What Does It Mean to Be Touch Starved?

What Does It Mean to Be Touch Starved?

Medically reviewed by Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW, CST — Written by Lauren Sharkey on September 23, 2019

From http://www.healthline.com

What is it?

Humans are wired to be touched. From birth until the day we die, our need for physical contact remains. 

Being touch starved — also known as skin hunger or touch deprivation — occurs when a person experiences little to no touch from other living things. 

Wait, that’s a real thing?

Indeed. The condition seems to be more common in countries that are becoming increasingly touch averse.

For example, France was found to be one of the most touchy-feely places, while the United States appeared toward the bottom of the list.

Whether this is due to a rise in technology use, a fear of touching being viewed as inappropriate, or simple cultural factors, no one is sure. 

But studies have found that missing out on regular human touch can have some serious and long-lasting effects.null

Does it only apply to sensual touch?

Definitely not. Any and all positive touch is considered to be beneficial. Losing out on workplace handshakes, friendly hugs, or pats on the back can result in feelings of touch starvation.

Of course, it does relate to sensual touching, such as holding hands, back scratching, and foot rubbing, too.

But scientists have found that a nerve ending, called C-tactile afferentsTrusted Source, exists to recognize anyform of gentle touch.

In fact, according to a 2017 study, the ideal touching speedTrusted Source is between 3 and 5 centimeters per second. 

This releases oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” HEALTHLINE NEWSLETTERGet our weekly Depression email

Why is touch important?

Skin-to-skin contact is vital for not only mental and emotional health, but physical health, too.

When you feel snowed under or pressured, the body releases the stress hormone cortisol. One of the biggest things touch can do is reduceTrusted Source such stress, allowing the immune system to work the way it should.

Touch can also calm certain bodily functionsTrusted Source, such as your heart rate and blood pressure. 

It does so by stimulating pressure receptors that transport signals to the vagus nerve. This nerve connects the brain to the rest of the body. It uses the signals to slow the pace of the nervous system.

In early life, touch is thought to be crucial for building healthy relationships by stimulating pathways for oxytocin, the natural antidepressant serotonin, and the pleasure chemical dopamine.

Plus, it tackles loneliness. Even gentle touch from a stranger has been shownTrusted Source to reduce feelings of social exclusion. null

How do you know if you’re touch starved? 

There’s no definitive way to know. But in a nutshell, you may feel overwhelmingly lonely or deprived of affection.

These symptoms may be combined with: 

You may also subconsciously do things to simulate touch, such as taking long, hot baths or showers, wrapping up in blankets, and even holding on to a pet. 

What if you don’t particularly like being touched — can you still be touch starved?

Some people closely link touch with trust. If they don’t trust a person, they’re unlikely to want that person to touch them. But that doesn’t mean they don’t long for the benefits of a hug or handshake.

Not liking touch is sometimes reported by people on the neurodiverse spectrum and those who identify as asexual.

But it can also be a result of childhood experiences. In 2012, a study published in Comprehensive Psychology found that people whose parents were regular huggers were more likely to hug people in adulthood. 

Failing to experience frequent positive touch as a child may affect the development of the vagus nerveTrusted Source and oxytocin systemTrusted Source, damaging intimacyand social skills — although this isn’t true for everyone. null

What can you do to help satiate this desire?

Touch starvation doesn’t have to last forever. Here are some simple ways to welcome more affection into your liferight now:

  • Try out a massage. Whether you ask a loved one or visit a professional, massages are a proven way to relax and enjoy the benefits of another person’s touch.
  • Spend some quality time with animals. Often all too happy to cuddle, pets are the ideal soothing mechanism. If you don’t have one, why not visit a cat cafe?
  • Get your nails done. Easily overlooked, a manicure or pedicure will give you the human contact you need, and a new look to boot.
  • Visit the hair salon. If you don’t fancy a cut, book yourself a wash and blow-dry for ultimate relaxation.
  • Learn to dance. Certain dances like the tango don’t work without skin-to-skin contact. Not only will you put an end to your touch starvation, you’ll also pick up a rad new skill.
  • Go to a cuddle party. Yes, these are real. And no, they’re not as strange as they sound. If socializing while cuddling isn’t for you, try enlisting the help of a professional cuddler instead. 

What can you do to encourage affectionate touch in your day to day?

You know how to relieve the touch-starved feeling in the short term, but what about the long term?

Sustaining regular touch is pretty easy if you encourage it in your day-to-day life. Here are a few tips.

For yourself

  • Sit close to your loved ones. Instead of spreading out on the couch, make an effort to cuddle up during your Netflix sprees. 
  • Greet people with a handshake or hugObviously, don’t push the other person outside of their comfort zone.
  • Hug people for at least 20 seconds. This is said to be the point at which humans release oxytocin. If you’re worried your hug may not be reciprocated, ask people if they’d like to share a hug instead of automatically going in for one.
  • Use touch whenever appropriate. Being open to touch will encourage others to give it. In a romantic relationship, hold hands or cuddle. In platonic ones, reassure people with a touch to the arm or a pat on the back. Again, make sure other people are comfortable before going ahead.

For your loved ones

  • Give them plenty of positive touch. This can range from gentle strokes to full-on cuddling a few times a day.
  • Avoid associating touch with negativity. Don’t pinch or push or do anything that takes away the feel-good vibes of physical contact.
  • Let children be close to you as often as possible. Allowing your child to sit on your lap or gently massaging your baby may prompt them to behave the same way later life.

The bottom line

If you’re feeling touch starved, you haven’t sealed your fate. There are plenty of ways to beat the condition and inspire positive, affectionate touch in those around you. 

Lauren Sharkey

Lauren Sharkey is a journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters.

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