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 www.cuddlist.com and www.cuddleup.com 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 - www.interiorcounselling.com

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