Thursday, October 9, 2014

Skin Hunger

 Americans are an odd breed when it comes to physical contact. Our culture accepts “sleeping around” without a second thought, but any kind of hugging and touching outside of a sexual relationship is strictly taboo. We shake hands. We might give a “side-hug” or a hug where our pelvis is tipped so far backward that we give ourselves a Charlie horse. We might engage in a high-five or (oooh, even more daring) a fist bump. But anything beyond that is surrounded by crime-scene tape.

In other cultures, it’s common for men to walk arm in arm with male friends, and for whole troops of females to walk around entangled in each other’s limbs. (When I went to Malta I thought everyone was gay for the first few days.) People lean on their friends while walking, sitting at restaurants, or shopping. Men can put their arms around women without having to regret it afterwards. A girl can be held by her guy friend (not boyfriend) while sitting on the couch and watching Dr. Who.

 Really, doesn’t that sound nice?

 Our bodies were made for physical contact, sexual and otherwise, but with our culture so hyped up about rape, abuse, and perversion, we can barely even look each other full in the face without inciting a lawsuit. Yes, some people do have bad intentions while touching other people, but most of us are just longing for some kind of human contact. We are touch-deprived, skin-hungry, and we can’t do anything about it without getting in trouble with the law or worse.

So where can we go? Only inward, which is never healthy and manifests itself in all kinds of bad shizzle such as porn and masturbation addictions. The more of a hands-off approach we take towards interacting with other people, the worse our culture’s sexual problems will become. It’s a vicious cycle that feeds into itself.

I looked this issue up on several psychology databases, and there is a surprising amount of research on “skin hunger.” Babies who aren’t cuddled and rocked enough die soon after birth. Boys who never had any kind of physical contact with their fathers (playing football, wrestling) become aggressive and violent and are more likely to abuse females or hurt other boys. Abuse and physical violence are disordered kinds of touching, but they are still touching, and that’s all some people want.

I’m a practical person, so I want there to be a practical solution to all of this. Since we can’t just go around hugging people all of the sudden, we have to take a more subtle approach. One of the psych databases suggested going to social dances in order to incorporate more physical contact in our lives (not grinding, mind you—they meant events where people actually dance). This is a good option but not everyone has access to it, so I propose another approach of gradually incorporating non-threatening touch into your life. When you are talking to a friend, perhaps you can touch their shoulder or their upper back a few times. When you’re sitting next to someone, let your arms lean against each other. When you do give hugs, make them longer than two seconds and put your whole body into it. It’s the little things that make all the difference.

If you already have a boyfriend or girlfriend, try initiating non-sexual touch in your relationship (which--ahem--is the only kind of touching you should be doing in the first place!). If you have younger siblings, don’t be afraid to cuddle and wrestle with them. Even pets can be a great resource: my dog LOVES to be cuddled, even though she smells bad so I have to wear old clothes when I do it.

Touch deprivation is a serious threat in our culture and something we all suffer from in varying degrees. And I hate to sound like one of those cheesy activist stickers people put on their car bumpers, but it’s up to us to do something about it.

So, hug away!


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