Anatomy of a Tickle

by Bill Kray

Can torture be pleasurable?

Did you know that unless you're schizophrenic, you cannot tickle yourself? Some people love being tickled. Others hate it. And some people love to be tortured by it. Here are some persons' comments about tickling.

“I hate being tickled, it makes me so angry that I cry, I also can't stand my feet being touched.” —Concerned

“It depends who's tickling me. Anywhere appropriate, haha.” —Liveitup

“Being tickled doesn't make me laugh, never has done....I'd genuinely like to know what that means...” —Tony

What is the physiological process of a tickle? Both tickling and laughing activate a part of the brain called the Rolandic Operculum that controls facial movements and vocal and emotional reactions. However, tickling laughter and plain funny laughter were distinguished when scientists realized that tickling also stimulates the the hypothalmus, which controls body temperature, hunger, tiredness, and sexual behavior.

Momentary tickling can be pleasurable. Extended tickling can cause one to become irritated and recoil from further attempts. One who doesn't have requests to stop honored may develop a strong aversion to the practice in the future. Why? 'When you tickle someone, you actually stimulate the unmyelinated nerve fibers that cause pain,' said Dr. Alan Hirsch, founder of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. So "painfully funny" is an appropriate description of both bad jokes and vigorous tickling.

Tickling Exposes Vulnerability

Two of the most ticklish spots on the body are the soles of the feet and the underarms. Soles are accustomed to diffused pressure from the rest of the body when standing or walking. The soles of the feet also have a high concentration of highly sensitive nerve receptors called Meissner's corpuscles, located close to the skin's surface. These nerve endings make the feet extra ticklish. You probably won't get much of a response if you try to tickle the sole of someone's foot by pressing the open palm of your hand against it but a light touch with motion generally does the trick.

Based on the foregoing, some people are more inclined to associate tickling with pain while others receive sexual stimuli. The jury is still out on why some people are pleasured by sucking toes, though various foot fetishes are common. Taking it a step further, some people engage in consensual tickle torture and tickle bondage. Arms and/or feet are generally restrained while exposing the most vulnerable areas of the body.

 Tickle Torture

Tickle Torture

Common colloquial expressions that relate to tickling are: "You tickle me," "Ticked pink" and "Tickled to death." The pink idiom originated from the ruddy appearance of light skinned people when laughing hard. Can you literally be tickled to death? Maybe. According to researcher Joost Meerloo, who wrote a monograph on laughter some years ago, it's possible to die laughing.

If you enjoy being tickled (with or without physical contact), bop on over to MY funny photobooth on Pinterest for a guaranteed laugh.

Bill Kray

Los Angeles, United States

Vegetarian health advocate, graphic designer, illustrator, programmer and prolific blog writer.

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