Whose Ears Ring?

For as long as I can remember, I have had occasional, spontaneous ringing in the ears (not connected to hearing any loud noise or any other source outside my body). The ringing has never been a problem for me. I assumed that it was just a fact of life, and that every hearing person experiences it sometimes, even in the absence of any loud external noise.

In high school, I learned the medical term for this is tinnitus, and that only about 1 in 5 Americans experience it without it being connected to hearing a particularly loud noise. I said something about it to my father – who has been experiencing ear issues since before I was born – and he was surprised that I was experiencing it at such a young age (tinnitus is more common among older people).

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, like my father and grandfather, I have Ear Issues (and it is almost certainly not a coincidence that all three of us have ear issues, though so far my father’s ear issues are not as severe as my grandfather’s were at the same age). Though the tinnitus itself is too mild to be an Ear Issue, it is most likely caused by an Ear Issue.

It occurred to my just today (when I’m writing this post, which is days before the day this post is being published) that discovering something which you thought almost everybody experienced is, in fact, a minority experience, is like assuming that everyone experiences a similar level of sexual attraction as yourself, only to find that most people don’t.

Both ringing in the ears and experiencing sexual attraction (or sexual desire, for that matter) are exclusively personal experiences that only the person experiencing them (or not) can really know whether they are happening (or not).

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Guest Post: If you hug me, I will stab you with this piece of mango.

Here is a guest post by Mark for the December 2014 Carnival of Aces “Touch, Sensuality, and Non-Sexual Physical Intimacy”.

***

If you hug me, I will stab you with this piece of mango.

I said those words once, to a friend of mine. The Hello-I-Haven’t-Seen-You-In-So-Long hugs were going around, and I wanted none of it.

Another time, a friend, J, threatened to tickle me – or poke me. I can’t remember. What I do know, is that a third friend, N, shook her head and said “I wouldn’t do that. Last time I tried to poke Mark, I woke up in the hospital, 2 weeks later, and with no memory.” It was a joke, but J tried to call it a bluff, and seconds later I was across the hallway and completely out of reach.

I’ve yelled at my mother for a pat on the shoulder. I’ve ducked out of hugs from my sister. I’ve ended up halfway across the couch, or room, because someone wanted to put up their feet – on me.

Simply put, I hate to be touched

The funny thing is, that I didn’t used to. When I was little, I got the nickname “The Hug-inator” because of my propensity to hug everyone. I mean seriously, I loved hugs. But then middle school came along, and I started growing up, and the world decided that my touch would start to mean things.

And when touch started to mean things beyond platonic affection, I stopped liking touch. It took me a while to figure that out, but it really is that simple.

I’m only comfortable with physical touch when I absolutely know what it means. And when what it means is something that I’m comfortable with.

Social contact, such as greeting and farewell hugs, are fairly well fine to me, though I’ll often skip them. They mean that I like these people as friends, and that I am glad to have a chance to see them. Handshakes are similar – they are a form of purely social contact, and mean very little, overall.

Cuddling, is a rarity in my life, and really, that’s quite fine by me. One person I will willingly cuddle with is my qpp, and that is because I know exactly what that contact means. We’ve talked, we’ve filled out will/want/won’t lists – we have a little label for what our relationship is, and so I’m not worried that my touch is going to be taken in any way other than the way that I mean. It’s known, it’s established – and it’s comfortable. It’s also purely platonic.

What I’m not comfortable with is touch with unknown implications, or touch with known romantic or sexual implications. I’m not ok with even going on dates, let alone the thought of romantically coded physical touch, like holding hands, or kissing. The thought of sexual touch is – I would say repulsive. Unexpected contact, or unclear physical touch is also something I hate – a huge bear hug out of the blue, getting poked, an acquaintance casually putting their hand on my shoulder – I hate all of them. If it’s physical touch, and it’s not clearly defined as platonic, or I’m not comfortable with the person or people touching me, then I am not ok with that physical touch.

There are too many factors to unpack here, or even in a series of essays, because this gets very tangled up in our heteronormative, misogynistic, amatonormative culture, but the end conclusion of it all, is that my comfort with physical touch, depends on communication and implication. And I’m only comfortable with the platonic.

Touch is a Touchy Topic: Do I Crave Physical Touch?

You can read the introduction here.

I have heard about people craving people needing physical touch so much that I believed that I must crave it too.

I am re-examining that.

The most obvious physical needs I feel are the need for water, food, and sleep. Though there is a lot of variation in how I experience thirst, hunger, and sleep-deprivation, if I go too long without water/food/sleep, I will feel it, and it won’t be subtle.

On the next level, there is my need for exercise. It doesn’t belong in the same category as water/food/sleep – I don’t think a sedentary lifestyle would kill me nearly as quickly as dehydration/starvation/severe sleep deprivation – but it’s clear to me that I really do need a minimal level of exercise, and it’s not something I merely think I need because I’ve been fooled by pro-exercise propaganda.

I have concluded that I don’t have sexual needs, even though lots of people are convinced that everybody needs sex.

So … do I also have a need for physical touch, or was I only convinced I needed physical touch because other people said so?

Well, in Taiwan, when I told myself that I wasn’t getting enough physical contact with people, I decided to remedy this with massages.

When I’m thirsty and I drink water, I experience immediate relief

When I’m hungry and I eat food, I experience immediate relief.

When I’m sleep-deprived and I sleep, the relief isn’t immediate, but it’s evident and refreshing.

When I have been repressing the urge to exercise, and then get to burn off some of that energy, I feel much calmer afterwards.

When I hadn’t been touching people for a while, and then get a massage … I feel nothing.

I’ve repeated this a few times.

I can only think of two explanations:

1) I don’t need physical touch
2) I do need physical touch, but commercial massages do not fulfil this need at all

I am not sure which explanation it is, but I have at least concluded that I don’t need physical touch nearly as much as I need exercise, and that my notion of needing physical touch was, if not totally fabricated, then at least exaggerated by other people claiming that we all need physical touch.

I once thought that I *should* have more physical touch, and since the massages didn’t seem to have much of an effect, that I *should* have more of it in more personal relationships.

Now, when I poke at the evidence that people put forth for ‘physical touch is healthy and you don’t get enough’, I find that the evidence is really flimsy. For example, this blog post says “most people desire or require touch and affection on a regular basis … touch helps keep you healthy and happy. (Don’t believe me? The National Institutes of Health says so)”. Yet the article it links to support the ‘the National Institutes of Health’ claim is about oxytocin and says “few studies look at oxytocin in humans” i.e. we are not entirely sure about the effects of oxytocin. I think that is way overstretching for a claim like ‘The National Institutes of Health says most people require touch on a regular basis’ – especially since the article cannot find any effect on blood pressure or stress hormone levels in men (aren’t men, you know, a large portion of the population?!).

So right now, I say ‘whatever’! If I feel like touching AND receive permission, I’ll do it. If I don’t feel like it or don’t get permission, I won’t. I’m going to stop telling myself that I need more touch just because other people say I need it.

And on that note, I will get back to the topic of asexuality in the next post.


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Touch Is a Touchy Topic: the Idea [if man + woman, then touch is sexual] Is Damaging

You can read the introduction here.

I once had a lot of physical touch with my dad, starting with when he would me hold me in his arms as a baby.

However, it was always clear to me that this was optional. I was confident that, if I said that I didn’t want it, he would respect that. I cannot remember any specific instance of refusing touch from him, but it must have happened, and he must of respected it.

As a little girl, I was totally unaware of sex, let alone that anyone might consider a man touching a little girl to be sexual, so that was not a concern for me. I am glad that didn’t hold my dad back either, at least in the privacy of our home.

I have a feeling that my mother is envious of how my dad managed to have the touch-ful relationship with me that she wanted for her self. My hypothesis is that my mother wanted me to be a certain way (in this case, provide lots of affectionate touch), whereas my dad just let me be, which is why I felt more comfortable with my dad, and ironically more willing to engage in physical touch with him.

Of course, I grew up, and became aware of sex, and the tendency in our culture to associate any kind of physical touch between females and males with sex. And of course, as I became biologically capable of reproduction, it probably became harder for my dad to disassociate physical touch with me from sexual connotations. And we gradually touched each other less and less.

But it didn’t stop completely. Even when I was in my last year of college, my dad would still brush my hair on a regular basis, just as he had when I was a little girl.

And then I went to a different continent.

And then I came back.

And he hasn’t brushed my hair since.

I haven’t asked him to brush my hair. I don’t know how he would react … but I feel it would be too awkward to ask. Maybe it’s as simple as him not wanting to brush my hair. But I can’t help but suspect that heterosexual norms are interfering. Why else would we stop something we both liked (though my dad might not like brushing my hair, I’m pretty sure he likes some forms of affectionate touch)?

I think this is an example of how heteronormativity and the assumption that anything which could be sexual is sexual (one could also question whether consensual sexual touch between a parent and adult child is wrong, but since I don’t want sexual touch, I won’t go there). If there was a wider acceptance of non-sexual physical touch, it might be easier to negotiate physical touch with my dad.

Since this is a private matter between my dad and myself, the only attitudes which matter are our own. But I have definitely internalized the sense that trying to pursue non-sexual touch with my dad is shameful because non-sexual touch is actually sexual touch when a woman does it with a man, and I think it’s a good bet that my dad has internalized something similar. And even if I address this attitude within myself, I don’t dare damage my relationship with my dad by trying to address his internalized attitudes. I don’t want to risk it.

And yet, this attitude itself has already damaged the relationship.

In the next post, I will talk about my experiences of craving touch (or not).


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Touch Is a Touchy Topic: Hugging is for Others, Not for Me

Since I established the theme for this month’s carnival of aces, I have already received two comments about people who have received unwanted non-sexual touch from people in the family: here and here.

I haven’t had a problem with this with my dad’s side of the family. My mom’s side of the family … well, they have a habit of kissing me on the lower cheek, which I’ve never liked. I can forgive relatives who I see less often since I don’t expect them to remember my preferences, and for all I know, maybe their kids loved getting kisses from them. I am much more irritated when my mom does it, because she does know better. One time my mom kissed me on the cheek and said “I know you don’t like kisses, but you are so cute I can’t help it”. If that were said in a sexual situation…

Anyway, returning to this quote from the previous post:

5. Hugging boosts self-esteem. From the time we’re born our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special. The associations of self-worth and tactile sensations from our early years are still imbedded in our nervous system as adults. The cuddles we received from our Mom and Dad while growing up remain imprinted at a cellular level, and hugs remind us at a somatic level of that. Hugs, therefore, connect us to our ability to self love.

First of all, hugging does not boost my self-esteem in the long term. I’ve learned that hugging is a code that somebody does not want to hurt you and is not your enemy, so when somebody sends me the message ‘I don’t want to hurt you’ and ‘I am not your enemy’, it can temporarily boost my self-esteem. But I think, in the long run, it makes it harder for me to practice self-love.

A few weeks ago, my mother declared that I was ‘radioactive’, and that she had to avoid me because I gave her too much stress. I then explained my side of the story, which was basically listing the things she had done to provoke me, and then she said ‘I’m radioactive too’ and that, ultimately, I hadn’t chosen her, and she hadn’t chosen me, and that we are in some ways incompatible. I think this gives you a hint of how difficult my relationship with my mom has often been.

Sometimes, when my mom perceives me as being too difficult, she totally withdraws a self-defence mechanism. This often happens at a time when I am already upset, and having and her totally abandoning me to ‘protect herself’ (i.e. claiming that I am the one hurting her without acknowledging that she or another party might be hurting me) rarely fails to make me feel even more upset.

One of the tactics I have discovered to deal with this situation is this: offer a hug.

As I mentioned in this post, I feel like my mom feels very disappointed that I am not the source of endless affection that I think she hoped for, and a big part of that is that I don’t offer hugs as much as she wants. When I do offer a hug, she wants to stay in it for a long time, because to her, it seems like water in a desert. Thus it has a become a tool I can use to manipulate her in this power-uneven relationship (and yes, though the power-unbalance is not as great as it was when I was a little girl, it is still in her favor).

So why haven’t I wanted to hug my mother more often? When I was much younger, she would pressure me a lot more to engage in hugging. Eventually, she gave up, but the impression had already made when I was very young that hugging was something my mother wanted to make me do even if I didn’t want it. Afterwards, I would only offer to hug my mother when I felt I was backed into a metaphorical corner, which felt like indirect coercion to me because I would feel (even if not necessarily true) that my mother was the one who backed me into the corner in the first place.

I sometimes initiate hugs with other people, but it is almost always from a place of insecurity. It wasn’t just in elementary school that I was taught that Hugging Is Good and that We Must Hug More – I was also ‘taught’ this in high school and college (though not middle school), and believed it to some extent. I knew hugging was a way to raise my esteem in other people’s perceptions, and to keep friends closer. Even more insidious, I had internalized the message that social expectations were repressing people’s natural inclinations to hug, and that hugging was a way to express our true selves.

This focus on appeasing other people and preventing/diffusing external hostility had a bad effect on my ability to love myself. If you depend on others to validate yourself, even when they do validate you, they can always withdraw, and thus you are never entirely secure.

The least huggy period in my life was the time I spent in Taiwan. It was also the most emotionally stable period in my life. I think this is because I had a greater level of autonomy that I ever had before. It was much easier to avoid situations which would make me feel bad, and I was much less likely to get into a situation where I felt compelled to hug.

I have thought about this much more conciously while writing this post that I ever have before. Tentatively, I want to tell myself that I am never required to hug anybody ever again, and that if I do hug again, it should be in the spirit of giving – a gift from myself to someone who actually likes hugging, with no strings attached. However, I don’t know if I can stick to that committment when I feel emotionally threatened again.

The next post will continue on the theme of family, because family is complicated and there is a lot to say.

Touch Is a Touchy Topic: Hugging Is … Good? Maybe I don’t want a hug?

You can read the introduction here.

*An evil fairy approaches*

Evil Fairy: I curse you that you will never hug or be hugged again for the rest of your life.
Sara: Really?
Evil Fairy: Yes, you will never hug again, MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
Sara: *shrugs*
Evil Fairy: But you will never hug again!
Sara: And?
Evil Fairy: You may be cocky now, but without hugs, you will turn into a lonely sad shadow of a person!
Sara: I’ve gone long periods of time without hugs while being pretty happy…
Evil Fairy: You’re deluding yourself!
Sara: Whatever, bye.

*Sara leaves*

I had a teacher in elementary school who told us, according to An Expert (who possibly was Virginia Satir), we all needed x number of hugs per day to be healthy. And then the teacher asked us how many of us were getting the minimum quota of hugs. None of us were. So the teacher told us that, to meet our quota, we had to hug ourselves many times per day.

I didn’t like this. We already had to do our homework and brush our teeth, now we had to hug many times every single day too?

We all had to hug each other during this lesson, and some bullies in the class make a point of how disgusting it would be to hug me. I definitely did not want to hug them either, but they turned it into an opportunity to bully me some more. The teacher was well aware that these students were in the habit of bullying me yet it didn’t occur to her that they would exploit this mandatory hug session.

While trying to find out who was behind this assignment of daily hugs, I came across the article “10 Reasons Why We Need at Least 8 Hugs a Day”. Here are my reactions:

1. The nurturing touch of a hug builds trust and a sense of safety. This helps with open and honest communication.

Sometimes I’ve hugged people because I didn’t trust them and didn’t feel safe, and I felt that I would be more threatened if I didn’t hug them. Strangely, I didn’t start trusting them or feeling safe after the hugs. Futhermore, it sure did not feel like open and honest communication to me. If I were being open and honest, I probably would not have included the hug.

2. Hugs can instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger.

Sex can also boost oxytocin levels. If this is a reason why people should hug, it’s also a reason why people should have sex. And as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I am against compulsory sexuality.

3. Holding a hug for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.

I think it’s obvious by now that I don’t associate hugging with happiness.

4. Hugs strengthen the immune system. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the Solar Plexus Chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, which keep you healthy and disease free.

I don’t know about the science behind this, but I have observed pleasant effects from gentle pressure on the sternum. Hugging is not necessary for this effect.

5. Hugging boosts self-esteem. From the time we’re born our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special. The associations of self-worth and tactile sensations from our early years are still imbedded in our nervous system as adults. The cuddles we received from our Mom and Dad while growing up remain imprinted at a cellular level, and hugs remind us at a somatic level of that. Hugs, therefore, connect us to our ability to self love.

Here we get to the heart of the matter! A lot of my feelings about touching people comes from childhood experiences with my parents, and self-love is an important part of this as well. This is going to be the topic of my next post!

I don’t think I need to continue responding to this article. I think you all get the idea.


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Touch Is a Touchy Topic: Introduction

I’m hosting the December 2014 Carnival of Aces; the theme is ‘Touch, Sensuality, and Non-Sexual Physical Intimacy’ – learn more here. This is my submission.

I’ve only hung out in corners of the asexual community where it is okay to not be having sex, and not having romance is mostly okay in these corners as well. However, there are some people who are very vocal about how much they love cuddling and touch and all that, and though I know there are at least a few people who actually don’t like touching other people very much, they tend to be so discreet about their non-enthusiasm that I had to pay attention to notice them.

I think this emphasis on sensual activity partially comes from a desire to validate our intimate relationships. If sex is not happening, how can we *prove* that these are important relationships? CUDDLING, of course!

It’s not just the asexual community which heavily emphasizes hugging, cuddling, and other forms of non-sexual sensual interaction – in fact, I have felt this emphasis far stronger in the schools I have attended (except middle school) and in my family than I ever have in ace spaces.

The result of having a set of people being very vocal about how much they are into touching people, with much less discussion of *not* wanting that kind of activity, has given me the impression that ace/aro-spectrum people are very cuddly, even though I know that is sometimes not true. And I have found very little discussion of bad experiences with touch or not wanting touch.

Speaking of bad experiences, I recently travelled in South Korea, and many Koreans who I didn’t know touched me without warning, let alone with my permission. All of this felt non-sexual to me. But being non-sexual did not make this touch okay. I did not have these kinds of experiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Japan, so I conclude that Korean culture has something to do with this. All of the Koreans who touched me without permission were middle-aged and older, so this might be a generational thing. None of them seemed to understand why I objected to what I did, and sometimes they would touch me again even after I had expressed my displeasure.

It got to the point that I became very guarded around Koreans over the age of 35.

I’m fine with the vocal people being vocal – if they love hugging, cuddling, caressing, and so forth, why not talk about it? I don’t want them to be less vocal. I do want to open a discussion about non-sexual touch which is not entirely good, so that people who have negative feelings about touch know they are not alone. In particular, I want to affirm that physical intimacy is no more required than sexual or romantic intimacy.

An evil fairy will make a guest appearance in the next post.


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