Where are men and women OK with being touched? Perhaps not surprisingly, it has everything to do with who is doing the touching, report researchers at Oxford University this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A handy body map—1,368 men and women were asked to color in areas of the body where touching from a particular type of person was OK, and the map resulted from their answers—accompanying their study paints a pretty clear picture: For instance, most men and women are perfectly fine being touched anywhere by romantic partners, and almost every body part is off limits when it comes to strangers, while women are more comfortable being touched by others in general than men. But how do we feel for all those people who fall in the categories in between?
Subtleties begin to bubble up when factoring in other relationships, from parents and siblings to cousins and friends, and "it gets weirder the longer you stare at it," observes AskMen.com. Women are far more comfortable being touched on their shoulders, arms, backs, and near their chests than men, which may not be too surprising, but there's visible discomfort with both men and women being touched below the knee by strangers, acquaintances, and less immediate relatives—a finding that is across the board for men but far more pronounced when women are being touched by uncles and male cousins than aunts and female cousins. The researchers also demarcated "taboo zones," and while men say their genital areas are off limits to their parents and siblings, that same zone isn't out of bounds for female acquaintances—or even female strangers. (See what happened to this 6-year-old who touched his teacher's thigh.)