We’re a couple weeks shy of the weather turning really cold, and with that change comes jokes about scouting players for cuffing season so we can have fun when the cabin fever starts to hit. If you’re in a romantic relationship, then you might already have a designated person to provide you with all of the cuddles (and/or sexual intimacy) that you might want for cuffing season. When you don’t have a designated person to turn to for physical intimacy, you might feel a little stir crazy. That feeling—one that many of us get when we’ve gone days without a hug, a hand-hold, or even a light shoulder caress—is called skin hunger
As psychologists explain, skin hunger is simply a desire for physical contact with another person—and it’s a very human desire. While we tend to think of intimate touch as a strictly sexual experience, skin hunger is mostly a longing for non-sexual touch. Think about it: When you’re experiencing voluntary or involuntary celibacy, you might turn to sex toys in order to satiate that need. But what do you do when you haven’t been hugged in a week, or cuddled in months?
Research has shown that millennials feel more lonely than previous generations. Cigna’s 2018 Loneliness Index found that millennials, ages 23-37, came in second to Generation Z as the most lonely generation. Considering that most of our connections are now formed online, it’s safe to say that at least some of us are starved for meaningful IRL human contact. That can have negative effects on your emotional and mental health.
In a study conducted by Dr. Kory Floyd, varying levels of skin hunger were examined in 509 adults, and participants who showed higher levels of being touch/affection-deprived were “less happy, more lonely, more likely to experience depression and stress and, in general, worse health.” Skin hunger isn’t necessarily the cause of all of these adverse conditions, but people who are significantly devoid of human contact could be at a higher risk for them.
For a lot of us, it can feel nice to freely give and experience physical affection. However, there are exceptions for individuals who are adverse to touch or who have experienced trauma.
But if you are able to enjoy and engage in non-sexual touch, know that you can feed your skin hunger in ways that extend beyond the confines of romantic or close relationships.
You can do something simple, like ask your friends and family for more hugs, get a massage, or just be more receptive to affection from people who make you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally safe.
A cuddle buddy arrangement with clearly-defined boundaries could be another option. There are organized “cuddle parties” and apps intended to cater to people’s needs for touch in a way that is relaxed and consensual. But if the thought of being the big or little spoon for a stranger makes you uncomfortable, then you can try asking a friend or acquaintance you trust, too.
Whether you prefer using hugs, hand-holding, scalp rubs, or platonic massages to satiate your skin hunger, prioritizing touch that doesn’t lead to sex can help us feel alive and connected to others in an increasingly digital and detached world.