When relating to persons other than our spouses or romantic partners how
much touching is appropriate? Should we touch at all? Are there areas of
the body we should not touch? The answer to these questions may vary from
culture to culture. However, it seems to be clear across cultures that
unsolicited touching by strangers or colleagues is not acceptable.
women and men have not been taught that there should be boundaries for
touching. Hence, they allow any friend or sometime new acquaintances, to
hold on to them, give them lingering hugs, or put their arms around their
waists. They are not aware that they are actually becoming a Public Leaning
Post (p.l.p). They are becoming too familiar and open, making
themselves vulnerable to being treated with disrespect and being sexual
It is inappropriate for a supervisor to
lean over his female secretary, placing his hands on her shoulder, while
he reviews her work. It is equally inappropriate for supervisors
to give lingering hugs on handshakes. Gone is the respect of a descent,
short handshake. I encourage all readers to create a
healthy distance between you and your pairs. Create an “intimate space”
around you where only certain individuals, by your permission, can get in.
That’s no kissing, lingering hugs, long handshakes, embraces, etc.
1966, anthropologist Edward T. Hall introduced the term proxemics to
describe set measurable distances between people as they interact. He noted
that there are four distances or spaces when we interact to people.
is the “Intimate distance” for embracing, touching or whispering.
Close phase - less than 6 inches (15 cm)
Far phase - 6 to 18
inches (15 - 45 cm).
There is the “Personal distance” for
interactions among good friends. Close phase - 1.5 to 2.5 feet (45 -
75 cm) Far phase - 2.5 to 4 feet (75 - 120 cm).
Then third, there is
the “Social distance” for interactions among acquaintances. Close
phase - 4 to 7 feet (1.2 - 2.1 m). Far phase - 7 to 12 feet (2.1
- 3.6 m).
The final distance is Public distance used for public
speaking. Close phase - 12 to 25 feet (3.6 - 7.5 m).
- 25 feet (7.5 m) or more. (Wikedpeida). Why would you allow someone in your
“intimae space” when that person should not proceed beyond your “social
NO HIPS PLEASE
Whom should you let touch your hips? The hips are very intimate parts of
the body. Touching the hips give a clear message that you want something
more. If a woman allows that to happen she has given permission to someone
to be in her “intimate space” who should perhaps not be allowed closer than
her “personal space” (3 feet away), or “social space” (4-7 feet away).
We get into trouble when are too free with touching. It could even be the
way the pastor shakes the parishioners’ hands at the door, or what kinds of
kiss he give to the ladies in the church lobby.
Boundaries for touching is about
Respecting the individual we are with, their wishes, etc.
When someone cannot keep their hand to themselves people will
not feel emotional safe around them
Avoid getting too close with non-romantic partners. Crossing
boundaries can be dangerous.
do not want to be cold and distant people. We do not want to have an
“avoidance society” of people who are afraid to become “intimate.”
However, we can learn to respect each other’s intimate space and avoid
getting “too close” physically, yet remaining wonderful friends. I have
wonderful friends who I respect and love dearly. But I will not invite them
into my bathroom with me.
My dear wife Annick is a native of France. French
people are known as the most romantic people in the world. But it seems as
though they respect “intimate space” better that most of us. They normally
greet friends and relative with a kiss, four kisses to be exact. But these
kisses are not on the lips, they are on the cheeks. Only intimate partners
(spouses, lovers) kiss on the checks. However, I have noticed in our country
and in the United States of America that even social friends, who should not
be closer than two feet, kiss on their lips. This makes me feel
uncomfortable when I see this.
Let’s create healthy boundaries and keep our
hands from performing inappropriate touching.
Barrington Brennen is a marriage and family therapist. Send your
questions or comments to P.O. Box CB-11045, or email to
or call 1-242-327-1790 or visit the website