Monday, July 28, 2014

Touch Me, Baby

 The Black Keys--Your Touch

I've always spent a decent amount of time researching the topics that I want to write about for this blog. But lately, I can't seem to put my finger on exactly what I want to say. This entry is no different. I have a vague idea on what I want to talk about, but I'm having a hard time knowing exactly how to look it up. What I want to talk about is something I recently learned the term for -- skin hunger.

 Just like we hunger for food, we crave physical affection from others. The chemical Oxytocin plays  a huge role in our lives. The release of oxytocin happens when we are touched, and it makes us feel trusting, safe, and happy. It is what causes us to feel attached to others. High levels of oxytocin means low stress levels. Basically, cuddling up to someone can relieve your stresses. So, what happens when we don't get that? Everyone is different, but for the most part, people who are suffering from this 'skin hunger' seem to be more stressed, lonely, unlikely to commit to serious relationships and also tend to get sick more often.

According to Psychology Today, more people in America live alone than ever before. I have lived alone, and I have to say it's definitely lonely. I loved it to an extent, but coming home to an empty house almost every single night was boring. And come to think of it, I was sick a lot more often, as well as stressed out. Any time I did get the chance to spend a night with someone or just snuggle up to someone, I felt so happy, even just for the short moments it happened. Harry Harlow, a psychologist from the 1950's, did research with rhesus monkeys. He took infant monkeys away from their mothers and put them in contact with fake 'mothers.' One 'mother' was made of wire, the other made of cloth. When in contact with the wire, the monkeys only went to it for the bottle of food attached to it. But with the cloth 'mother,' the monkeys snuggled with it. If given the option between the two, the monkeys didn't go to the wire at all. I find this to be super interesting, and I believe that if humans were capable of more advanced movement and growth at a very young age, we would yield similar results.

By the way, Harry Harlow is a pretty interesting dude, as is Abraham Maslow, whom he advised. Look them up sometime.

Harry Harlow with a baby rhesus monkey.
Harry Harlow with a baby rhesus monkey.

When I was in high school and my friends and I hung out, we left by just saying goodbye. Now, we are all so busy in our lives that seeing each other often is difficult. We tend to hug goodbye whenever we can. When this first started happening, I found it to be kind of strange. But now, it doesn't bother me. Remember, I'm not talking about sexual intimacy here. I am talking about just touching another person. Just think about how nice it is to hold hands with someone, or sit leaning against someone. Or being in bed, laying into someone's side. It's calming and relaxing and makes us feel better overall. Just think about it, it's one of our five main senses. If we suddenly lost the ability to see, smell, hear or taste, we'd be pretty annoyed. It'd be something that we would miss and crave. We want to touch other living things as a natural sense. Touching screens all the time is not really very satisfying.

A friend and I were recently talking about the topic of touch and what it means in our lives. Touch seems to mean something different when you're single. I'll admit, I took it for granted when I was in a long-term relationship. It's a hard thing to know when touch becomes acceptable in the dating scene. I think a lot of people tend to think that the absence of touch means the lack of affection. That is not always the case. Personally, I am almost always too afraid to make a first move. I don't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable by touching them without their consent. It makes sense that it would cause anxiety to touch someone for the first time. Oxytocin levels cause us to feel trusting and affectionate. If you have low levels due to not having touched someone before, you can certainly feel less than trusting towards them. We need to stop being so afraid all the time of making physical moves. Yes, you may get shot down, but at least you've tried. That isn't to say ignore consent, by the way. Just take a chance.

I used to think maybe it was just me that had a hard time missing the physical intimacy of just being close to someone. A lot of people I know seemed to be fine sleeping alone every night or walking around not holding hands with someone. But we all try to act strong on the outside. A new trend has been popping up around the country recently, showing that we all need affection. Places like 'The Snuggery' and 'Cuddle Up To Me' have been in the news lately. What are they? They are a service where you pay by the hour to snuggle with someone! That's great! A safe outlet for someone who is craving affection but doesn't have anyone to turn to. Though I do find it a little odd, since I am the type of person who has a hard time feeling comfortable interacting physically with someone I don't know well. But for the people who don't have that mental block about it, all the power to them! You can sleep next to this person or just lay around and talk.

Like one of the articles I was reading said, we are becoming so detached from physical interaction. The internet and smartphones and skype and all other electronic devices that keep us in contact but only on the doesn't help. It's so much easier to call someone than to go to them and speak in person. Even sexting seems like a good idea at the time, but damn, how unsatisfying. I really enjoy when you meet someone and they shake your hand, or you say goodbye and they hug you, or when a person places their hands on your shoulder or back when they walk behind you to let you know they are there (which kind of sounds creepy, but I do this at work a lot so that people don't turn around into me or something). It's just plain nice being touched, and it's such a small thing we don't think about until we aren't receiving it.

Cuddle Up To Me
CBC-The Snuggery
Psychology Today--Lack of Affection
Psychology Today--Benefits of Hugs
PBS--Harry Harlow