skin hunger – our need for physical intimacy


I love massages!! Any kind. Feet. Head. Crazy Thai ones where they stretch and contort your body like a pretzel. Soothing oil ones with dolphin music playing. I like getting my nails done. I love getting my hair washed or done. 

I love physical touch. It’s a weird statement to make but an acknowledgement of truth that is perhaps more pertinent in context to my status as a living-alone Single. Ultimately, all of those things above are more than just self-pampering, they’re a means to have my skin hunger somehow satiated. 

Skin hunger is a need for physical touch – not necessarily sexual in nature. It is a studied phenomena in psychology. Unmet skin hunger has been associated with failure to thrive in babies and infants, and increased anxiety, depression, stress and sleep dysfunction in children and adults. Each individual will have a different level of skin hunger and consequently, the absence of physical touch will be felt more acutely by those whose need is greater. 

Some stages and styles of life are innately more rich in physical contact. Living arrangements that involve others will almost always include physical touch – perhaps of an intimate or sexual nature, maybe because of the presence of small children being nursed, held and wrestled with, or even in the more incidental contact that happens as people work together in the kitchen or move around each other in the bathroom. Certain work environments are more physical – various fields of medicine and therapy, working with children, or coaching certain sports.

Physical touch affirms my presence. It is one thing to grasp my own hand or rub my own neck – but it is different to experience those things externally. It’s a tangible recognition that I hold a place in the physical realm; that I relate kinaesthetically to other people and things around me. 

Physical touch releases hormones that increase wellbeing and decrease stress. 

Physical touch communicates non-verbally a sense of belonging and connection. 

What does physical touch look like for a Single person? 

How is skin hunger appropriately satisfied in non-sexual or romantic contexts?

As I mentioned, I am a physical touch kind of person. I’m likely to grab your arm while I’m talking to you. I will normally go in for a hug and a cheek kiss when greeting someone I know. I love love love (love love) holding babies – especially soothing them to sleep. I love little person hugs and high fives. I even like the absent minded touches kids do when they’re talking to you – playing with your hair or leaning against your leg. I love big hugs from big people – I make sure my Dad gives me a couple every time I see him. For some, pets are a large part of their skin-hunger-meeting regimen. 

Skin hunger is connected with our need for intimacy and equally needs to be met in healthy and helpful ways or we will find ourselves seeking to satisfy it inappropriately. Identifying the degree of skin hunger we feel is important to being able to manage it intentionally. 

What does that look like for you? Or for those in your world? 

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5 thoughts on “skin hunger – our need for physical intimacy

  1. Sometimes, life throws you a curve ball.
    As a soul involved in various forms of healing,
    I have found myself feeling a bit odd about a
    few things. Those things are mainly my thoughts.
    Not to worry. I am not homicidal of suicidal.
    I have noticed that there is an alarming lack of
    touch between me and someone near and dear
    to me. I have also noticed that I have to initiate
    EVERYTHING! (And no. I don’t just touch her for sex.)
    Earlier today, the phrase “skin hunger” popped into my head.
    I opted to Google it. Low and behold, it IS a real thing.
    (I thought my cheese had slid off my cracker.) Nope, it’s for real!
    Now I am wondering how to go abut feeding that need.
    My SO and I are still intimate but, it just seems there
    could be a lot more start up on her side.
    I guess I will continue to read about this and see where it leads.
    Thanks for writing this!
    Namaste’

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  2. I have been single and non sexual for the last 26 years and also find myself loving being touched. I physically cannot keep my eyes open when I have my hair or feet done these days! I recently became a grandmother and am so in love with this little newborn baby girl. Spending hours holding her and putting her to sleep is the best thing ever. However, I came across your post because I am looking for explanations for what happens to me once I get home. I cannot stop myself from weeping deep deep sobs. I realise I am reacting to this level of love and gratitude and sensory input. I understand it is a healthy reaction to many aspects of my inability to easily accept love, but to many others it would come across as quite disturbing. I am sure this reaction will soften over time but it has certainly made me aware of how I now need to make more effort to be kinder to myself. I lost my 18 year old son in a tragic accident 9 years ago, and I am sure the place where my sadness and loss is held must also be reacting to the tenderness that this new little one in our lives is filling.

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  3. Hello there:
    I am new to your site and, given that it says you are a pastor, I guess you won’t think I am crazy for saying that I am pretty sure God sent me here…
    You see, as a fellow Christian, writer (not professionally but maybe someday), and single woman, I could have written this post myself!
    Just recently I heard the term skin hunger and though I had a fairly good idea of what it meant due to having two undergraduate degrees in social services, I decided that it was well past time to research in order to see if it was even acknowledged on the internet. And that is how I got here LOL.
    Since having gone on disability and also dealing with p.t.s.d. from past childhood abuse, as well as anxiety and depression I just find myself so lonely at times. Last night I was in tears and it’s not much better tonight because at times I just wish someone would hold me, a safe hug that lasts longer than a few seconds.
    I used to have more contact with people–not so much physical but I am referring to being out in the world and working between 50 and 80 hours a week. Solitude was welcome then in order to regroup and recharge lol. I also seemed to have a bigger support system via friendships. But people move, get married, have babies, or grow apart. Life looks very different now in many ways.
    I just wanted to say thank you… you helped me to feel more normal just knowing I am not alone in my feelings.
    Lori

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    1. Lori, thanks for sharing your experience!
      The point you make about the place of work outside the home is true for things beyond physical touch too, isn’t it? There’s a lot of natural interacting – support, debrief, physical contact, laughter and further social opportunities that spring from being a part of a work dynamic. There’s a shift required when that changes. Lots to process then.
      K

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