust.

29. Tickle

A tickle is a physical touch meaning fun. It is a playful way to make someone laugh and loosen up.

30. Belly button poke

This is a weird physical touch but is playful and intimate. This is a rare touch, so it only comes from those close to you.

31. Arm in arm

Walking arm in arm is a more traditional and supportive way of holding hands. Your bodies are closer, and you are interlocked in more ways nearer to your heart.

32. Back scratch

A back scratch is for comfort. Whether you release an itch or offer a mothering touch, it is intimate and tender.

33. Wiping a tear

This is one of the most touching physical touches. Even more so than a kiss, wiping away a tear means there is trust and vulnerability. [Read: How to stop crying and heal]

34. Kiss on the cheek

A kiss on a cheek is usually a greeting of some sort. This varies from culture to culture but is a way to say hello or goodbye.

35. Grabbing a loose eyelash

Grabbing a loose lash and then offering, they blow and make a wish, although childish, can be a form of close and vulnerable flirting. You need to touch someone’s face and feel their breath on you.

36. PDA

PDA is a public display of affection and is in a category all its own. It is holding hands, kissing, or even full-on making out, but the publicity of it means it is loud and pertinent. [Read: A full guide to PDA]

Bear in mind that these are constantly changing. They are just the most basic and apparent motives for certain types of touches. It is up to you to determine whether there is weight in their meaning or if it’s just a reflexive reaction brought on by the current state of your relationship.

If it’s not love, they could be asking for friendship. But, if it’s not intimate, they could be looking for security. If it’s not about an expression of familiarity or closeness, they could be just trying to get to know you better. [Read: 20 ways to text your closeness]

How can this help me?

No matter what someone’s motive is, knowing what precedes the thought can really help you in a lot of situations. Some people don’t know how to express themselves verbally, making it hard to start a lasting relationship where you’re open with one another.

Now that you know what these types of touches mean, you have a guideline for your communication. It lets you know what sort of questions you need to ask and when it’s appropriate to ask them.

[Read: 16 non-sexual but meaningful touches]

Remember, the most critical factors in a relationship are communication and trust. If you or your partner can’t say it out loud yet, you can still make do by hugging or by holding hands or expressing yourselves through physical touches.

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