What is skin hunger?

Sounds a little ‘Silence of the Lambs’ at first, but skin hunger is not as sinister as it sounds - in all likelihood, you have probably experienced it yourself at points in your life. So what is skin hunger, what causes it, and what can help alleviate symptoms? 

What is skin hunger? 

Also known as ‘touch starvation’, skin hunger is a condition caused by a reduction or complete absence of physical touch, and the craving for human contact (no, not flesh). Human touch is not considered a want, but a biological and neurological need, and deprivation of it can have a negative impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing. 

Who can skin hunger affect? 

While nobody is immune to feeling starved of human touch, people in isolating environments such as hospitals, solitary confinement or living alone are the most likely to experience it. Even living respectfully among other people, but not having a particularly tactile or intimate relationship with them can bring up some of the feelings of skin hunger. 

Why do we have adverse reactions to skin hunger? 

So much of what we do as human beings revolves around touch. From the literal first seconds of our lives, doctors suggest skin-on-skin contact between a parent and newborn to develop and nurture healthy development. From there (pandemic excluded), it’s holding hands while crossing the road, cuddles, kisses and high-fives from friends and family. Even handshakes in our more adult life are small moments of human-to-human touch which contribute to our sense of community and safety. Every positive act of touch we engage in releases oxytocin, which is a ‘feel good’ chemical. Adversely, not having enough touch can release cortisol, the stress hormone, which affects our bodies negatively. 

Human touch actually plays a part in so much of our functioning. Mood, sleep regulation, digestion, immune system functioning and our ability to fight infection can all be affected by how much or little skin contact we receive, as well as blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and breathing rate. 

How do I fight the effects of skin hunger?

Naturally, a bit of skin-on-skin contact, platonically or otherwise can be an effective remedy to being touch depleted, however for many people and for many reasons (see again, pandemic) this is not a possibility. 

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to fight the effects of skin hunger without physical interaction with another human. Exercise, chatting to a loved one via video, interacting with pets, gardening, singing and dancing are all ways to feel connected to ourselves and others, and release those important ‘feel good’ chemicals in our bodies. Masturbation or even literally giving yourself a hug and a kiss can also be a great method of self-soothing. 

It’s important to remember to reach out to those around you, if only digitally. Many people feel like withdrawing from their loved ones when they are feeling low, when in fact our bodies crave the exact opposite. There are also a number of internet forums and communities where you can chat to like minded people about your experiences, anonymously if you wish. The reddit communities, r/lonely or r/touchstarved could be a few places to start if you’re unable to connect with friends or family. 

Wherever you’re at, remember that you’re not alone. You will be hugged, kissed, held and/or high-fived again. It’s just a matter of time.

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