Touch Continuum

NOTE additional resource: SIECUS Report: Touch Continuum Article (pages 24 to 27)

The Touch Continuum is a tool,  developed by Cordelia Anderson in 1977 as part of a child sexual abuse prevention project, to help children/youth/adults identify what type of touch fits into each category.   The concept was not meant as a stand alone tool, but rather to be part of broader education and skill development.  Skills are needed to help identify and discuss each type of touch while also understanding what to do when it changes from one type of touch to another.  The initial concept was focused on helping children learn the difference between different kinds of touch and that they  had a right to say "no" to touches they didn't want.  However, a key part of the message was also that no one has a right to pressure, trick or force anyone else into touch.  As it was adapted it was often over simplified into "good touch/bad touch."    

Touch for Life 

When this tool was developed, touch was often equated with sex, so many were concerned about all touch being sexual, or in someway leading to sex and therefore were hesitant about touch. Part of the purpose of this tool was to clarify that just as all touch was not equated with sex, not all touch was equated to sexual abuse.  The key was to learn the importance of caring, helpful touch and be able to discern when it changed or when it was harmful or misused.

· Touch is our first sense in infancy all of our information initially comes through the skin.

 Studies indicate that girls still learn to touch differently than boys

· Foundling Homes - 1 in 3 infants died till “touch” was added.

· Harlow’s monkey - deprived of touch in infancy, then when touched, reacted violently

· Physical affection given to children during formative years tends to inhibit later violence. (Prescott)

Touch  becomes confusing when:

· the receiver is not use to the touch

· the receiver is not sure about the intent of the giver

· there are double messages about the touch

· all touch gets equated with sex or with abuse

· the receiver learned that all touch is bad

· the touch feels good, but there is something ‘secret’ or not safe about it

· the touch changes from something that was okay, to something that is unclear or not okay

The idea is not to over or under-react when touch is confusing, but to pay attention to the uncertainty.  And to learn it's okay to set boundaries/limits  when one is mixed up or uncertain. It is also key  to respect others boundaries/limits.  Possible things to say include:  “I’m not sure about this,” “Something about this is confusing for me;”  "I was okay with this before, but now am not sure."  

The person doing the touch should respect the mixed up or confused feelings  and not try to shame,  manipulate or coerce into continuing. 

Touch becomes harmful or abusive when:

  • The touch is forced, tricked or manipulated
  • One person has power or control (position of authority) over the other, and is meeting their own needs at the expense of the other person
  • It is not mutual, consensual
  • One person is an adult and the other is a minor and the touch is sexual

Contact: Cordelia Anderson
Sensibilities Prevention Services
3118 West Lake Street # 431
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55416

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