body language: gender differences in touching

September 2, 2010

In the US, men touch someone else eight times a day, women touch others twelve times (Kotulak, 1985). Women are generally more comfortable with touch.

Also, a woman’s skin is thinner (that’s why we get wrinkles sooner) and has more closely spaced sensory receptors, so it’s more sensitive to touch. In nineteen of twenty tested body parts, women are more touch-sensitive than men. The only body part which apparently is more sensitive in men is…?

Want to take a guess?

It’s the nose.

In Northern America, people touch persons of the opposite sex more often than persons of the same sex. Women touch other women much more often than men touch other men (Hall & Veccia, 1990). Some research suggests that men score higher on homophobia scales and are less comfortable touching men because they fear being thought of as gay.

For women, whether they find another person’s touch pleasant is determined by how well they know the other person. For men, it’s determined by the other person’s gender.

The next post will look at cultural differences.



  1. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing. Hm…

    • Thanks for commenting.

      Keep in mind that those are general tendencies. It’s certainly not true for every man and every woman.

      I have a male colleague who is very comfortable with touching. He’s constantly touching people without even being aware of it. He got a sexual harrassment complaint from a female colleague whose level of comfort with casual touches to the arm or shoulder was very different than his.

      • Poor guy! How sad! I guess it behooves us to be cautious. In fact, I think people are mostly cautious to the point of withholding any touching in the workplace, which makes for an artificial environment sometimes.

  2. Sometimes, it’s better to be overly cautious when it comes to touching in the workplace.

    Still, it depends on your relationship with your colleagues.

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