Why giving and receiving massages makes us feel so good.
All the songs about touch, from Mariah Carey to Prince, have a good point: skin-on-skin contact is a human need, and a vital part of any healthy romantic relationship. But certain kinds of touch have more meaning than others—a hug more impactful than a handshake, a hand-hold more thoughtful than a high-five. And when it comes to intimacy, a good rub-down—a massage—has a lot of benefits, whether you’re one giving it or the one receiving.
Giving a massage is as simple as setting the mood (lighting on some candles, maybe even turning on some James Blake) and communicating with your partner what kind of pressure they want and where. It can lead to sex or not; a massage in itself is an intimate act, after all. Either way, it will help reduce stress, improve physical and emotional wellbeing, and even make your relationship even stronger—here’s why.
There’s a reason why, when you’re overwhelmed by deadlines or dealing with a particularly stressful situation, you feel like all you really want is for someone to dig their hands into the tensest portions of your back. Massage is a powerful tool for fighting stress, with a demonstrated ability to decrease cortisol (aka, the stress hormone) and increase parasympathetic nervous system activity (which basically results in the opposite of an anti-fight-or-flight reaction). Stress can reduce libido, after all, so a treatment that combats the physical effects of stress is bound to make getting it on a little easier.
Plus, massages cause the release of oxytocin, according to a 2012 study. This hormone is known for its part in helping people form bonds with one another—the more oxytocin, the more close you’ll feel (it also happens to be one of the hormones that are released during orgasm). In this way, a good rub-down can lead not just to physical intimacy, but better emotional intimacy, too. It’s a hands-on approach for better communication.
Research has shown that massage therapy can improve range of motion and flexibility, which also means an increased range of motion between the sheets. If you’ve been considering switching up your position, a good massage makes for the perfect foreplay—consider it your warm-up before you get physical.
It’s not just the recipient of a massage that reaps all the benefits. One 2017 British study showed that when couples completed a three-week massage course, their physical emotional wellbeing, as well as their relationship satisfaction improved—and this was equally true for those both giving and receiving. This finding led researchers to recommend massage as a regular part of a couple’s routine; getting rubbed the right way is a very good thing.