- science / data / lyrics
- Susan’s story and a Nonprofit Wellness connection
- things to DO or read from here
tl;dr Intimacy is super-important for our mental health & nervous systems. Susan has lotsa thoughts about Janet Jackson and sex intimacy takes on new meaning and urgency thx to Covid.
Part II. What to do about INTIMACY?
The science of Intimacy:
Our bodies were built for connection, of all kinds.
Recent vagus nerve science confirms what we’ve known in our guts all along: our nervous systems are ruled by interactions with other people.
When we hear “Intimacy” we think “sex” but we shouldn’t limit the word. Cuddling with little kids, with pets, even platonic interactions and hugs with other adults fulfills a biochemical need for intimacy. Data:
- A lingering hug releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, which can lower your blood pressure, slow your heart rate and improve your mood.
- Adrenalin and oxytocin act together (in times of stress). Oxytocin helps repair the cardiovascular system. (check out Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk)
- “Like a [6-second] long, mindful kiss, a 20-second hug can teach your body that you are safe; you have escaped the lion and arrived home, safe…” Nagoski sisters, authors of Burnout, which is a fun read)
2004 study found that people who had frequent sex had more immunoglobin A in their system, ie. regular sex increased the effectiveness of the immune system.
- Our two-time Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy writes on the importance of social connection: “Loneliness is a natural signal that our body gives us, similar to hunger, thirst. And that’s how important human connection is… when it’s prolonged, then it can become a chronic state of stress, which leads to inflammation in our body, damages tissues in blood vessels and, ultimately, damages our physical, as well as our emotional, health.”
Susan’s Janet-meets-Nonprofit Wellness story:
Last month, my ex-wife and I binged the Lifetime Janet Jackson special.
We are GenX; we grew up idolizing Janet. She was a female icon in a mostly-male world. Blending Jackson-quality pop with Abdul-smooth dancing, making records and breaking records. My Baltimore City public school education led me to believe Janet originated the term “Pleasure Principle” (not Sigmund Freud).
When we developed the first Personal Stress Prescription in 2018, I paid homage to Janet by including “Pleasure Principle” as an option.
By “Pleasure Principle,” I meant addictive pleasures that are hard to avoid. It’s not far from Freud’s “Id” theory, referring to the animalistic, pleasure-seeking part of ourselves that greedily responds to:
- SCREENS: designed to be highly-addictive & part of daily life for most.
- INTOXICANTS: Legal intoxicants like alcohol & pot are widely used, often daily; people also use illegal substances. There’s high addiction potential and, in the case of alcohol, encouragement and even subsidies.
- and SEX: A fraught discussion topic in today’s #metoo office. Along with constantly shifting standards about LGBTQ+ lives and what’s acceptable to discuss, or legislate, or cover with HR policies.
Back when Nonprofit Wellness trainings were live, we could take questions, and explain things verbally, and adjust language to suit our audience.
Then, people started downloading our tools online.
We had to revise, and to clarify what we meant by “Pleasure Principle.”
As a wellness discussion tool, it seemed appropriate to include screens and intoxicants on the revised prescription, so we did:
But Sex? Or “Intimacy”?
Um, so we’re potentially talking about... Sexual intercourse? Gay sex? Porn addiction? Orgasm benefits?
How many elephants can this room hold?
I’m sex positive and bisexual and irreverent — therefore always up for boundary-pushing banter, but I was advised not to put anything remotely sexual on materials to be passed around or printed out (or even seen on a screen) in a workplace.
So, we decided to mention “intimacy” only verbally.
BUT, in reality, we hardly mentioned it — to be safe. And also there was a lot to cover. People were shocked enough when we mentioned intoxication (and when we hinted that happy hours weren’t always inclusive).
Then, the pandemic hit. And with it, hit an “intimacy famine.”
Described by Dr. Michelle Drouin, “Intimacy encapsulates a rainbow of experiences that one can have with another person. And intimacy famine is the lack of intimacy we are feeling in our everyday lives. Millions of people around the world are lonely, depressed, sad, and our happiness is going down. They are feeling less able to be vulnerable in the spaces in which they travel.”
Our covid-era MPH interns, also isolated across the country, dove into the research. We found compelling neuroscience on intimacy, and how it spurs oxytocin and dopamine. Right on time, two-time U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy published a book about togetherness and, in it, described three kinds of loneliness:
“Intimate, or emotional, loneliness is the longing for a close confidante or intimate partner — someone with whom you share a deep mutual bond of affection and trust. Relational, or social, loneliness is the yearning for quality friendships and social companionship and support. Collective loneliness is the hunger for a network or community of people who share your sense of purpose and interests.
These three dimensions together reflect the full range of high-quality social connections that humans need in order to thrive. The lack of relationships in any of these dimensions can make us lonely, which helps to explain why we may have a supportive marriage yet still feel lonely for friends and community.”
We decided — It’s a public health issue! — so it’s time to be more up-front about Intimacy. We’d like to include it on the next Personal Stress Prescription. What do you think? Leave a comment here, or email us your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org Or “Clap” for this piece, download some of our free materials, or just go embrace someone.
What to DO with this info:
- Talk about intimacy with a friend. It’s not taboo (but discussing intimacy can trigger folks, so get consent first).
- To release oxytocin, hold a hug with a family member or friend for 20 seconds.
- Buy some touch! Book a massage, acupuncture, chiropractor, manicure, or pedicure appointment. Even haircuts and facials involve light massage and caring/skilled contact. Pay for it and enjoy this service.
- Cuddle with your dog or cat. (Mammals seem cuddlier to most of us, but if reptiles bring you joy, go for it.)
.- Orgasms are great, but you don’t have to be sexually active with another person to receive the benefits of touch and intimacy. Get a new toy, or try a new form of sensual self-touch (for example, switch hands when you masturbate).
- Give yourself a foot or belly massage. Or a breast massage. I just got ayurvedic breast massage cream and TBH I never thought of massaging the mammaries beyond a cancer-self-check, so this is a lovely new injection of touch in my life. It smells great, Banyan Botanicals!
Things to read/listen to which are mentioned above:
@Dr.MichelleDrouin has a new book called, Out of Touch: how to survive an intimacy famine (2022). This quote is from “The Takeaway” interview: Are We in an Intimacy Famine?
@enagoski Emily Nagoski, PhD wrotee Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life (2021) She & her twin Amelia wrote Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle (2020)