The human body is meant to touch and to be touched. Skin hunger refers to the desire for consensual, physical touch, and this is also known as touch starvation.
Touch releases oxytocin while calming the nervous system. It lowers blood pressure and decreases perceptions of pain. It regulates our digestion, sleep and even boosts our immune system. It's connecting and it's deeply soothing, and it's as simple as a casual stroke, a massage or a cuddle with a pet. Though with the pandemic when proximity poses a health risk, we are more touch starved than ever. That on top of the way our culture is currently set up: everyone owns their own transport, anything you want delivered to your door, Zooms and FaceTimes, remote work, online classes, at-home streaming services, the rise of self-service machines. You can probably go a few days without physically seeing or talking to anyone and you wouldn't even notice. So not only do we touch less, we connect less.
Many of us don’t realise how wonderful touch is until we no longer have it. It most often becomes apparent after big changes like a break-up, the death of a loved one or moving into your own home alone. Though some people can and do go most of their life experiencing few and infrequent forms of touch. I see it particularly with men that I've worked with who often only experience the two ends of the spectrum: a pat on the back or a quick hug hello with their mates, and sex with a partner. There's little in-between, and it leaves them without the vocabulary and experience to ask for what they'd really like because they don't know what else is out there. So touch and intimacy become synonymous with sex and we don't realise everything else that can exist. Research also shows skin hunger being connected to emotional disturbances like physical aggression, depression, stress, lower self-esteem, insecurity, illness, lower relationship satisfaction and sleeping issues.
Even between ourselves, we see the body functionally, medically or performatively. We see it as a thing to fix or as an inconvenience because it gets tired, sick or sore. We see it negatively because it doesn't look the way we'd like. We see it in terms of what it can and can't do for us, and we touch it only as a means to an end like getting dressed in the morning, our hygiene routines and medical procedures. Touch is not something we can only get from others, but something we can and should give to ourselves.
So this is your reminder and homework: hug a friend, get a massage, give a massage, masturbate, hold your pet, have sex, mindfully moisturise your body, cuddle, kiss more, lick and suck all over, wrap yourself up in a blanket, hug a cushion, get your nails done, shake hands, get a weighted blanket, hug your parents, play with pleasurable textures, reach out to a friend, slow dance, casually stroke, give a pat on the back, lie in the sun and feel the grass underneath you, hug yourself, sit closer on the couch, take a hot bath, hold hands. Touch and be touched.