In 1945, the Austrian physician René Spitz investigated an orphanage that took extra care to make sure its infants were not infected with disease. The children received first-class nutrition and medical care, but they were barely touched, to minimize their contact with germs. The approach was a catastrophe. Thirty-seven percent of the babies died before reaching age 2.
It turns out that empathetic physical contact is essential for life. Intimate touch engages the emotions and wires the fibers of the brain together.
The power of this kind of loving touch is long lasting. The famous Grant Study investigated a set of men who had gone to Harvard in the 1940s. The men who grew up in loving homes earned 50 percent more over the course of their careers than those from loveless ones. They suffered from far less chronic illness and much lower rates of dementia in old age. A loving home was the best predictor of life outcomes.
If the power of loving touch is astounding, the power of invasive touch is horrific. Christie Kim of N.Y.U. surveyed the research literature on victims of child sexual abuse. The victims experience higher levels of anxiety throughout their lifetimes. They report higher levels of depression across the decades and higher levels of self-blame. They are more than twice as likely to experience sexual victimization again.