It’s no secret that food and water are essential to your body’s survival. After all, your body will typically shut down after a few weeks without food, and even sooner without water. But what happens if you’re starved for affection?
While we all desire varying levels of physical affection, most experts would agree that some sort of regular physical contact is necessary for our overall health and well-being. Physical touch has a variety of benefits. For example, post-coital physical affection improves relationship satisfaction, hugging can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and regular touching promotes emotional well-being. With so many advantages, it’s no wonder that a lack of physical contact can have negative consequences.
What is “skin hunger?”
If you find yourself feeling lonely or craving affection from friends or loved ones, you could be experiencing a phenomenon known as “skin hunger,” or a desire for consensual, physical touch that results from a lack of human contact. The touch you’re craving doesn’t have to be sexual; in fact, caring for an infant, receiving a loving hug from a parent, or even getting a massage can satisfy your skin hunger. The important thing is that you’re getting what you deem to be the right amount and type of physical affection; if not, you could be in for some serious side effects.
Side effects of skin hunger
Just like regular hunger, the longer you avoid getting your fix, the worse you begin to feel. The skin is our body’s largest and fastest-growing organ. Depriving it of physical touch can cause depression, loneliness, affection deprivation, stress, and poorer health overall. Lack of touch can also lead to anxiety disorders, immune deficiency, and various types of mood disorders.
In the most severe cases, prolonged lack of physical contact can cause long-term problems, such as alexithymia, which is the inability to interpret or express emotion appropriately. Another potential problem is developing the avoidant attachment style, which results in a fear of social interactions. Luckily, these conditions are reversible with increased human contact and interaction.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, physical contact with another person is pretty freakin’ important. Whether you’re the type who needs multiple displays of affection daily or the type who simply needs a hug per week, human contact is a part of your body’s basic needs. It’s a soothing way for us to signal safety and trust, and without it, our body’s physical and mental centers are thrown out of whack.
Think you may be suffering from skin hunger? Try small ways of incorporating the recommended eight to 10 touches per day into your life, such as giving someone a pat on the back, high-five, or handshake. Still feeling depressed or lonely? Speak to your doctor; there are several types of therapy (including touch therapy) that may be right for you.