A ‘Body map’ created by scientists at Oxford University and Finland’s Aalto University in Finland has found men to be more comfortable with physical contact than women.
The ‘body map index’, produced by a survey of more than 1,300 people, reveals where men and women are most comfortable being touched and by whom. In the largest study of this kind ever attempted, the participants were asked to colour in the outlines of the human body, marking where they were comfortable and uncomfortable being touched.
The results, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA, pointed to the fact that, in general, women were far less comfortable being touched by strangers, with the majority telling researchers the only part of their body they were comfortable with male strangers touching were their hands.
In contrast, the study revealed men were more at ease with a female stranger touching various parts of their body, including their genitals, than with a relative. Amongst other findings, women were more comfortable being touched by friends of either gender, whilst men were far more uncomfortable being touched by friends of the same gender.
Oxford researcher Professor Robin Dunbar told Cherwell, “We were interested in where people touch each other because we have been running some PET neuroimaging studies looking at the way touch triggers the endorphin system.
“We were mainly interested in how touch patterns relate to the quality of the relationship you have with someone. Splitting the genders is a fairly conventional thing to do, but perhaps especially so now that we have shown that the two sexes live in very different social worlds (use very diff erent mechanisms for servicing their relationships.)”
On sex differences in the study, Aalto University researcher Juulia Suvilehto commented, “Interestingly, in two touchers with the same relationship (e.g. male and female friend; male and female cousin) the female was always allowed to touch in more areas. Also the female subjects on average reported allowing touch in larger areas than males.
“This finding is in-line with a lot of earlier research, but we do not know why exactly it is so. In addition, we looked at cultural differences, which were much smaller than one would expect from everyday experience.”