Friday, 21 October 2016

Skin Hunger

Though the term Skin Hunger may illicit images of horror movies, it is a real and growing psychological and physiological phenomenon - the yearning to be touched.  Skin hunger is a relatively new term that has been applied to the emotional response engendered by the loss of touch in our society as we distance ourselves through lifestyle and technology.

The alarming fact is that of the five basic senses, touch is the only one deemed essential to human life.

The importance of touch has been known for decades;
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, Doctors in eastern European orphanages noticed that infants who were not held or touched regularly failed to thrive and many died
  • Premature babies who are laid on mom or dad’s chest with skin-to-skin contact (Kangaroo Care) thrive compared with others who do not receive it
  • These same babies who are on respirators, settle quicker and enter deeper restorative REM sleep while being held by a parent
  • In Harry Harlow’s rhesus monkey experiments in the late 1950s when infant monkeys could choose between a wire-frame ‘surrogate parent’ who provided food, or a terrycloth covered surrogate who provided nothing but texture, the infant monkeys chose to cling to the ‘furred’ surrogate almost exclusively
  • In the animal world, infant litters of pups and kits snuggle together to satisfy their need for touch
  • Human’s experience lower blood pressure, deeper sleep, and live longer even with a pet providing their need for touch

With more North Americans living alone than ever before, polls show that 75% experience Skin Hunger on a daily basis, and 25% said they did not have a single person to share intimate matters with.

The skin is the largest organ of the body and skin-to-skin touch is the first thing we experience immediately after birth and is the foundation of attachment.  Co-author of Hold On To Your Kids, Dr Gordon Neufeld has argued for decades that attachment should be placed at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of need due to the quantifiable evidence that infants lacking the foundation of attachment through touch will refuse to feed, or will not absorb nutrients if they do.

A recent study on Skin Hunger by Kory Floyd Ph.D. of 509 adult subjects, saw results that were consistent and striking;

“People with high levels of skin hunger are disadvantaged in multiple ways compared to those with moderate or low levels.” said Floyd, “Specifically, compared to people with less skin hunger, people who feel more affection-deprived are less happy; more lonely; more likely to experience depression and stress; and - in general - are in worse health.”

“They have less social support and lower relationship satisfaction.” Floyd goes on, “They experience more mood and anxiety disorders, and more secondary immune disorders, and are more likely to have alexithymia, a condition that impairs their ability to express and interpret emotion.”

“Finally, they are more likely to have a preoccupied or fearful avoidant attachment style; they're less likely to form secure attachments with others in their lives.”

Satisfying Skin Hunger has a biochemical benefit; hugs have been shown to increase the production of oxytocin in humans; this is the hormone that positively influences our bonding and nurturing behaviors. In clinical trials, researchers found that individuals receiving oxytocin showed less fatigue, greater dispositional gratitude, and steadier physical functioning than those receiving a placebo.

Skin Hunger also goes far in explaining why so many seek casual sex with strangers; ‘settle’ for a less than ideal life partners; stay in unhealthy relationships; return to abusive relationships, and; seek extra-marital affairs.

Entrepreneurs have recognized people’s growing need for non-sexual skin-on-skin contact and have created agencies such as and that host contact pages for “professional cuddlers” whose fees range from $25 to $100 per hour.  These agencies have strict codes of conduct that include; an expectation of good personal hygiene; minimum dress requirements (tank top and mid-thigh shorts); restrictions against sexual touch, and; no exchange of saliva.

A local search of conservative Summerland, BC - a town of 11,000 people - found 10 registered active professional cuddlers within a 15 minute drive of the town centre.  Skin Hunger is driving the growth of this new niche market as we allow lifestyle and technology to separate us.

“Fortunately, Skin Hunger doesn’t have to be a permanent condition.” Dr Floyd advises, “Each of us has the capacity to get more affection in our lives. In the meantime, put down your cell phone and share an affectionate moment with someone in person. For those with skin hunger, human contact - not the technologically mediated variety - is the cure for what ails.”

Aaron D. McClelland, MPCC-S -

Saturday, 11 June 2016

This Ain't Right, Man

For the past few years, awareness of consent and rape has grown.  Through the evolution from sanitizing it as “non-consensual sex” and “date rape” to calling it what it is; sexual assault, our society is becoming aware of the devastation this violence has on it’s victims and how widespread it is.

Because one in five female college and university students will be raped at some point in their scholastic career, progressive schools now offer workshops and seminars.  At first they were for females and provided tips on how not to be raped. But due to societal backlash against placing the responsibility on the victim, these have evolved into including male and female students and focus on what consent looks like (“an enthusiastic YES”), and that both participants need to check in with each other at each stage of a sexual encounter to ensure consent has not been withdrawn. When these first began, enrollment was sparse, yet as social awareness has grown, these workshops have as well, moving from 45 minutes in small classrooms into two to three hours in auditoriums, with male/female attendance equalizing and much discussion taking place.

Yet some educational centres still engage in victim blaming, such as the Mormon Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, who habitually expel female students who report rapes.  But more and more universities are coming on board.

But I want to address this issue on a psychological and societal level that goes beyond the realm of rape.

In the human brain, there are three areas which host mirror neurons.  These neurons react when we observe the behaviour of another living being in our presence.  These are the neurons that alert our genetic programming for empathy.  When we observe another person (or animal) in distress, our mirror neurons notice, and though we don’t feel exactly what the other person is feeling, we feel a strong pull of empathy and an urge to help them.

I’m a big Mixed Martial Arts fan.  The whole purpose of MMA is to dominate one’s opponent either through devastating kicks, punches, elbows, submission holds that can dislocate joints, or chokes that can render a person unconscious.  What I find fascinating is that at a large MMA event, 20,000 to 60,000 people are there to see those very devastating actions, yet when they happen, people gasp, flinch, or cry out because the person who that just happened to is hurt.  Their mirror neurons fire bright and the crowd feels that strong pull of empathy for the vanquished.

So why is it that some drunk male university students, who see an unconscious female, bypass their mirror neurons and see it as an opportunity to rape her?

The irony is that those in the Bondage/Domination, Sado/Masochist (BDSM) community who partner with people to engage in sometimes brutal forms of sex have been using “safe words” for decades - a prearranged word that the submissive partner can utter, that the dominant partner will respect immediately.  They will release their partner and begin after-care to calm and relieve their partner’s distress, and let them know they are safe.

Years ago, while working as a security supervisor in Vancouver, I was visiting our guard at Queen Elizabeth park (aka “Little Mountain”).  As we were checking in, two full-patch bikers rode up the hill to the upper parking lot.  One of the bikers had a female passenger who almost fell off his bike as they rounded the last curve.

The guard and I walked up into the parking area and saw that the bikers had ridden up onto the grass and the female was lying on her back, the bikers standing over her.  As we approached, the female - who was very intoxicated and barely conscious - was reaching up, inviting both bikers to have sex with her.  I overheard one of the bikers say to his brother; “This ain’t right, man.”  The other agreed.

The bikers saw us approach and one noticed the portable radio on my belt.  “Can you call for an ambulance?” he asked, “I think she needs to go to the hospital.”

I radioed our Dispatch and they called 911 for us (I specified an ambulance and not the police as both bikers had been drinking as well).  As we were waiting, the female started vomiting and choking, and one of the bikers rolled her into the recovery position, rubbed her back and even held her hair as she vomited.

It turned out that the female was unknown to these men - they had picked her up in a bar - and despite their intention to have sex with her, they cared about and for her.  They knew she was in no state to give proper consent for sex, and suspected she was approaching medical distress.

Shortly after the ambulance arrived, the female stopped breathing and the paramedics had to intubate her and use a breathing bag.  If the bikers hadn’t felt empathy for her and acted on it, this female may have died.

My big question is; Why is it that Doms in the BDSM community or two bad-ass 1% full-patch bikers respond with empathy when they see a passed out female and ensure she gets medical attention, but a bright university athlete decides to rape her instead?

Has two decades of “rape culture” in rap music, online homemade porn videos featuring men dominating and abusing women, and examples by a few professional athletes turned some young men away from their natural empathy?

I wish I had the answers.

But I do know one thing that we should all be alarmed by …

Mirror neurons, empathy, and our entire Limbic system are all part of our survival system - survival of self and survival of species.  As Dr Bruce Perry said in one of his books; “We are born for love”.  We are hardwired to care about and care for each other.  What is happening to our society through rapes, murders, assaults, mass shootings, and religion-driven violence is evidence that there is a growing number of people who have lost touch with that survival system.

We need to teach our children from birth that caring for others is our most important duty as human beings.  Men need to intervene when other men treat or talk about women as objects.  We all need to stand up against any form of bigotry, be it race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, and we need to do it loudly and often.

Without empathy, without caring about and caring for each other we are done as a species.  To sit passively by while this trend continues, well …

“This ain’t right, man”.

Aaron D. McClelland, MPCC -