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I’ve posted blogs in the past that mentioned the term skin hunger, the physical and psychological need for meaningful human touch, and I received an inquiry asking for more information about this phenomenon. So, here you are. Top 5 things you should know about skin hunger.
1. It’s an actual *NEED*
Like the name suggests, skin hunger isn’t a desire, it’s a primal necessity that like food, water, and sleep, humans will hunger, long, and ache for when they need it.
The outcomes of unmet skin hunger have been explored in a number of well-documented (but ethically questionable) research studies. Babies in hospitals, orphanages, and other institutional settings that receive adequate bio care (feeding, bathing, and changing) but are left in cribs for 20+ hours a day and not touched or held, experience lasting neurological changes including shrinking of the volume of gray matter in the brain. Adults deliberately exposed to the common cold virus in a lab are less able to fight off the virus and more likely to experience severe symptoms if they didn’t get many hugs in the two weeks prior to the study.
2. It can be partially satiated through sex, but doesn’t have to be
The intimacy of sexual activity is a method to satisfy skin hunger, but it’s only one method. Skin hunger isn’t about sex and there are dozens of ways to nurture your need and provide it for others that isn’t inherently sexual or romantic. Examples include:
- Hand shakes
- high fives
- pats/rubs on the back
- shoulder squeezes
- nose boops
- piggy back rides
- holding hands
- linking arms
- playing footsies
- kisses (on the head, hand, cheek, or lips)
- using a friend’s shoulder as a pillow while watching TV or riding the bus
- stroking their hair
- horseplay (pillow fights, play wrestling, etc.)
- sitting on laps are all examples.
3. Tons of people aren’t getting their skin hunger needs met for a host of different reasons
Lots of us are skin starved, but some populations that may experience touch deprivation most include:
- Tweens and teens: Have you ever noticed that people in this age group are constantly horsing around, shoving, and playfully hitting each other in the arm? In western social norms, 11-17 years old are often considered too old for kissing and snuggling their parents, and too young to be given privacy for kissing and snuggling a boyfriend or girlfriend. My theory is they turn to tackling each other to meet skin hunger needs.
- Elderly: Social isolation and extreme loneliness that can occur in later life as spouses, friends, and family die off has had a well documented affect on touch deprivation and overall health outcomes.
- Institutionalized: Whether it’s in a prison or a hospital, there’s been some research on the torture-like effects of going days, months, years, or even decades without human touch as a matter of institutional policy.
- Men: Those pesky social norms that make cuddling, hugging, and hand-holding “feminine” behaviors and “feminine” behaviors undesirable has left lots of men folk in severe touch isolation.
- All of us: Between ever increasing work commutes keeping people alone and away from their loved ones for more hours of the day, social media that does a phenomenal job of connecting us emotionally but can disconnect us physically, this irksome but prevalent cultural myth that conflates touch with sex, concerns about touch and sexual harassment, and an epidemic of deep chronic loneliness, it’s safe to say many/most/all of us might be a bit skin hungry.
4. Skin hunger is related to violence
Observational research has found a number of correlations between touch and aggression. Researchers observed people sitting with their friends or family members in cafes and restaurants in different nations and noticed how many times they touched each other (leaning against them, rubbing their back while talking, putting an arm around their shoulder, etc). Participants in cultures that experience less violence were observed to touch each other much more than cultures with high rates of violence. Among the highest was France with 110 touches in 30 minutes. In the US it was 2 touches in 30 minutes.
The interactions among low-touch cultures were also more aggressive and violent among the peer group, not just within the country at large. For example, a 30 minute observation showed more pushing, hitting, and aggressive verbal communication among the American participants with low rates of meaningful touch.
5. There have been conscious attempts made recently to meet human touch needs
Skin hunger is a relatively new concept, and it’s starting to be seen a public health issue crucial to our well being . As such, active efforts to bridge the touch gap have been started, and include the free hugs campaign, cuddle parties, professional cuddling businesses, senior care facilities offering training for their staff on touch as part of elder care, and hospital volunteer programs to cuddle sick newborns.
Check back next week for another Top 5 Friday!
Dr. Jill McDevitt is a nationally recognized, San Diego based sexuality educator, speaker, writer, and the resident sexologist at Swiss Navy. She has a BA in Sexuality, Marriage, and Family, MEd in Human Sexuality Education, and PhD in Human Sexuality, which means she is the only known person in the world with all three degrees in sex. It also means she has the coolest job ever!
exactly 1 minute ago i had absolutely no idea what the plants sesame seeds and peanuts came from look like and i am shocked and surprised
“— Mike Judge, the Bard of Suck - The New York Times
In the “Idiocracy” universe, the most popular movie in America, and the winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, consists entirely of a man’s buttocks, passing gas intermittently for 90 minutes. Judge had made a 35-millimeter print of this movie-within-a-movie — just a few minutes of it — for a scene that takes place in a theater, and he wound up recruiting 250 of the “juvenile delinquents” to fill the seats. Judge figured he’d have to do a bit of directing to get the proper response from these extras — that context-free flatulence wouldn’t actually be that funny — but the kids surprised him. “They just start laughing,” he told me. “And they just keep laughing.”
He turned to his director of photography and wondered aloud why they were even bothering with “Idiocracy.” Couldn’t they just release this?”
One of these playgrounds is called “The Land”.
The Land is an “adventure playground,” although that term is maybe a little too reminiscent of theme parks to capture the vibe. In the U.K., such playgrounds arose and became popular in the 1940s, as a result of the efforts of Lady Marjory Allen of Hurtwood, a landscape architect and children’s advocate. Allen was disappointed by what she described in a documentary as “asphalt square” playgrounds with “a few pieces of mechanical equipment.” She wanted to design playgrounds with loose parts that kids could move around and manipulate, to create their own makeshift structures. But more important, she wanted to encourage a “free and permissive atmosphere” with as little adult supervision as possible. The idea was that kids should face what to them seem like “really dangerous risks” and then conquer them alone. That, she said, is what builds self-confidence and courage.
A documentary called The Land premiered at the 2015 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival: [x]
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