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Touch is essential to human survival.

Infants left well fed and diapered but never cuddled have been found to die.

Our skin is our largest organ.

Some of us are more touchy-feely than others and if you are one with a high touch need being isolated from skin-to-skin contact leaves a void.

Even having an animal to pet can lengthen the life of an elderly person.

Premature babies thrive when placed skin to skin on their mother or father's chest long before they are stable enough to feed. Often, they are still on a respirator when such "Kangaroo Care" is initiated. They settle down quickly into deeper REM sleep and use fewer calories crying and wiggling thus allowing for better growth.

  1. A XXX film by Michael Zen starring Jeanna Fine and Lisa Ann. Sorry, no review here. If that's what you are looking for, you know where to go.
  2. From the 2 words, skin and hunger, it describes the desire or craving to be touched, usually from a long period of deprivation.

Skin hunger is a relatively new term that has been applied to the emotional response engendered by the loss of touch in our society. One of the five basic senses, touch is the only one deemed essential to human life. During WW II babies in orphanages developed Failure to thrive or even died when deprived of human contact. In a classic study by Harry Harlow, newborn monkeys were taken from their biological mothers and given surrogates made of either wire or soft terry cloth. The baby monkeys consistently chose the soft mother even when deprived of nourishment. The need for bonding outweighed even the basic necessity of food.

The need for touch extends beyond the early developmental years. It is the first sense to develop in utero and the last to diminish as we die. Babies and children with loving parents are cuddled and kissed and touched. As a child ages he seeks to become more independent and may even resist too much lovin'. How many of us parents have mourned the day our children became too big to sit in our laps anymore? Boys, especially, are discouraged from showing too much affection. To be a man means to be strong and stoic and emotion is deemed a sign of weakness.

Adolescence is a time of self discovery and growing sexual awareness. As kids grow into teens they may seek sexual intimacy even when not emotionally ready because the need for touch is so strong. How many girls have had sex prematurely when all they really wanted was to be held? Compounding the problem, many parents will decrease physical contact with their teens because of fears of inappropriateness.

Maturing into adults we face a world that explodes with sexual images but discourages more than a friendly nod or a handshake in public. Sexuality is OK but intimacy is not.

The elderly, the disabled and the very ill, aka the "Untouchables", are at greatest risk of touch deprivation. Living in isolated homes, the elderly and the disabled often have limited mobility and fears of victimization may prevent their venturing out. People with a terminal illness like HIV may have very little contact with another human being due to inherent fears of the disease. Although not as fulfilling as human contact, a pet may provide the bonding and comfort needed.

Americans, especially, suffer from a lack of intimacy with each other. Following a research project on touch around the world, social scientists rated the United States and Great Britain among the lowest touch countries studied. The "warmer" high-touch countries included Spain, France, Italy, and Greece.

Tiffany Field, Director of Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami, feels touch is essential to how we learn, feel and think. A study conducted by Field compared the interaction of mothers and their children at playgrounds and McDonalds in Miami and Paris. The Parisian mothers touched their children far more often than their American counterparts. In addition, the French children displayed much less aggression than the American children.

The power of touch pervades all areas of our society. Salesmen may use a light touch to influence a potential client into a sale. Waitresses have been found to receive larger tips if they subtly touch a patron.

But the most well known association to touch is healing. The bible often makes reference to the "laying on of hands" to heal the sick. The word surgeon has its roots in the Greek word kheirourgos meaning "hand healer".

The modern healing touch can be found in different types of body work including massage, rolfing or reike, among others. Therapeutic massage is the most well known and accepted method of healing sore and injured muscles, reducing pain as well as imparting a feeling of relaxation and good will to the client. People experiencing skin hunger may often seek out massage just to satisfy their craving for touch.

What has led us to be so touch deprived?

Four trends in our society take most of the blame:

Technology

The age of technology has allowed us to interact with others around the world via satellites and microchips but has dehumanized our daily lives. In a recent poll Americans rated the cell phone as the device they hate the most, but can't live without. We interact more with our time-saving devices than we do with each other.

Children of busy mothers may often be "surrounded by plastic". From the day care center to the home environment, infants are "contained" in car seats, strollers and playpens. When mom is too tired or busy to attend to them, children may be plunked in front of the electronic babysitter, the TV. Contrast this to the child who is held all day, snuggled close in a baby carrier, or has the opportunity to interact and play freely with his environment.

Disconnected lifestyles

Urbanization, two career families and the loss of the extended family have led us to isolation.

Husband and wives, caught up in work and family obligations, are often too exhausted to give each other the affection needed. A recent Newsweek cover story focused on the "so-called epidemic of low-sex or no sex marriages in America."1

We rarely know our neighbors or live close to parents and grandparents. We are suspicious of strangers and carefully guard our personal space when we meet new people. Only in small cities and towns in America do you find the connectedness and community needed to "keep in touch".

A Litigious Society

Touching someone can be a federal offense these days. With the new sexual harassment laws many people are afraid to extend a warm hug or a friendly touch. In addition, with the increase in child molestation, we must guard our children's safety and teach them the difference between good and bad touching. Unfortunately for our children, that means their caregivers must be especially guarded in showing them affection, even when appropriate.

The media

Relaxed morals in mass media portray an unrealistic view of sexuality and relationships which can lead to inappropriate behavior and desires. We want what we see on the silver screen even if it is unattainable, further feeding our skin hunger.

To touch is to be human. It makes us feel valued and cared for. However, everyone is not comfortable with being touched. Some cultures and religions forbid touching someone other than a family member. When first meeting someone, take a clue from how they react to others and you will know if it is OK to approach. Just a pat on the shoulder or a touch on the hand is a caring gesture.

Now that you know how important it is, "reach out and touch someone" today!



Sources:

1.http://news.mysanantonio.com/story.cfm?xlc=1039939
http://www.extendicare.com/consumer/article35.htm

One technology in particular that's been pointed to as a cause of modern skin hunger is infant formulae.

It's hardly remembered now but there was a time when almost no-one in North America was breast fed, and that generation of infants grew up to be the manically skin-hungry sixties generation.

However, customs may be involved too. In societies where homosexuality isn't an issue - either perfectly acceptable or perfectly unacceptable (including this society until near the turn of the century) - much more contact is common, and personal distances are much closer. It may be that in recent times, the most homophobic have been quickest to draw back in order to avoid any possible confusion and this has led to more distance and less touching in general.

Equally, and perhaps more plausibly, as sexual mores become more fluid, touches take on new meaning and therefore become rarer. One theory is that even as late as Victorian times touching between men and women was far more common than it is today, precisely because the sexual meaning had been removed by the strict sexual rules of the day. Women generally initiated such touches, only one person in an interaction would touch very much (except for very occaisional return touches), and no man would persist in touching a woman who pulled back her shoulder or anything else, even symbollically, but touching as part of conversation was then far from rare, as it now is.

It might also be noted that studies show that promiscuity is rare in those who have been touched a great deal in childhood. So the sexual revolution might be both a cause and an effect of our common physical remoteness.

Perhaps we should try to bring back Victorian touching rules.

For 30 nights he has worked, 13 hours a night, complaining all the while of the torture of climbing up and down the towers and the painful effect on his bad feet. Even though I know it has been hard on him, I admit rather guiltily that I've enjoyed the nightly pleasure of isolation, the freedom from his constant need to control.

Tonight he’s home. He quietly asks if I will go to bed with him. Although I fully know it will end in frustration for me, I acquiesce. Attempting to prolong that moment, I spend a period of time mindlessly watching TV. I finally feel exhaustion overcome my body. I realize I must move or risk dozing off in the recliner, so I get up and grope my way in the dark to the bedroom. As soon as he senses my presence he turns his back to me, as is his custom, and as has been his custom for over a decade. The only physical contact he attempts is when he throws his lower leg over my ankles.

Is this move meant to pin me down, or is it a small gesture toward making a somewhat impersonal connection?

How did we get here? At one time he eagerly awaited my return home from work. Once I got home we were constantly holding hands, hugging, reconnecting physically. This seemed to upset or confuse his daughters, so he began putting distance between us.

Somewhere along the line he became focused on pleasing himself exclusively, indulging in desires stoked by porn and multiple partners -- my body, devoid of any humanity in his eyes, a mere tool for his use. Intent on regaining some kind of emotional connection, I insisted on intimacy being between only the two of us and banned the porn.

From that moment on he refused to acknowledge any physical attraction for me.

From his own admission it seems this is not the first time he has behaved in this manner. His previous wife sought a lover when she tired of the emotional and physical distance he put between them. We met soon after, and it appears he used me, flaunting my sexuality and physical attractiveness to make some kind of point, either to himself or her.

Even though I do not invite the attention, there have been times when other men have teasingly flirted with me in front of him. He loudly tells them to go ahead, because it will save him the trouble of dealing with my needs. The truth is, he never acknowledges that I have any needs at any other time, much less make any attempts to satisfy me. Nevertheless, I’m humiliated by this response.

In the building where I work there is a man who is not only ruggedly handsome, but also intelligent and charming. He seeks me out to greet me with warm hugs and light conversation. I have dubbed him "Sir Hugs-a-Lot." His attraction to me is obvious, but his behavior continues to be professional. Next week he will move out of state, meaning this temporary “fix” for my skin hunger will vanish.

Soon I will be completely deprived of any kind of meaningful physical closeness.

So please tell me -- is it possible to have any kind of happiness in life when you feel like the human equivalent of a dirty dish rag? It appears that my fear of being untouchable has now become the new reality for my life.

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