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Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Skin hunger

One of the earliest Google references to the term 'skin hunger', is a 1996 article 'A rationale for physical touching in psychotherapy' by Reuven Bar-Levav. Skin hunger has become the popular word for the more generic term touch deprivation. It received renewed attention due to Covid-19 lockdowns (eg, Allure, CNN, Guardian, Independent, Medium, PsychCentral, SG-UU, Wired).

I wasn't familiar with this term until several years ago. Then a Dutch book called Huidhonger became popular. Initially, I rejected that term as being gross. Somehow, this title reminded me of the 1988 suspense novel by Thomas Harris, and the 1991 movie The Silence of the Lambs (IMDb). Clearly, the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter has skin hunger too.

I consider myself an introvert and a solitary person. Hence, the renewed attention for the term 'skin hunger', as well as the duration of the lockdown, made me reconsider its validity. The rational 'me' is still somewhat in denial about its validity, but the emotional 'me' has accepted that the term is indeed applicable.

With the knowledge of hindsight, I realise that this term has been applicable to me for two decades. At intervals, touch deprivation will make you feel (very) lonely. I had not expected that this feeling would return. My recent mood swing was partly due to skin hunger.

The trigger for this blog was a recent interview with (former) soccer trainer Louis van Gaal in Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant. Louis van Gaal: "[] And furthermore, I don't believe in the solution of a one-and-a-half-meter society. People want to touch each other. Like I sat close to those players." Note: English translation and italic marking in quote by LO.

Some Asian societies (eg, India, Japan) are less physical than Western societies. Handshakes and/or welcome kisses are replaced by a (light or heavy) bowing of the head, and/or a respectful Namaste gesture. The Western welcoming habit of cheek kissing might be a first habit to perish. Handshakes may survive as these indicate power and transfer social chemical signals.

Skin hunger is part of the 3rd layer, social belonging, in Abraham Maslow's 1943 concept of the Hierarchy of Needs. In my 2017 blog, Feel the Need in me, I have aligned Maslow's concept to my concept of Needs, Wants & Beliefs and an Awakening. In my view, 'skin hunger' is a Want rather than a Need. Needs are physiological and for survival (ie, food, rest, warmth, water).

The emotional wanderer on skin hunger: "In the sleepless dark of the early hours, In my comfortless single bed Every inch of me cries out To be held, warmed, caressed, For my curvy, feminine softness to be molded Against the reassuring planes and angles Of your loving, gentle masculinity. Your voice, your eyes, your smile Haunt my reluctant wakefulness Yet wait comfortingly in my dreams."

I Want You (1976) by Marvin Gaye

I want you—the right way
I want you
But I want you to want me too
Want you to want me, baby
Just like I want you


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise.

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