Skin hunger — revisiting touch

Well, I know I covered touch already. But maybe I wasn’t really saying everything I wanted to say.

The world can be very prim. It’s okay to have wildly provocative advertisements about men’s underwear and teenagers with their flys down, or girls whose breasts are barely covered. But if I want to talk about touch, then I had better clam up and keep it to myself.

But as I reread my entry on touch, I was extremely dissatisfied…as if I had missed sharing what is really true about other aspects of touch and the joy and comfort it provides me. Not sharing these thoughts seems very dishonest to the reader. And if the point is to discover joy in some of the simpler aspects of our lives and then to share it with you as a means of consideration for your own life, then dishonesty isn’t very helpful, is it?

The term “skin hunger” was one a therapist friend used with me when describing people who had gone for a long, long time without experiencing touch from another person — another person who was meaningful to them. She said that there is a longing that builds up in people — particularly those who are experiencing some type of distress — that really needs to be satisfied. It’s odd that we all know about the experiment where a baby monkey is denied his mother. In fact, I seldom allow myself to think about those things because I think my head will just explode with rage and grief that someone would deny another living creature affection and comfort — even for some behavioral experiment. There is a level of cruelty involved there that I cannot fathom.

The fact of the matter is that I am a sensual creature. Sensual is a word that has gotten a bad rap. By dictionary definition, sensual means “of or relating to any of the senses or sense organs; strongly or unduly inclined to gratification of the senses; of or relating to sensualism.” This particular dictionary also notes the following: “Sensuous usually implies gratification of the senses for the sake of aesthetic pleasure; sensual usually describes gratification of the senses or physical appetites as an end in itself.”

All of that works for me. There are sensuous pleasures — food, paintings, Rodin sculptures and there are sensual pleasures.

Somewhere back when all those Calvinistic Puritans came to what is now America, all “passions” of the senses (things sensual) appear to have gotten a bad reputation. It was morally reprehensible to behold any sensory experience as comforting or in any way pleasurable. I probably would not have made a good Puritan. This moralistic and judgmental way of perceiving ourselves strikes me as being completely at odds with a God who created us as beings constantly in need of affection and touch. I don’t know if you believe in God or not, but surely if you do you don’t think you were given some deeply wired, sanity-insuring behavior to spend your entire life keeping it on a short leash. That would be another cruelty as monstrous as denying a baby monkey his mother. I honestly think it would make you insane.

I define myself as a sensual person, a sensual creature. Touch is an intimate experience — even if it’s just the squeeze of the shoulder. That touch can be welcome or unwelcome is part of how we define intimacy. Overall, intimacy on whatever level is a welcome experience.

I love to touch people and be touched. I think that touch is such a life-giving part of existence and it has been denied to far too many people for all the wrong reasons. I think the intimacy we all crave has been locked up in a world that tells us that feeling the need for touch is somehow a sign of deficiency. We are supposed to be tough and to contain all that we feel — emotionally or physically or spiritually — within our skin and our brains.

I like people to put their arm or arms around me. I love to hug. I kiss all the people I know and love. Yes, sometimes I still kiss my mother on the lips. I hold hands with people in need or pain — and with folks I haven’t seen in forever. And sometimes with sweethearts. I trace the edges of children’s eyebrows and put my hand against their cheeks — they are so soft and innocent and beguiling. I cuddle up with my cat because he too is sensual and he returns the touch I give him with his own forms of touch.

Making contact…closing the gap between your heart and mine…that is touch. That is joy. To share the pleasure of softness and comfort. That is intimacy. It is touch. And, above all, it is joy.

In all things I wish you peace.

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4 comments on “Skin hunger — revisiting touch

  1. Martha Angel says:

    I have gotten behind on reading your blogs…summer trips, new jobs. I can’t tell you how important these blogs on joy are to me as I struggle to adapt to rural life far from friends in a dying Episcopal community. Thank you! Thank you!

    • michele says:

      Martha, Thank you, too! I really wasn’t sure how this would be received…too little said or too much said. I could probably go on and on about this topic, but I am not sure it would expand the ideas much. In the mean time, I hope your struggle with rural life and the smallish Episcopal community will be worthwhile in the end.

      Michele

    • michele says:

      Martha,

      We need to talk more. This doesn’t sound good. It’s not going to work long term for Nolan to be happy and you to struggle — you are bound to have considered this.

      SIU is just so far from everywhere else! Surely there is an answer for some part of this!

      We’ll figure it out. I have a couple of ideas.

      Still no permanent job. Very much desparing of that. Wondering and wondering and wondering how to make this “better.”

      But tell me all about your new job (or projects or whatever)!

      Can I call you during the week one day?

      It’s better sometimes than email…

      michele

  2. Lori says:

    Hello,
    New to this site and have no idea if it is still active but I heard the term “skin hunger” the other day and it resonated with me deeply.
    You see, I am a single middle aged woman, no children and I am currently disabled but hope to return to the workforce soon. I am also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse which has made trust difficult. Thankfully, I’ve been doing some recovery work (therapy) for that. I suffer from ptsd and anxiety so I tend to spend a lot of time alone but that too is an area I am working on. I don’t drive and I live in a city in Maine.
    I have had times off and on where I just feel so alone in life and crave safe caring touch. I hug my elderly mother once a week or so after a visit but she is very needy and so that hug, although I am glad to give it, does little for me. Last night I was in tears just feeling very stressed and vulnerable due to some things I am dealing with and I just wanted to be held but then told myself I shouldn’t need that.
    Thank you for making it okay!
    Lori

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