There is a story (based on real research that was done) about a researcher who inquired how many times people touch each other occasionally on the street. He traveled around the world and observed and counted. In china it was about 100, Japan 50, USA 80, Italy 120, Israel 90 and then he reached the UK and he is still waiting. This joke reflects humorously the differences that we have between different cultures in communicating through touch.
Basically all mammals need touch. Humans included. In his book "touching: the human significance of the skin" Ashley Montague says that most mammals need the stimulation around the secretory orifices by the licking of the mother. Without this touch, without the right stimulation the newly born will not be able to secrete the urine and feces and would die of self poisoning. Later on many animals stimulate each other as part of their expression of closeness. There is much research that was done on touch. One of the famous ones was done with baby chimps. In the cage where it was held they had two "mothers". One was made with barbwire and had the milk bottles for feeding and the other "mother" was made of fur with no food. The baby chimp would stay on the fur mother. When it was hungry it went to the metal "mother" ate and returned to the fur mother. Animals and humans included have abnormal behavior when there is a hunger for touch. In the geriatric research the term "touch hunger" was coined. Observing elderly people who live by themselves show a decrease in function and sometimes less purpose in life. One of the recommendations is to keep a pet. Other than taking care of a pet there is an emotional attachment that an important part of it is the physical touch between the animal and the owner.
Another expression of the need to touch can be an increase in sexual need. Many people interpret the need for touch as a sexual need. These kinds of behavior are considered as perverted and are not accepted socially (sexual abuse, rapist etc.). An example of that is a client who reported that since he started receiving massage he reduced the times he had cheated on his wife. This is just one example of many to the positive results massage has (massage is a form of focused touch). We can see a decrease in children violence when touch in the form of massage was introduced. To illustrate this we can look at Professor Tiffani Field who conducted a comparative research of American verses French touch conduct. People were observed sitting in café how many times they would touch in the conversation during 30 minutes. In France they had an average of 110 mutual touches. In the USA 2 mutual touchs. On the other hand in the USA there was much more self touch. In observations in kindergarten positive and negative touch was counted. Positive touch: In France 66% vs. USA 32%.
Negative touch: France 1% vs. USA 29%.
Other observations that are not quantative but quality in nature are: In France more intimacy and more emotion. In the USA more self stimuli like self caressing. In France there is a lot of touch and less aggression between people. In the USA less touch and more aggression. According to statistics the USA has the largest number of suicide and murders of the industrial countries.
There are two types of sensations. A. the tactile sensation. This is the sensation of the skin. In the skin there are several types of sensors: touch – the most useful function of sensing different textures, viscosity, fluidity, hardness, sponginess and more. Proximity - we can feel when we get close to an object with the hair we have before we touch it physically. Heat – temperature of cooler or hotter objects. Pressure – the amount of pressure we put on an object or that is being put on us.
B. the propriocetion sensation – the deep sensation of the body. Gives us information of where are our limbs, how much tension in the muscles, to know if a muscle is contracted or relaxed and where each part of the body is without seeing that body part. For example: we can touch the tip of the nose with our eyes closed. Without this sensation we cannot move unless we use our eyes to guide our movements.
In his book "the man who mistook his wife for a hat" Dr. Oliver Sacks writes about a woman who lost her proprioception. He was surprised to see her moving one day after not moving for quite a while. Apparently this woman taught herself to move by looking at the limb she wanted to move. The movement was unrefined and gross and that shows us how important this sensation is in day to day activities.

We see this sensation in action when we come to pick a light package and think it is heavy. We start and the movement is fast for a split second because we anticipate a major resistance and use much force. Than the brain receives the information and regulates the muscle action and slows it down to the right speed. All this is done in a few milliseconds.
Each person needs these two sensations (tactile and proprioception) satisfied. This is where massage helps us. Massage is touch with specific intention. It is based on known techniques. The massage can be technical without any attentiveness for the receiver. On the other hand it can be done with attentiveness and then it is "focused touch", a touch that uses our hands to listen to the body of the receiver of the massage and to the information it transmits. We can feel for the softness or hardness of the skin or the muscles and relate them to the emotional state of the person. For instance when a person is angry his skin will be harder. We can also feel for tension and pain and bring it to the awareness of the receiver. Listening to the body of the receiver adds intimacy to the session and makes the experience much more than just touch. It becomes an encounter that has empathy, where the receiver experiences a specific attention of the person's needs. Attentive touch is an art that the practitioner can reach by knowing the basic techniques well. From this knowledge can come a deeper state of listening to the physical, emotional, energetic spiritual parts of the person and his needs.
The touch encounter is an opportunity to touch the other person attentively. In the family it can enhance the closeness between the family members, lessens friction and tension and create a space for more expressions of love. In the therapeutic session the massage can bring the level of the encounter from technical to personal attention and a better possibility to meet the client's needs (touch needs, not sexual needs). I have received feedback from clients telling me that their experience is they feel they are being listened to and to what is going on in their body and how it allows them to open up in the session.
Touch can be done correctly ("right touch") or incorrectly ("wrong touch"). "Right touch" is expanding, relaxing and comfortable. Touch that is right for the receiver as well as the giver. "Wrong touch" is contracting. Here we find it too painful, (pain and tickling together), and any touch that is contracting and is not appropriate to the receiver as well as for the giver. Different people will like their tactile and proprioception touch differently and individually. Stroking, caressing, deep touch are preferred in a different way by different people. And even the same person might prefer their touch differently at different times due to health, mood, energetic state and more.
One more point to remember is that we usually touch in the way we want to receive touch. Understanding the different needs of the other person can help us understand that the other person does not necessarily want the kind of touch that we like and that it is important to adjust the touch to the way the other person needs. One example is a child who is beating his friends and when they hit him back he is happy and content. He needs the strong sensation and he is giving his friends the same kind of sensation. Another example is from a workshop I gave to parents and children. One of the mothers told the group that her husband likes biting her (with love) and he does not understand why she reacts the way she does and that she does not like it. I suggested she bite him back. She was appalled by the idea and it was hard for her to understand that he needed firmer touch than she does.
Here are a few suggestions for the different types of touch: a. "hello" – (pic. on page 2) touching without moving. Let the palms lay flat on the area you are touching like on the foot, the palm, the back or any other part you wish to touch. Remain in every place for several seconds and move on or stay in one place for several minutes and then move on. If you practice this technique alone pay attention to be symmetrical on both sides of the body.
B. gliding (effleurage) – (pic. on page 3) gliding on the surface of the body with oil or lotion (lotion with high content of oil so it does not absorb too quickly). In Swedish massage this technique is preformed with pressure towards the heart and light touch going away from the heart. This is done to increase the venues return. It is important to keep the movement rhythmic and move at a pace that is pleasurable to the receiver. A fast gliding is more invigorating and a slow one is more relaxing and in certain connotation might be erotic. This is a tactile technique.
c. Deep touch – (pic on page 4) A deep gliding with pressure done with heal of the hand, soft fist (where the fingers are not closed hard). This technique gives a proprioceptive sensation to the muscles, open tight spots and reduce pain. Deep touch is done along the limbs and the torso and should not be done directly on bones or the abdomen. It is important to perform this technique with attention and see (and you can ask too) if the pressure is adequate and comfortable. Deep touch can hurt but it is important that it will not be too painful (contracting) to the receiver.

Warning: in general massage is pleasurable and has many health benefits for the receiver as well as the giver. Nevertheless there are situations and conditions that are contraindicated. If you have any doubts consult a physician or a practitioner who know the restrictions for massage.

To sum things up, touch in general and massage in particular contribute to the well being of humans. They add to the physical, mental, emotional, energetic health and are part of the "food" a man should get. We want to comply with the body's needs and give tactile and proprioceptive stimuli through stroking and deep touch. We want the touch to be of the right kind and be attentive. In this way we will get more listening, intimacy, reduction of violence and much more enjoyment of one another.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Gilad Schafman, Msc.D., is an evaluator and practitioner of the NDFA and taught with the senior developmental psychologist Rami Katz in the course for practitioners of NDFA. He has a doctoral degree in Metaphysics, practices and teaches massage therapy, Structural Integration, yoga and more. Dr. Schafman was also head of the massage programs in the "Medica" and "Tsabar" colleges for complementary medicine. He teaches massage and movement for professionals and non-professionals using a holistic approach. And he teaches non violent communication for individuals and groups.